What is Vermouth Anyway? The Story Behind Vermouth

We use it all the time, but what is vermouth anyway and why should you care? In this post we cover the history of vermouth and wha makes it so special.

Four bottles of vermouth outside.

You may have noticed that the Martini you made with the Martini and Rossi Dry Vermouth that has been sitting on your shelf for the last year didn’t taste quite right. You probably looked at your cat and asked, “Snuggles, does vermouth go bad”? And your cat replied, “Yes, Meredith. It does. Everyone knows that. You’re a fool”. 

What is vermouth anyway? The story behind vermouth | giphy | cocktail hammer
Mr. Snuggles talking down to you.

But is Snuggles right? What is vermouth anyway? And why is your cat talking? Well, let us clear up all of those questions (except that last one) as we answer the question “what is vermouth?”

The History of Vermouth

Centuries ago, before we could just take a Tums every time we had a stomach ache, people had to treat illness with naturally grown resources.

Four bottles of vermouth outside.
Four bottles of vermouth outside.

One of the more popular remedies was wormwood, an herb that provided a number of health benefits to heal upset stomach, intestinal pain, appetite deficiency, liver disease, gallbladder disease, fever, muscle pain, memory loss, and worm infections. Wormwood oil can also increase sexual appetite, and stimulate sweating. Sounds like a fun night. 

Wormwood for vermouth - what is vermouth?
Wormwood for vermouth.

If you heard of wormwood before, you’ve probably heard that it is one of the main ingredients in absinthe. But don’t worry, only large concentrated doses of the plant can cause hallucinogenic experiences–unless you’re into that sort of thing.

Wermut is the German word for the bitter digestive herb that we refer to wormwood, and has translated to the word for what would eventually be called vermouth.   

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What is Vermouth?

Vermouth is categorized as an aromatized wine. Aromatized wine is an umbrella term for fortified wines with additional natural flavors. The main differentiator from vermouth to other aromatic wines is vermouth’s use of wormwood. To be considered vermouth, the drink, under European Union regulation, must: 

  1. It must be at least 75% wine 
  2. It must be 14.5%-22% ABV 
  3. It must be fortified with alcohol (usually Brandy) 
  4. It must contain wormwood 

The secret behind the creation of vermouth of any kind is the harmonization of all of the ingredients including wormwood and fortified wine, and also its natural flavors such as herbs, spices, sometimes caramelized sugar, sucrose, and grape must. 

Hanging grape vines for white wine - but is snuggles right? What is vermouth anyway? And why is your cat talking? Well, let us clear up all of those questions (except that last one) as we answer the question what is vermouth
Hanging grape vines for white wine.

The Italian and French vermouths are all made from white grape, and the color is added to the sweeter reds.

If you are wondering if you can drink vermouth straight, the answer is, hell yeah! European culture encourages drinking vermouth straight or on the rocks at restaurants, cafes, and bars. I actually don’t mind drinking vermouth straight. It tastes pretty good and gets the job done, that job being, getting drunk.

Behind the Bar Video: I meet an Expert – Vermouth (& fortified/aromatised wines) explained!

Does Vermouth Go Bad?

Although the vermouth is fortified, it still has ingredients that will eventually spoil. An unopened bottle of vermouth can last 3-4 years. If opened, remember to keep it refrigerated. Once opened, if not refrigerated, the vermouth will go off quicker.

With refrigeration, the vermouth can last up to about 2-3 months. If old or spoiled vermouth is ingested, no need to worry, there are no harmful effects. You’ll probably just have a bitter, smelly, unpleasant cocktail on your hands.

If you’re making cocktails from home, your home bar needs to have at least a 375ml bottle of dry vermouth and a 375ml bottle of sweet vermouth. You’ll be using vermouth in cocktails often and you never want to be unprepared. If you like certain cocktails more than others, for instance, Martinis more than Negronis, then you’ll need an extra bottle of dry vermouth. Just please, remember to keep it refrigerated once they’re opened.  

A very dirty martini copy
A very dirty martini.

