You’ve probably got a bottle of vermouth somewhere, shoved to the back of your liquor cabinet and dusted off only for the occasional Negroni. You’ve smelled that stuff — and we couldn’t pay you to drink it straight. But that’s only because the cheaper versions tend to recall the drink’s original use as a medicinal tonic. That doesn’t do vermouth justice. In much of Mediterranean Europe, it is an early-evening staple, enjoyed over ice or with a twist — and always with a snack and good company. “Vermouth is a culture,” says Rob Bragagnolo, chef and owner of Toronto’s Campo Food Hall and Labora restaurant. His family is Italian, and he spent a dozen years in Catalonia, so his credentials are legit. “It’s low-octane, so you can have a couple with friends before dinner,” he says. Now, at long last, the easy-drinking aperitif is having a moment in North America. Here’s what you need to know.
So What Is It?
Officially, vermouth is fortified wine. That is, it’s wine (usually white, despite the final appearance) bolstered with aromatics and a stronger spirit.
What Am I Smelling, Exactly?
Aromatics are crucial to good vermouth. While it will differ by brand and bottle, some of the traditional flavours include juniper, coriander, chamomile, saffron, and wormwood (which gives the drink its name, from the German “wemut”).
Sweet Vs. Dry Vs. White. Explain.
Sweet is the original: deeply red, sticky, with lots of residual sugar and a bit of bitterness. Dry has less sugar and is usually more fragrant and earthy. And white vermouth is, well, white. Otherwise, it’s similar in bitterness and acidity to red, but less spicy.
How Should I Drink It?
Traditionally, vermouth is poured cold over ice. You might add a little soda to dilute it. With red vermouth, add a slice of orange (and an olive in Spain); with white, a lemon twist. In either case, it pairs especially well with cured or preserved salty snacks, like olives, anchovies, tinned fish, or even plain old potato chips.
What Should I Buy?