What Does Vermouth Taste Like?

During my years at college, I, like most, met a rather large variety of individuals.  We each attended college for a different reason and had a life plan in place.  However, one individual that always comes to mind when I think back on that time is Richard.

In my sophomore year, I met Richard as we were both taking a business class.  I was only taking it because it was a required class, but Richard chose to take it for a more impressive reason.

You see, Richard was not just after a college degree – he wanted to learn everything he could about running a business. His true goal was to own an upscale bar. He knew that to be successful, he had to understand the business components involved.

Richard felt that knowing all about the business of running his bar was just as important as knowing the drinks and cocktails he would be offering -such as vermouth, his favorite cocktail ingredient.

Over the years, I’ve met lots of people who have very strong opinions about vermouth. In fact, Winston Churchill famously rejected vermouth from his martini, asking for it to be made with just gin whilst he “observed the vermouth from across the room”!

However, in my experience, the right vermouth in the right quantities is the perfect addition to many a cocktail recipe.

So, just what does vermouth taste like? How should you drink it? Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about this classic cocktail ingredient.


What is Vermouth?

Vermouth is a fortified, aromatized wine, that has been flavored with various botanicals, such as seeds, flowers, herbs, and spices, added to distilled alcohol.  The added alcohol keeps the drink from spoiling too quickly. 

Vermouth is considered one of, if not the oldest, forms of alcoholic drink. It derives its name from the German for wormwood-wermut. 

There are two main classifications for vermouth-sweet (red vermouth) and dry (white vermouth).  However, other categories are somewhat more nuanced, such as Bianco, American modern, quinquina, and black vermouth that have only in recent years gained popularity.  The more popular versions of the vermouth of today were initially created in Turin, Italy, as far back as the mid-to-late 18th Century.

The original purpose for the creation of vermouth was medical in nature.  However, later it was considered fashionable to serve guests around the clock in many Italian cafes.  Then later in the 19th-century, bartenders began incorporating it as an ingredient in cocktails.

Is Vermouth a Wine or Liquor?

Many are somewhat surprised when they hear the answer to this very question.

Vermouth technically is not a liquor but a fortified wine. The wine has been aromatized and flavored, with the addition of neutral alcohol, such as clear grape brandy, to boost its alcohol by volume (ABV). The flavor is achieved by adding various herbs, spices, and botanicals.

There are several varieties of wines that have been aromatized.  However, the most prominent and well-known version is vermouth.  There are two categories of vermouth – sweet vermouth, often referred to as Italian vermouth, and dry vermouth, which is usually French.

Some interesting facts about vermouth include:

  • Originated in Italy, however, it’s popular in Italy, France, and the USA.
  • It often ranges from very sweet to very dry on the palate.
  • Its coloring will vary from a dark red-brown to a pale gold.

What Does Vermouth Taste Like?

The choice of flavors and aromas present in vermouth can vary widely, usually depending on the style and maker. 

Dry vermouths are typically low in tannins, making them light-bodied.  They have a nose that is herbal, fruity, and florally but will finish with a bracing dryness.

Vermouth is a popular ingredient choice in a variety of cocktails due to its profile presenting with a florally taste and often spicy.

Sweet Vermouth vs. Dry Vermouth

Most often, each vermouth will follow a slightly different recipe, with there being only two primary styles-that of dry vermouth and sweet vermouth.  Because each type is different, mixers will usually use them in various applications.

Depending on which vermouth you choose will determine the overall taste of the product. 

For instance, sweet vermouth, which presents with a darker red-brown color, offers a subtle sweet and spicy flavor due to it containing at much as fifteen percent sugar, followed by a slight hint of bitterness at the finish. 

Dry vermouth, which presents with a pale yellow or clear color, offers a crisp tart flavor reminiscent of a dry white wine due to it only containing five percent sugar,

The botanicals responsible for vermouth’s sweet and bitter palate include cinnamon, gentian, angelica, lemon peel, star anise, and licorice. 

Many who have tried vermouth have commented on how it reminded them of licorice.  However, wormwood is the main ingredient that causes bitterness, which is also used in Absinthe.

Does Vermouth Go Bad?

Because vermouth is a aromatized fortified wine and not technically liquor, many do not realize that vermouth can and does go bad

In many cases, people have determined that vermouth is not for them because they have only tasted vermouth when it is dull, flat, and old-basically, it has gone bad.  Bad vermouth is not very good at all.  However, when vermouth has not been allowed to go bad, it has a delightful overall taste.

Vermouth has an 18% ABV (alcohol by volume), depending on the variety and the brand.  It is considered low in alcohol content compared to the 40% ABV of more popular spirits such as Gin, vodka, rum, and Whiskey.

What Tastes Similar to Vermouth?

More often than not, the taste of vermouth is compared to that of sherry.  Both share similar base traits and qualities. Like vermouth, sherry is also a fortified wine with a similar intensity of flavor and aroma.

Vermouth and sherry can be easily swapped when looking for a drink mixer.  In fact, many swap sherry for vermouth in their traditional martinis.  However, it’s worth noting that sherry is more savory and subtle on the palate than vermouth.

There is a significant difference in how the two are created. 

The critical point is that the unique aromas and flavor present in vermouth result from the botanicals and spices added.  This combination gives it a “medical quality” that sherry does not have.  On the other hand, sherry relies on fermentation and aging to acquire its flavor.  

How to Drink Vermouth

Although the most common use of vermouth is as an addition in cocktails and considered a critical ingredient in martinis, many consider it a superb stand-alone libation, with an accompanying hint of citrus.

How manner in which one enjoys vermouth is, like most fine drinks, unique to the individual consuming it. 

Some enjoy vermouth “on the rocks”-over ice- while others may enjoy it with a citrus twist included.  If choosing the addition of a citrus twist, orange twists tend to complement the darker vermouth better, while the choice of a lemon twist is commonly enjoyed with the lighter vermouths.

Best Vermouth Cocktails

Even though vermouth is considered a trendy addition to mixed drinks, it inevitably plays second fiddle to the other ingredients.  Why might you ask?  Because vermouth is added for the primary purpose of adding body and complexity to the cocktails-a task it accomplishes with no problem.

There are a wide variety of cocktails that take advantage of the addition of vermouth to their ingredients.  We have curated the most common and popular cocktails below.

Manhattan Cocktail

The most well-known of the cocktails that utilize sweet vermouth is the Manhattan.  The history of this drink is extensive and has recently become stylish once again.  

The recipe includes sweet vermouth, whiskey, and bitters.

Classic Martini

Undeniably, the most famous cocktail utilizing dry vermouth is the Martini.  Having been enjoyed by individuals for centuries, this cocktail is a true icon.  In recent decades, film character James Bond has made the cocktail even more popular, with his order for it “shaken, not stirred.”

The recipe includes dry white vermouth and Gin.

Classic Negroni

This cocktail has it all going on, with its equal parts of bitter, refreshing, and complexity-indeed, a drink worth savoring.  The recipe is easy to make and easy to memorize, as it uses equal 1-ounce additions of each of its ingredients.

The recipe includes sweet vermouth, Gin, and Campari.

Americano Cocktail

The Americano is perfect for a summer afternoon as it is a classic sweet vermouth cocktail.  Although the Americano is the original inspiration for the Negroni, many consider the cocktail even better.  It is bubbly, complex, and bitter all at once!

The recipe includes sweet vermouth, Campari, and soda water.