It’s time for vermouth to come out of the depths and star in cocktails |
Food & Drink

It’s time for vermouth to come out of the depths and star in cocktails

Vermouth, simply put, is an aromatized, fortified wine — higher in alcohol than most wines, but lower than most spirits.

It’s time vermouth came out of the back seat and leapt into the driver’s seat. No longer just the briny backbone of a martini or the sweet round note in a Negroni, vermouth belongs in summery cocktails on its own authority.

Vermouth, simply put, is an aromatized, fortified wine — higher in alcohol than most wines, but lower than most spirits. The word “aromatized” indicates that botanicals have been introduced, so vermouth is gently pumped up in flavor and alcohol, making it just right for simple, refreshing, late-summer cocktails. These botanicals add bitterness, aromas and flavors that stimulate the appetite (instead of suppresses it, like your dad’s predinner martini) and mix oh-so-prettily with fizzy things like tonic water and club soda. Colleen Malone, general manager and bar director at Chicago’s newly opened Superkhana International, calls these mixers “lengtheners.” They make a short drink tall, and “allow the individual botanicals in the vermouth to shine.”

Sparkling wine counts as another favorite bubbly mixer — the cocktail menu at Superkhana is packed with unconventional spritzes and sippers that feature vermouths and other aperitifs paired with sodas and sparkling wines for a refreshing start to the meal.

To Malone, vermouth represents “the amazing complexity and breadth of flavor you get from bitters, in a package that you can use more liberally because of its lower ABV (alcohol by volume) and price point.”


Inspired by the number of bottles of vermouth we’ve seen popping up on retailers’ shelves, we started experimenting with vermouth cocktails that go just a short step beyond the “and tonic” or “and soda” stage. The approach — buy a bottle or two of red or white dry vermouth from your favorite country — France (Dolin is a great one or try the classic Noilly Prat), Italy (Carpano, Contratto), Spain (Axa, Yzaguirre), or the good old U.S.A. (Lo-fi, Uncouth, Vya, Oso de Oro). Chill it. Crack it. Taste it short, on ice, then lengthen it with some tonic or soda.

Is it piney and resinous, herbal and floral, spicy, citrusy or fruity? Layer in a new flavor or two. Citrus to start? Grapefruit juice plays especially well with white vermouth — the herbal notes of the vermouth really shine, but be careful not to let things get too bitter.

A soda that’s on the sweet side can balance things out, or make a simple syrup infused with herbs, berries, honey or ginger to add gentle but interesting sweetness.

Some of our favorite punches are based on tea, whose mild tannins bring a nice bitter note to single-serve cocktails as well. Mix up one of these uncomplicated drinks — choosing dry or sweet vermouth, whatever you like — and relax and refresh before dinner on the deck.

Alexis Rose

Makes: 1 drink

¼ cup watermelon chunks

1 handful fresh mint leaves

2 ounces vermouth

2 ounces dry rosé wine (still or sparkling)

2 ounces best quality ginger beer

Place watermelon and mint in a large goblet; crush with a muddler or a fork. Add ice, then vermouth and wine. Top with ginger beer. Garnish with a giant fresh mint sprig.


Makes: 1 drink

2 ounces vermouth

2 ounces ruby red grapefruit juice

3 ounces grapefruit soda (such as Squirt or Ting)

Pour vermouth over ice in a very tall glass. Add grapefruit juice, then soda. Stir and enjoy at once.

Extra Iced Tea

Makes: 1 drink

2 ounces vermouth

3 ounces freshly brewed black or green tea, chilled

½ ounce honey or simple syrup

Juice of half lemon or lime

In a tall glass with ice, combine vermouth, tea, honey and juice. Stir well and garnish with a wedge of citrus.

Categories: Lifestyles | Food Drink
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