Vermouth has come a long way since its days gathering dust on back bars. That’s not to mention the regular derision from “Martini” drinkers who would ask their bartenders to give but a curt “nod toward France.”
Indeed, we are now in the midst of a vermouth revolution. The classic fortified, aromatized, oxidized wine—sweet or dry, but always boasting a telltale smack of botanical-driven bitterness—has new purchase. You can easily buy niche brands like Dolin, Vergano and P. Quiles, as well as upstarts Sutton from California and Imbue from Oregon. I often overhear mixologists debating the qualities of different vermouths for specific cocktail recipes.
But I’m here to recommend that you approach vermouth with the ultimate respect a liquor can receive: as a drink unto itself. First of all, most vermouths are perfectly balanced, complex products. Carpano Antica Formula’s unctuous sweetness is tamed by a satisfying bitter turn at the end. The overwhelming headiness of Dolin Dry’s ethereal perfume is pleasingly grounded by the nutty robustness of its palate. See for yourself: As enjoyable as they are mixed with gin, rye whiskey or Campari, these bottlings are thrillingly delicious straight.
And conveniently, you probably have an open bottle sitting around, good for moments when you don’t feel like uncorking a new bottle of wine or fixing a cocktail. Similarly, vermouth’s strength lies between those beverages, giving it a unique spot in a balanced drinking progression. And finally, that complexity and sweet bitterness gets the appetite churning.
All together, these factors make vermouth the ideal aperitif. A couple ounces in a Duralex Picardie Tumbler, with a cube of ice, is the perfect sipper while I’m cooking dinner. Or while basking in the warm light of a vanishing afternoon. Or as a quick pour while waiting at a restaurant’s bar for my late friend.
We’ve come far in learning to appreciate vermouth. Now it’s time to drink it on its own.
Jordan Mackay is a San Francisco-based writer and co-author of the James Beard Award-winning book Secrets of the Sommeliers.