Shaken or stirred, Bond or Monroe, dry or dirty; vermouth has a longstanding association with high class cocktails in low lit bars.
Over the centuries the popularity of vermouth has ebbed and flowed, its usages have been subject to the whims of fashion and until recently this aperitif had been typecast as little more than a cocktail ingredient.
What is vermouth?
If it’s not just a cocktail base then what is vermouth? Vermouth is a fortified and aromatised wine, the use of wormwood setting vermouth aside from other fortified or aromatised wines.
Botanicals are used to flavour the wine, with traditional vermouths being characterised by a bittersweet spine – this profile being ideal for stimulating appetite and the drink’s usage as an aperitif.
The botanicals used by each producer are usually a closely guarded secret. If you think that Colonel Sanders was paranoid, then wait until you come across the Area 51 secrecy of a family owned Italian vermouth maker.
The origin of vermouth is much debated. Much like the surrealist movement in the arts, there are instances of the craft popping up independent of one another throughout history, for various reasons, in various parts of Europe.
The name is derived from German wormwood infused wines and in the 19th century, in a commercial sense, the aperitif exploded from the Alpine region of Northern Italy and Southern France, the ports of Genoa, Venice and Marseilles playing a big role in this due to their importation of foreign herbs and spices.
The Italians and French began a proud vermouth making tradition, with the Spanish not far behind. Over time a nomenclature developed; Torino vermouths were typically sweeter and deeper, French vermouths dryer and lighter, Spanish vermouths somewhere between their predecessors being both sweet and light.
How to serve vermouth
Vermouth is remarkably versatile: enjoyed over ice, as an aperitif or in a cocktail. Forming the base of many classic cocktails such as the martini and the negroni, the variety of uses for this drink is down to the dizzying amount of variations, with a rosso from Torino tasting a world apart from a Chambéry dry.
This is where we come in, we have gone through some of the most ancient vermouths on the market, sipped on the latest and greatest entries to the competition and made enough negronis to keep your local Sunday brunch joint going for the year, all in an effort to track down the best of the best to suit your taste, budget and needs.
After a pre-tapas aperitif? We’ve got you sorted. Having a cocktail evening? Don’t sweat it.
Best vermouth to buy
Punt e Mes (16% ABV)
A delicious vermouth with an equally delicious backstory. This much adored aperitif was born in 1870 Turin and named after a shift in the stock market. This is a vermouth full of depth and warmth and has a sumptuous bittersweet balance with the sweet notes leaning into the smoothness of honey and vanilla, the bitter tones almost leathery. Read our full review of Punt e Mes.
Vermouth Padró & Co. Rojo Clásico (18% ABV)
At its core, vermouth is an aperitif – a drink designed to stimulate a physical reaction, this Catalonian vermouth embraces that notion with open arms by deftly mingling medicinal overtures with a refreshingly sweet chorus. A smooth yet spicy palate of vanilla, burned citrus fruit and cinnamon, all wrapped up in cloves, guarantees that lip smacking ‘ahhhh’ of relief reserved for your first after-work sip. Read our full review of Padró & Co Rojo Clásico.
Cocchi Storico vermouth di Torino (16% ABV)
From the flavour profile to the provenance, Cocchi Storico di Torino is a true classic of vermouth. A sipping vermouth, this bottle employs deep, dark berries and sharp citrus notes alongside a sophisticated earthy bitterness to provide an almost decadent drinking experience. Read our full review of Cocchi Storico vermouth.
Quady Vya sweet vermouth (16% ABV)
Our first American offering comes from the dreamy plains of California. The Quady Vya sweet vermouth is made up of orange muscat, tinta roriz (known to us as tempranillo) and a dry white wine; this blend is then infused with botanicals imported from all over the world – herbs arrive from as far afield as India, Albania and Morocco. The bitterest part of the herbs are used to combat the ferocious sweetness of the orange muscat and they do so with aplomb, landing in the bittersweet-sweet-spot. Read our full review of Quady Vya sweet vermouth.
Antica Formula Carpano vermouth (16.5% ABV)
The godfather of vermouth. Antica Formula Carpano was first made in Turin (the home of vermouth) in 1786 by Antonio Benedetto Carpano. Remarkably, despite being over 230 years old, the Antica Formula has stuck to the same formula under the guardianship of the Fratelli Branca distillery. This vermouth is almost decadent, mingling rich berry flavours with dark chocolate notes and warm spices. It is the definitive Italian vermouth. Read our full review of Antica Formula Carpano vermouth.
Great British Vermouth Dry Wermod (18% ABV)
This Great British bottle is handmade in small batches on the Dalmeny Estate near Edinburgh, focusing on a sustainable and locally sourced ethos to produce a clean, crisp and fresh vermouth. The aperitif is citrus heavy, dry, refreshing and is a fantastic appetite stimulant, pairing itself well with seafood. Read our full review of Wemod Great British vermouth.
Sacred English amber vermouth (21.8% ABV)
An award-winning bottle from the UK, the Sacred English Amber vermouth was announced as the winner of the semi-sweet category at the World Vermouth Awards 2019. This expression pays tribute to the Bond classic, Casino Royale. With a medium-body, strong citrus and sweet spices, there is a richness and acidity that gives the palate a sophisticated balance. Read our full review of Sacred English amber vermouth.
Mancino rosso amaranto (16% ABV)
Laden with prestige and glowing reviews worldwide, this very modern Italian vermouth is the child of famed bartender Giancarlo Mancino. In Piedmont, Italy, he produces a range of vermouths with the rosso amaranto expression a standout. Deep flavours of dark berries lavish the palate and are met by cinnamon, cloves and a tang of orange, all coming together to make a balanced and complex vermouth. Read our full review of Mancino rosso amaranto.
Dolin vermouth de Chambéry dry (17.5% ABV)
A sophisticated, respected and unique vermouth manufactured in the Chambéry region. Famed for its super light profile and distinction of being the sole holder of the appellation d’origine contrôlée for vermouth in France, this aperitif is much drier and softer than its Italian cousins. Floral and packed with delicate white wine flavours this one is perfect for a martini. Read our full review of Dolin vermouth de Chambéry.
Cinzano 1757 rosso (16% ABV)
A tip of the cap to brothers Carlo Stefano and Giovani Giacomo Cinzano, the two men that founded the business in Turin in 1757 that would one eventually become the Cinzano we know and love today. This is an intense vermouth, heaps of bittersweet flavours abound the palate with striking cherry notes stealing the show. Read our full review of Cinzano rosso.
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This review was last updated in March 2020. If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.