In the bartender’s world, vermouth is the supporting act . Like Tenzing Norgay to Edmund Hillary, vermouth carries the spirit in many classic cocktails like the Negroni, Martini and Manhattan – but doesn’t really get to share the spotlight.
The picture we paint is only partly true, because in southern Europe, the vermuterian – a bar specializing in serving vermouth with snacks – a popular concept. Here, vermouth is served on tap and in bottles, along with house tapas. This is how it has always been enjoyed in Europe, as an aperitif, just before lunch or dinner.
So far, there are only a few similar institutions in the Nordic countries. But times are changing. The supply of vermouth is growing all the time, and it should only be a matter of time before more vermuterias open up and take the drink from the UK to Europe. supporting act to star of the show .
Wine with wormwood – a long tradition
The name vermouth comes from wermut – the German word for wormwood. The practice of seasoning wine with wormwood goes back at least to ancient Greece, where Hippocrates advocated strong, sweet Greek wine with wormwood as a remedy for various ailments. In the Middle Ages, drinking wormwood wine was popular in much of Europe.
Pharmacist Antonio Benedetto Carpano, often cited as the creator of vermouth, was really just a clever entrepreneur. In 1786, he started making his own spiced fortified wine flavored with wormwood in Turin. The difference was that Carpano managed to sell his drink to King Victor Amadeus III of Sardinia, who had taken up residence in Turin, under the name of wermut . The breakthrough also benefited other manufacturers, not least Cinzano, founded in 1757.
The new-old vermouth also spread across Europe. In Lyon, Joseph Noilly created a less sweet variant in the wine house that was later named Noilly Prat. Not far away, in Chambéry, Joseph Chavasse created a white (transparent) vermouth with ingredients from the Alps. His son-in-law gave it his name, Dolin. The drink also became popular in Spain, with Reus in Catalonia becoming the center of Spanish vermouth.
In Europe, vermouth was an aperitif, meant to be drunk before meals. But when Italian and French immigrants brought vermouth to the United States, it took root among bartenders. Vermouth was a perfect fit for the big trend of the day, cocktails. Vermouth added to a base of liquor, sugar and bitters created a number of new classics, such as the Negroni, Martini and Manhattan. The rest is history.
Vermouth styles: Red, white & dry
Carpano, Noilly Prat and Dolin created the main styles of vermouth – sweet and dry – and colors – red and white (i.e. clear). The sweet variety is therefore also called Italian vermouth and the dry French vermouth . Today, the amber amber and rosé are also available.
The red, sweet vermouth is the one often associated with Turin producers such as Cinzano and Martini & Rossi. It is now regulated under the name Vermouth of Turin . But confusingly, most manufacturers offer all varieties of vermouth today – both Cinzano and Martini, for example, also sell a variant called Extra Dry, which is white and dry like Noilly Prat’s original recipe.
To bring order to the chaos, the EU has regulated the market in the classic way. In Europe, vermouth must be made from at least 75% wine, and have a final strength between 14.5% and 22%. It must also contain wormwood. European vermouth is classified according to its sugar content – from extra dry (