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.