Notes for the Reader 

  • Sometimes the labeling on vermouths doesn’t clearly indicate whether it’s sweet or dry vermouth, but, rule of thumb, if the color scheme for the bottle is mostly red, then it is sweet, if it is mostly green and white, it is dry. Sweet vermouth is almost always a golden brown dark tawny-colored liquid and dry vermouth is a pale yellow colored liquid.
  • If you see Blanc or Bianco on the label, it is actually sweet vermouth with a similar color to dry vermouth, but usually has the same, or less, sugar and alcohol content as sweet red vermouths.
  • Some general regulations about vermouths are as follows:
    • Extra dry vermouth has less than 30G/L. 
    • Dry vermouth has less than 50 G/L/. 
    • Semi-dry has between 50-90G/L. 
    • Semi-sweet has 90-130G/L. 
    • Sweet has more than 130G/L.  

*G/L: Grams per Liter

What Cocktails Use Vermouth?

If you’re gonna make a cocktail, whether it’s the classics like the Martini, the Manhattan, the Negroni, the Boulevardier, and even some of the modern cocktails like The Tuxedo, The Amber Dream, the Americano, the Blackthorne, the Cardinale, and more, then you’re gonna need vermouth. 

Below we have listed some of the most popular vermouths. Remember, vermouths are different from other aromatized wines like an aperitif, only because of its differentiator, wormwood.

  • Dolin Dry Vermouth: 17.5% (ABV) alcl/vol. 30 G/L (France)
  • Dolin (Rouge) Sweet Vermouth: 16%alc/vol. 130G/L (France)
  • Martini and Rossi Sweet Vermouth: 15% (ABV) alc/vol. N/A G/L (Italy)
  • Martini and Rossi Dry Vermouth: 18% (ABV) alc/vol. N/A G/L (Italy)
  • Noilly Prat Original dry: 18% (ABV) alc/vol. N/A G/L (Italy)
  • Noilly Prat extra dry: 18% (ABV) alc/vol. N/A G/L (Italy) 
  • Noilly Prat Rouge: 16% (ABV) alc/vol. N/A G/L (Italy)
  • Noilly Prat Ambre: 16% (ABV) alc/vol. N/A G/L (Italy)
  • Cocchi Vermouth di Torino: 16% (ABV) alc/vol. N/A G/L (Italy)
  • Cinzano Rosso Sweet Vermouth: 15% (ABV) alc/vol. N/A G/L (Italy)
  • Cinzano Bianco Vermouth: 15% (ABV) alc/vol. N/A G/L (Italy)*
  • Cinzano Extra Dry Vermouth: 18% (ABV) alc/vol. N/A G/L (Italy)

Conclusion: What is Vermouth

We never got to the bottom of the talking cat, but we did get to the bottom of the bottle. Click here to check out some cocktail recipes that include vermouth. What other facts did you want to know about vermouth? Do you feel this post answer the question “what is vermouth?” Let us know in the comment section down below. Until next time, remember to stay home, and get hammered.

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Written by Chris Harris, Staff Writer

Howdy. I’m Chris Harris. One of the writers here at Cocktail Hammer. I have a passion for all things food, wine, and mixology. When I’m not I’m behind the bar or writing for this awesome blog, you can find me riding my bike all across New York City.

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9 thoughts on “What is Vermouth Anyway? The Story Behind Vermouth<h2 class="post-excerpt">We use it all the time, but what is vermouth anyway and why should you care? In this post we cover the history of vermouth and wha makes it so special.</h2>”

  1. I’ve gently expanded my cocktail repertoire with COVID keeping me home.
    Rye whiskey has had my attention most recently.
    Learned some things from your article.

    • Hi Roger. That’s awesome! Yes, COVID has made bartenders out of all of us. I love rye as well. Bulleit is possibly my favorite. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Consider signing up for our mailing list to get more content like this delivered straight to your inbox. All the best.

  2. Didn’t know it had to be refrigerated, and was curious as to why my Manhattans and Vieux Carre’s have gotten progressively less enjoyable over the last 6 months. Thank God there’s no ill effects from old vermouth!

  3. Well written. Already knew most of this, but refreshing to see an article that is: 1) accurate; 2) informative; 3) funny; and 4) not about politics!


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