Chances are, if you make cocktails, even once in awhile, you own at least one bottle of vermouth. Classified as a fortified, aromatized wine, vermouth can be divided into sweet (or red or Italian) and dry (or white or French). Though it is sometimes underappreciated (and very often stored incorrectly—it goes in the fridge!), vermouth is an integral part of cocktailing. The next time you enjoy a really great Manhattan or Martini, take the time to thank vermouth, the not-so-glamorous backbone holding up your drink.
The History of Vermouth
Vermouth has a rich history and lore closely tied to folk medicine. Starting as early as 1000 B.C. in China, people were steeping botanicals (roots, barks, flowers, herbs and spices) in wine and sipping the mixture as a medicinal tipple. It wasn’t until the mid-17th century, though, that these infusions were referred to as vermouth.
The word “vermouth” is taken from the German wermut meaning wormwood (an essential botanical in many vermouth recipes). It officially split into its two signature categories of red and white in 1786, when Antonio Benedetto Carpano created his signature sweet vermouth, which quickly garnered a following in the royal court of Turin. In the early 1800s, Joseph Noilly developed his proprietary dry vermouth in France.