“Let’s get started with the basics,” said Francois Monti, spirit educator and author of El Gran Libro del Vermut. “Vermouth can be described as an aromatized and fortified wine. It is made from grapes and then enhanced with spirit. Then it is flavored with herbs, spices and other botanicals. Vermouth’s bittering agent, the Wormwood (or sometimes quinine), gives it the complexity that makes mixology so interesting. Monti says, “Its backbone… is the interplay of bitterness and sweetness.” It’s a key ingredient in classic cocktails and is a staple of Southern European aperitivo culture.
Sam Nelis, Vermont’s Barr Hill Distillery bar director, says that it adds flavor to strong spirit-based drinks and isn’t too sweet. He says that this element is crucial because elixirs such as the Negroni and Manhattan would not have been possible without it. Without those drinks, there would be no modern cocktails.
The original vermouth was first created in Torino, Italy, over two centuries ago. The region around Torino continues to make some of the best sweet vermouths. However, France and Spain as well as the U.S. also produce great bottles. These are the top vermouths you can get now.
Best Overall: Cocchi Vermouth di Torino
Monti says that Cocchi has the right balance of vanilla and chocolate notes with a bitter herbal hit. Monti says that Cocchi is a sweet, Italian-style vermouth . It’s “everything you want in a sweet, Italian style vermouth ,” but it’s “easier on the palate” than other brands in its category. Miranda Breedlove (National Director of Bars Lifestyle Division), says that it is “super accessible” and “works well with cocktails with an aggressive backbone, as well as drinks with low-ABV.”
Best for Negroni: Martini & Rossi Rosso
“Vermouth was so popular in Torino that Campari [in Milan in 1860] was invented, to sell it, they created a drink called Milano Torino by mixing it with vermouth. Nelis explains that this was the start of the Negroni.
The Negroni, which is equal parts Campari, gin, and sweet vermouth, is a great cocktail to mix with a lighter, sweeter version of vermouth. Monti says that Campari already has a strong ingredient, so you don’t have to add anything bitter. Martini is a good choice if you want something milder.
Best for Manhattan: Carpano Antico Formula
Carpano, the original Italian vermouth, named their aromatized wine after the German bitter wormwood word, “wermut”. Max Green, the owner-mixologist of New York’s Blue Quarter, finds that it has “overarching rich chocolate, vanilla and strong dried fruit: figs and dates” and is a great companion to “any heavy, big whiskey” in a classic Manhattan.
Best with Soda: Carpano Punt e Mes
Monti says that this Carpano “herbaceous” vermouth is made by the company. It’s “at the opposite end of the spectrum” to the popular Antica brand. Monti says that this vermouth is “the most bitter of all the well-known Italian vermouths, but it also contains a lot sugar so it’s very flavorful.” It has a complex layering of chocolate, toffee, and menthol notes, which makes it almost “medicinal”. Nelis says it is a “personal favorite” and enjoys it in cocktails. Or, even better, with soda water. Its personality shines.