I truly believe that Mad Men is wholly responsible for where cocktail culture is today. I know, that’s a bold statement. But if Don Draper hadn’t made sipping a Manhattan look so damn good, I don’t think classic cocktails would be going through the renaissance we have seen over the past decade. And in order to make a good cocktail, you need quality ingredients. Not just your staple spirits of rye, gin rum and vodka, but vermouth also. The quality and style of vermouth can have such an impact on the drink and because of that, the demand for artisanal vermouth continues to increase with each new year.
When most people think of vermouth, they think of a sticky bottle of Martini that’s been sitting on the back of a bar collecting dust, but don’t really understand what vermouth actually is or how delicious it can really be. Classified as an aromatized wine, vermouth is made with fortified wine that has been infused with various botanicals. Most important of these botanicals is the extremely bitter wormwood, which is where the name “vermouth” comes from. Initially used to help rid people of intestinal problems and ward off diseases like malaria, it wasn’t until the 16th century that people began consuming these bitter sweet wines for pleasure rather than medical purposes.
It is also important to note that there are two distinct styles of vermouth: sweet and dry. Sweet vermouth is usually red in colour with spicy botanical notes of cinnamon and bitter orange and is most often used in whisky-based cocktails, whereas dry vermouth is pale with more bitter, citrus-driven botanicals. But as with anything, there are always exceptions to the rule. There are pale vermouths that are beautifully sweet and even pink vermouth being produced. And beyond being used as a complementary ingredient in cocktails, vermouth is also quite delicious all on its own with just a splash of soda and twist of citrus.
Iconic producers like Dolin and Cocchi are credited with creating the original styles of dry and sweet vermouth and their proprietary blends that date back to the 1800s, but as vermouth gains popularity, we are seeing new producers pop up all over the world, not least, here in Canada.
We’ve compiled a list of our favourite Vermouth and the best way to serve them.
Dolin Dry, Savoie, France. $15 - $25 (375 mL)
If you are making a dry martini, this is the vermouth you should reach for. Derived from a recipe over 200 years old, this vermouth is feather light with distinct botanical notes of lemon zest and crushed white flowers with a lovely lingering bitterness.
Cocchi Americano, Piedmont, Italy $29 - $44 (750 mL)
Cocchi makes outstanding sweet red vermouths but it is their Americano that we have truly fallen for. A sweeter style pale vermouth with zesty citrus botanicals, this is perfect for using in a negroni or sipping all on its own with just a twist of orange.
Odd Society Bittersweet Vermouth, Vancouver, British Columbia $20 - $27 (375 mL)
Produced in downtown Vancouver, Odd Society uses old world recipes combined with new world technique and ingredients to create world class spirits. Its vermouth contains 25 different botanicals and has a distinct note of candied fennel and orange peel, which add a beautiful depth and complexity to an Old Fashioned.
Dillon’s Vermouth, Beamsville, Ontario $20 - $32 (750 mL)
This sweet style vermouth has been infused with wormwood grown right at the Dillon’s distillery, as well as strawberry, vanilla and cinchona bark, giving it a rich yet subtle spiciness. The warm notes of vanilla marry perfectly with whisky and help make a killer Manhattan.