Everyone pretends to know what Vermouth is, but we took the time to understand why Vermouth is on the rise in the US.
ow-proof cocktails have long been standard in SF and NYC and in recent years, they’re trending nationally. Bartenders have jumped on this tide using vermouth and sherry in low ABV cocktails at bars and also at restaurants without a hard liquor license. This allows the option for complex and pleasing cocktails without spirits. But vermouth is finally also beginning to be understood in the states as it has always been in Europe: to be drunk on its own.
“Vermouths are part of the growing trend for lower ABV sippers and day drinking,” says Marshall Dawson, co-creator/co-founder of Jardesca California Aperitiva. “In the rest of the world, vermouths and aperitifs are used for the pre-dinner aperitif moment, not simply mixed drinks. Consumers here in the US seem to be catching on… The rising popularity of lighter, lower alcohol choices and botanically-based cocktails also mirrors the ever-growing interest in health/wellness and balance.”
Since the late 19th century, it has become crucial to the most iconic classic cocktails, like the Negroni, Martini, Manhattan or Rob Roy.
What is Vermouth?
Vermouth is a staple of Italy, Spain and France. In recent years, this aromatized, fortified wine has become a darling of bartenders the world over, boasting a growing number of US producers. Vermouth originated in the 18th century in Turin, Italy, but is equally crucial to Spain, where it’s called vermut.
What exactly is vermouth? Take a red (rosso/rojo) or white (blanco) wine, then fortify it (essentially enhanced in boldness and complexity) with a touch of spirit and botanicals (herbs, flowers, roots, barks, spices, seeds). It’s traditionally drunk as an aperitif/aperitivo pre-dinner on the rocks, garnished with an orange wedge and/or olive. Since the late 19th century, it has become crucial to the most iconic classic cocktails, like the Negroni, Martini, Manhattan or Rob Roy. In addition to red and white, eventually extra-dry whites, amber and rosé vermouths appeared.
Bartenders across the US have revived the category, also falling for small producers with unique flavor profiles able to stand on their own, not just as modifiers in cocktails.
The Legendary Brands
Lustau, one of the most revered sherry houses in Jerez, Spain, produces vermut using their lush sherry wines. In 2017, they brought their rojo and blanco vermuts to the US. This August/September, they released a vermut rosé. “We wanted to create a fresh product for this range, one that showcased the color of Spain from the sensation of summer to the sunsets,” says Fernando Pérez, Lustau Master Blender and Quality Director. We experimented with an indigenous variety from the Sherry Area, which is well known for its fruitiness and intense color, called Tintilla de Rota. This grape was the starting point that inspired the new vermouth.”
Major Italian brands include Carpano, Cocchi, Cinzano and Martini & Rossi; on the French side, Dolin and Noilly Prat; and from Spain, Miro, Lacuesta and Yzaguirre. Bartenders across the US have revived the category, also falling for small producers with unique flavor profiles able to stand on their own, not just as modifiers in cocktails. Stunning Italian vermouths like Riserva Carlo Alberto and Mancino have gained fans, as have Spanish producers like Axta (on tap at San Francisco’s Barcino).
“People now are discovering that vermouth is more than just a cocktail ingredient. It is a perfect product for cocktails, of course, but also spritzes or as an aperitif.”
But US producers have been growing in number. Andrew Quady of California’s Quady Winery pioneered American/New World vermouth in 1999, using unusual grape varieties like Orange Muscat grown in CA’s San Joaquin Valley. A couple decades later in 2010, Neil Kopplin at Oregon’s Imbue launched the Pacific Northwest’s first, using botanicals such as elderflower and dried tangerine in Bittersweet Vermouth, eventually creating Petal & Thorn, heavy on orange, pine and cinnamon.
Tempus Fugit perfects their vermouths as they do all their spirits: adhering to historic recipes honoring vermouth’s birthplace of Torino or using high-quality Italian chinato wine. California Wine Country regions take advantage of their wealth of every kind of grape, producing vermouths like Napa’s popular, “Western Dry-style” Lo-Fi, often seen in bar cocktails. Created by E&J Gallo and Quaker City Mercantile, Lo-Fi utilizes botanicals like wild cherry bark and grape bases like Muscat Canelli. In Sonoma County, Jardesca California Aperitiva is made from a blend of Sonoma grapes: mostly Viognier fortified with botanicals such as pink peppercorn, pink grapefruit and bay leaf in their White Aperitiva, or Zinfandel with tangerine, ginger and cardamom in the Red.
A Versatile Product
Lustau’s Pérez confirms: “Vermouth has definitely captured the attention of bartenders in the US… People now are discovering that vermouth is more than just a cocktail ingredient. It is a perfect product for cocktails, of course, but also spritzes or as an aperitif. If we add the fact that we are talking about lower alcohol level than any other spirit we, [it’s a] very versatile product.”
Whether you sip in low-proof cocktails or on the rocks, chances are you’ll be seeing a wider range of quality vermouth at your favorite bars.