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What is Vermouth?

What is Vermouth?

Vermouth is not a spirit but a wine, and as with most wines the more you drink the drunker you get. Varying in proof from 14% to 22% it packs way more of a punch than your average glass of wine. Then again, few of us outside Spain and Italy drink our Vermouth neat. Instead we mix it into many cocktails that have become household names. 

A Shot-Sized History of Vermouth

For thousands of years, humans have been adding various herbs and roots to alcohol as a poor and primitive substitute for medicine. In the 15th century, the Hungarians began infusing wines with artemisia plants like wormwood and prescribing them to treat digestive problems. Shortly afterwards, the Germans followed suit, fortifying their wine with wormwood, which some passing French travellers started calling “vermouth.”

Different types of fortified wine began circulating around Europe, some pale and dry, others red and sweet. Then in 1786, in the Italian city of Turin, some bloke called Antonio Benedetto Carpano came up with a type of sweet vermouth concocted for enjoyment rather than medical treatment, and this drink became a hit with the incumbent Royal House of Savoy

What is Vermouth Made Of?

The magic of vermouth lies in its transformation through a process of fortification and aromatisation. Essentially, Vermouth is a fortified wine — not because it lives a sheltered existence behind castle walls but because it is infused with additional alcohol (usually brandy).

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But that’s just the beginning. What truly sets vermouth apart is its infusion with a complex blend of botanicals – herbs, roots, barks, flowers, and spices. Think of wormwood (yes, the same ingredient used in absinthe), cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, chamomile, and citrus peel, to name a few. Each producer has its secret recipe, making every vermouth unique.

What is Vermouth Used For?

Vermouth is the unsung hero behind some of our most iconic cocktails. No Martini would be complete without dry vermouth; a Manhattan would be unimaginable without sweet vermouth.

Some Southern Europeans in Spain and Italy drink Vermouth neat (often over ice) or dilute it with tonic water or soda. Sometimes they might even garnish it with an orange slice or olive. Then again, the Spanish click their tongues and are terminally late while the Italians can’t drive to save their lives and wear sunglasses at night, so let’s not take their preferences as gospel.  

What is Dry Vermouth?

You won’t be surprised to learn that Dry Vermouth is in fact rather wet, and that its prefix comes instead from its crisp bitter profile and light aromatic undertones. 

Otherwise known as French Vermouth, Dry Vermouth is characterised by a lower sugar content, making it the perfect partner for gin in a classic martini (or two). The botanicals in dry vermouth tend to be more savoury and herbal, with ingredients like chamomile, coriander, and juniper featuring front and foremost.

Its versatility and subtlety also make it a great ingredient in cooking, particularly in deglazing pans for sauces and adding depth to seafood dishes (including paella).

What is Sweet Vermouth?

Often referred to as Italian vermouth, sweet Vermouth is richer and more robust. With a higher sugar content, its flavour profile is simultaneously sweet and bitter, with notes of caramel, vanilla, and dark fruits balanced by complex herbal undertones. 

This type of vermouth is the backbone of the Manhattan, the Negroni, and the Americano. But you can also enjoy it on its own if you’re feeling adventurous, usually with a twist of lemon or an ice cube.

Join a Tipsy Tour in Barcelona and Taste Traditional Vermouth!

Curious about traditional drinks. Looking to get lashed among locals? Be sure to join one of our Tipsy Tours and experience a night out you’ll never forget. 

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We run Tipsy Tours across Barcelona, Lisbon, Budapest, Florence, and — where it all started — Rome. Each Tipsy Tour introduces you to a range of authentic local drinks while giving you a fun, shot-sized history of the places you’re visiting. 

If this article has whet your appetite for Vermouth, make sure you join us on our Barcelona Tipsy Tour where we’ll be taking you to the best places in the Catalan capital for Sangria, Vermouth cocktails, wine/beer and shots. Fins avia — see you soon! 

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