Before we had sweet and dry, vermouth was typically described as Italian or French, geographical indicators that categorized the majority of the world’s commercially available vermouth. Things have come a long way since then. The craft cocktail renaissance of the past two decades has led to a renewed interest in vermouth stateside, with many new producers calling America home.
We’re eagerly drinking the bounty of this burgeoning industry. According to data from IWSR Drinks Market Analysis, consumers drank 6.8 million liters of American-made vermouth in 2018. Much of this volume was driven by cocktail bars.
“The rise of American vermouth is a very exciting development in the cocktail sphere,” says Sother Teague, the beverage director of New York City’s Amor y Amargo. He notes that more producers are popping up, making unique offerings based on indigenous botanicals. By fusing Old World techniques with New World ingredients, they’re opening up countless possibilities for mixing cocktails.
“Cocktail culture definitely leads the pack in this trend,” says Claire Sprouse, the owner of Hunky Dory in Brooklyn. “We brought sherry back, for goodness’ sake!” Sprouse also believes people’s desire to enjoy quality social experiences has led to more drinkers opting for lower-proof drinks.
“There’s an overall desire for simplicity, especially for consumers,” says Sprouse. “You can think of vermouths almost as a cocktail in a bottle that’s ready to serve.” Here, Sprouse and Teague share six of their favorite American vermouths.
Washington, D.C.’s Capitoline makes this unique vermouth from California sangiovese and local grain spirit that has been infused with 13 botanicals and spices. Teague says that it’s bittersweet, with notes of quinine, citrus and baking spices. “[Serving it] long with seltzer is a treat on the porch in summer,” he says. “It also makes a great Negroni with a floral gin like Hayman’s Old Tom.”
Sprouse recommends this small producer from Harlem, which uses New York-grown grapes in its vermouths. The sweet vermouth draws on a whopping 53 botanicals, while the dry vermouth uses 38 different grasses, flowers, barks and berries. “These are probably the most reminiscent of Old World styles,” she says.
Teague appreciates the floral and spicy qualities of Lo-Fi’s dry vermouth, which is made from a base of muscat canelli and flavored with fennel, coriander, cardamom, elderflower, cherry, anise and chamomile. “It’s really easy to drink on its own over ice,” he says. “It’s also great in an Americano-style cocktail with a white bitter like Suze.”
Lo-Fi’s sweet vermouth is a flavorful combo of fruit, spice and gentian that benefits from the added weight and complexity of cream sherry. “I like to drink the sweet vermouth with coconut water,” says Sprouse. “That’s about as New World as it gets for vermouth drinking.”
According to Sprouse, good things happen when an excellent winemaker decides to make vermouth. “It all starts with the grapes,” she says. In this case, Matthiasson calls upon flora, a California grape that’s a cross between semillon and gewürztraminer. Fruit notes are imparted via an infusion of blood oranges and sour cherries in a base of high-proof neutral grape spirits, while the bitterness arrives courtesy of cardoons, cinchona bark, wormwood and blessed thistle.
Produced in New York’s Hudson Valley by Bianca Miraglia, Uncouth vermouths are made from locally foraged ingredients and adhere to seasonal themes. “This one makes a dynamite Rob Roy that has notes of ginger and sweet pear,” says Teague. “Make it with a blended scotch, and float a teaspoon of peated scotch on top for an austere riff on the modern classic Penicillin cocktail.” Uncouth is made in limited quantities and not always the easiest bottle to find, so Teague urges: “Grab it if you see it. All of it.”
“I feel like this was my first American vermouth experience,” says Teague, who still enjoys the California-made product. The three-wine base is blended with 17 herbs, spices, barks and roots. “It’s loaded with dry fruit and honeyed notes. It does an excellent job in a Sangria and makes a spicy-sweet Manhattan.”