Vermouth is a fortified wine. It originated in Turin, Italy and was created sometime in the 18th Century. As with many other kinds of alcohol, it started out for medicinal use but things developed from there to where it is now found in bars everywhere across the world.
Vermouth comes in two varieties: sweet vermouth and dry vermouth. Every vermouth maker closely guards their recipe for vermouth, resulting in a diverse array of tastes for the liquor. It’s also a key ingredient in martinis, but that’s not all there is to vermouth.
Sweet vermouth can be found in both red and white varieties, though it’s most commonly red. It has around 15% ABV. Sweet Vermouth is commonly used in cocktails, though it is also drunk on its own as an aperitif, a before-dinner drink served to stimulate the appetite. Vermouth generally has a pleasant herbal flavor and aroma, making it a great mixer. Sweet vermouth follows its name and has a noticeably sweet taste.
Sweet vermouth was originally the kind most often used in martinis, but today dry vermouths are used for that more frequently. If you’re looking for a truly old-fashioned martini, sweet vermouth is the way to go. Sweet vermouth is also one of the key ingredients to a Manhattan, complementing the flavors of the whiskey without overwhelming it.
Which vermouth you use a mixer will make a major impact on how the drink tastes. Since every brand has their own vermouth recipe, which is typically kept secret, every brand of vermouth has at least a slightly different taste. Sometimes the taste is very different, with different spices, herbal, or floral notes. Most vermouth comes from Europe, specifically France or Italy.
Italian vermouth was the kind first imported into the United States, so Americans think of vermouth as an Italian drink. In Europe, it’s considered more French. You can, on occasion, find Spanish vermouth, but Spain has never really made a mark on commercial vermouth the way France and Italy have.
There are a number of brands of sweet vermouths out there. They’re typically pretty inexpensive, though some can run fairly high for a mixer. However, “expensive” doesn’t mean best or even good. So what are some good sweet vermouth for you to try out in your martini, Manhattan, or as an aperitif?
Drillaud Vermouth Blanc
Sweet vermouth is often red, but this one is white. ‘Blanc’ is in the name, after all. It has a dark yellow, almost amber color, in fact, resembling white wine. This vermouth, like many others, comes from France.
This sweet vermouth has a taste very much like a mellow dessert wine. It also a rich botanical taste and smell, though this gives way to a sweeter, smoother flavor with hints of peach. The Drillaud Vermouth Blanc is all-in-all a very elegant sweet vermouth, with plenty of taste yet a light feel.
Coming to us from Italy, this is a very red sweet vermouth. A lot of red vermouths are made in Italy, while white is more commonly made in France, though you’ll still see both kinds from both places. It packs a lot of flavor in yet remains a lightness. Think of it as a candy sort of vermouth. Instead of a fruitier taste, it has strong floral notes. It’s very smooth and goes down easily. It’s not syrupy at all but is still pleasantly sweet.
Martini & Rossi Sweet Vermouth
This is another Italian red vermouth. It has a unique sweetness, much more complex than many others on this list, with many herbal tastes like sage, coriander, and chamomile. It’s a great “all around” vermouth. Use it for cocktails—especially in Manhattans, where it really shows its stuff—and cooking. If you don’t want to stock lots of different vermouth bottles for your cocktails, this is a great choice. It’s very reasonably priced for something with so much versatility, so if you’re looking for a vermouth that gives you the most bang and mileage for your buck, the Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth is a good way to go, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the liquor.
Noilly Pratt Sweet Vermouth
Here we have a French vermouth. It has a distinctively spicy nose and a fruity palate, a fun and unique combination. You can taste cinnamon and cloves in it, so it has a nice bite-y bittersweet taste. It is both a great cocktail vermouth and aperitif vermouth.
Like the Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth, this one works great in a Manhattan especially. The Noilly Pratt vermouth Manhattan will taste noticeably different from the Martini & Rossi vermouth. This is a great way to get a taste for the effects different vermouths will have on your cocktails.
Rivata Sweet Vermouth
This Italian sweet red vermouth has a low price and retains a great quality taste. It is sweet, but not overmuch, and has hints of orange peel, cinnamon, and spice cake. There’s a subtle hint of chocolate to it, as well. Its low price also makes it a good cooking or poaching vermouth, balancing good quality with low cost. It’s not the best vermouth money can buy, but it’s among the best for its low, low price bracket. If you’re looking to experiment with cooking with vermouth or plan on making a lot of Manhattans, the Rivata sweet vermouth is an excellent choice.
The variety of vermouth out there makes it interesting to try different kinds. The low cost of many good brands of vermouth, including the five recommendations listed here, make it easy to try out different kinds of you want to become a Manhattan or martini specialist among your friends. Vermouth can be bought in large bottles, so it’s easy to pick up a decent amount for a party. Many bars only carry one kind of vermouth, since few people know the difference between different brands, but ask what kind they’re using for your Manhattan if you’re out and about so you can know what different brands taste like.
What’s your favorite sweet vermouth? Let us know!