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When stocking your bar cart, the best place to start is with the spirits you like to drink, whether that’s bourbon, gin or tequila. Then, you’ll probably want to add barware like shakers and jiggers, followed by some quality drinkware to elevate the whole experience. It starts to get fun once you start adding bitters and liqueurs to your bar cart, but frankly, it can also start to get confusing. One of the most confusing ingredients is vermouth, which isn’t quite a liqueur or a bitter. In fact, it’s an “aromatized fortified wine,” a definition that’s likely to only add to the confusion. But if you’re getting into making cocktails, the best vermouth is undeniably a bar cart essential.
Sweet vs. Dry
Vermouth is a type of wine that’s fortified, meaning alcohol is added. Then, the wine is flavored using a variety of botanicals, herbs and spices. The addition of these herbs and spices gives the best vermouth a flavor that’s akin to some liqueurs or bitters, which is why it’s primarily used as an ingredient in cocktails, rather than consumed by itself. That said, some vermouth is high enough quality that you can drink it on the rocks with soda, for a delicious and refreshing drink.
Just like there’s red and white wine, you can also find red and white vermouth. The former is known as sweet vermouth, or sweet red vermouth, while the latter is called dry vermouth. Sweet vermouth is most associated with Italy, and it’s red in color and has a sweeter flavor. Dry vermouth is crisp and clear, and it’s most closely associated with France. Of course, there’s plenty of crossover between the two, and just about any Italian sweet vermouth brand will also have a dry vermouth, just as most French dry vermouth labels also make sweet vermouth. It’s a good idea to stock both sweet and dry vermouth in your bar cart.
When to Use Vermouth
Cocktails like the Negroni and Manhattan use sweet vermouth. The classic Negroni is equal parts gin, vermouth and Campari, making it one of the easiest cocktails to learn how to make. Manhattan recipes vary, but a solid starter is 2 oz bourbon or rye, 1 oz vermouth and two dashes of bitters, garnished with a cherry. There are also great Negroni variations such as the Americano, a cocktail that subtracts gin and adds club soda, making for a lighter drink that’s ideal for hot days. Likewise, whiskey enthusiasts can enjoy a Boulevardier, a Negroni variation that swaps out gin for bourbon or rye.
As for dry vermouth, it’s essential to the martini, arguably the most iconic cocktail of all time. But there are also exciting cocktails like the Rosita, Old Pal and Django Reinhardt cocktail that use the complex flavor of dry vermouth to perfection. Plus, dry vermouth can also be used as a substitute for white wine while cooking.
Vermouth Mistakes To Avoid
Even avid cocktail enthusiasts may be accidentally making one big mistake with their bottles of vermouth. Vermouth is sold on the shelf, sometimes near liqueurs like Campari or Cointreau. That means that it’s understandable to assume you can pop open your vermouth and leave it on your bar cart. But it’s important to remember that vermouth is actually a wine. That means that once you open it, it should be kept in the fridge, not at room temperature.
Because it’s fortified, a bottle of vermouth will last a good deal longer than a bottle of wine. But it doesn’t keep forever. You should strive to finish your bottle of vermouth within a month of opening it. If you’re buying full-sized 750 ml bottles of vermouth, you might be struggling to do the math on how many martinis you’d need to drink a week to finish the bottle in a month. Fortunately, many vermouth brands sell more manageable, half-sized bottles of vermouth. This means you can more easily get through a bottle, while also making it easier to try different vermouths to see what you like.
Vermouth is one of the most widely-used ingredients in cocktails, so we’ve set out to find some of the best options you can buy, including both dry and sweet vermouth options.
1. Dolin Dry Vermouth de Chambery
BEST DRY VERMOUTH
Dolin isn’t a cheap vermouth, but it’s one of the better values for a quality dry vermouth. Like many of the best dry vermouths, this option hails from France, specifically Savoie. It has a light, crisp taste that works great with a dry gin for an exceptionally smooth martini. Dolin is also readily available in 375 ml bottles, so you don’t have to buy a too-large bottle that you might not finish.
2. Cocchi Storico Vermouth di Torino
BEST SWEET VERMOUTH
Compared with brands like Carpano and Cinzano, Cocchi is practically a startup. But Cocchi has actually been around since the late 1800s and has been making the best vermouths and wines to an exacting formula for decades. This is a sweet vermouth with herbal, citrus notes, and it’s a great companion to a Manhattan, Negroni or just with ice and a slice of lemon.
3. La Quintinye Vermouth Royal Extra Dry
BEST EXTRA DRY
If you’re looking for a premium dry vermouth, consider picking up a bottle from La Quintinye, a French brand that has regularly racked up awards for its vermouth. If you like your martinis as dry as possible, consider picking up the brand’s Royal Extra Dry, which is made from a blend of 27 plants and spices.
4. Cinzano Rosso Sweet Vermouth
BEST ITALIAN BRAND
In terms of quality and value, it doesn’t get much better than Cinzano. Cinzano, now owned by Campari, is an Italian brand that’s been in the business since 1757 and specializes in vermouth. That includes this classic sweet red vermouth. A full-sized 750ml bottle can be picked up for as little as $7.
5. Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth
If you want a more premium Italian red vermouth, then pick up a bottle of Carpano, which is available in either 375ml or a larger 1-liter bottle if you’re making Negronis for an entire Italian study-abroad group. As the name implies, the Antia Formula is based on a recipe that’s been around for a very long time; it dates back to 1786.
6. Noilly Prat Extra Dry Vermouth
BEST FRENCH BRAND
Noilly Prat has an impressive claim as the original French vermouth, and the brand has been in the business for over two centuries. Extra dry is a budget-friendly vermouth that’s a great option for a casual martini. Despite its French heritage, Noilly Prat is now owned by Martini and Rossi, an Italian vermouth brand.
7. Gallo Vermouth Dry
The French and Italians aren’t the only ones in the game. Gallo is a California winery and is the largest family-owned winery in the United States. Gallo dry vermouth doesn’t have the most complex or exciting profile, but at roughly 3 to 4 bucks a pop, it’s an incredible value. Mix it in a martini or use it for cooking.