The Truth about Vermouth

  • Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
    Vermouth can be made anywhere. From left: Sacred, an exclusive small batch for Dukes in London; Atsby Amberthorn from New York; Cinzano Extra Dry from Italy; and Maurin Rouge from France. Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
  • Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
    The rich color of Noilly Prat Ambré is indicative of its equally rich taste. Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
  • Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
    These huge casks, aging in cellars built by Louis Prat in 1850, are used for maturing mistelle sweet wine. Canadian oak was used for the 100-year-old barrels because it was easy to bend into the large shapes, not for any flavoring qualities of the wood. Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
  • Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
    Within the walled enclosure, L’Enclos, at La Maison Noilly Prat, the regional wines for its vermouth are oxidized outside for one year in weathered barrels. Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
  • Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
    A simple and popular cocktail served in France consists of Noilly Prat, ice, and a slice of lemon. Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
  • Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
    One of the two regional white wines being oxidized in the weathered barrels in the L’Enclos, at La Maison Noilly Prat. Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
  • Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
    The rich flavor of Martini’s 150th anniversary Gran Lusso is enhanced with ice and fresh lemon. Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
  • Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
    This carefully prepared combination of 20 herbs and spices is macerated with the wines in huge casks, as part of the process in making Noilly Prat vermouth. Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
  • Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
    Bartenders are now experimenting with Martini Bianco vermouth to create new and highly imaginative cocktails. Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
  • Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
    Chilled dry vermouth is a classic accompaniment with fresh shellfish, as shown being enjoyed here off the coast of Marseillan at Port Rive Gauche. Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
  • Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
    One of the newest vermouth cocktails is the Martini Royale, introduced in Pessione, Italy in 2012. Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
  • Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
    One of the classic copper pot stills used in the making of Martini vermouth. Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
  • Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
  • Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
  • Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
  • Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
  • Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
  • Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
  • Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
  • Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
  • Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
  • Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
  • Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
  • Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker

Vermouth is perhaps the most misinterpreted beverage in the United States. In its present form, the fortified wine has been around since the mid 18th century, when it was created in Turin, Italy, as an aperitif with medicinal effects. In Europe, vermouth has long been popular as a refreshing drink on its own; only in recent years has it emerged as a versatile component in a variety of inventive cocktails. In the United States, however, vermouth is typically thought of strictly as an ingredient for martinis and Manhattans—but it is much more dynamic than that.

Most vermouths are made with red or white wine that has been infused or macerated with botanicals and then fortified with brandy (and sometimes sweetened with natural additives such as sugar or caramel). It is then aged in either stainless-steel tanks or oak barrels. While most vermouth comes from Italy and France, there are no geographical limitations on its creation; vermouth can be made anywhere. In fact, U.S.-made craft vermouths are a fast-growing spirits category. Examples include Vya from Madera, Calif., Uncouth Vermouth from Brooklyn, and Atsby from Mattituck, N.Y. Another notable U.S. brand is Gallo, in Modesto, Calif., which produces the ubiquitous sweet and extra-dry varieties, but Gallo is far from being a small-scale operation.

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