What Does Vermouth Taste Like? (You Must Know This NOW!)

Whether you love cocktails or enjoy dishes like French onion soup, you have probably heard and consumed vermouth at least once in your adult life.

For many of us, vermouth is an interesting alcoholic beverage we see in ingredient lists or liqueur stores, though there is still an enigma on what it is and its flavors.

So, what does vermouth taste like, exactly?

Let’s go deeper into what vermouth is and its flavors to get more of an idea of why this is a famous alcoholic beverage in many cocktails and dishes.

What is Vermouth?

For those who aren’t familiar with vermouth, this is a fortified and aromatized wine flavored with different botanicals. You’ll find ingredients like herbs, spices, flowers, and seeds added to the distilled alcohol. It’s the alcohol that keeps vermouth, and any other liqueur really, from spoiling quickly.

Yes, vermouth isn’t a liquor but a fortified wine that also includes neutral alcohol, usually clear grape brandy, which boosts its ABV level. So technically, some liquor is involved, to an extent.

Understandably, many people confuse vermouth for liquor, given its higher ABV of 15-18%. However, since vermouth isn’t distilled, we can’t consider it liquor.

Fun fact: Vermouth is considered one of the oldest alcoholic drinks, with its name derived from the German word, meaning "wormwood-wermut.”

There are two significant types of vermouth: sweet (red) vermouth and dry (white) vermouth. Other categories are more specific, such as the Bianco, Quinquina, American modern, and the black vermouth, which has only gained popularity in recent years. The popular vermouths were made in Turin, Italy, most likely in the mid-to-late 18th century.

Vermouth was actually created to act as a medication. However, it was then seen as fashionable to serve vermouth the guests in Italian cafes. In the 19th century, bartenders started incorporating vermouth in cocktails, and chefs added it to their recipes!

Fun fact: The actual geographical origin of vermouth is up for debate. While it's said vermouth comes from Italy, France asserts ownership of vermouth. However, it's said that fortified wine dates back to ancient Greek times. It’s said that Hippocrates himself was the creator of vermouth, who combined wine with wormwood and other spices, which resulted in what was then known as the “Hippocratical.” (*)

What Does Vermouth Taste Like?

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Vermouth’s aromas and flavors would vary widely, depending on the type of vermouth you’re getting, its ingredient list, and the brand. It’s popular in cocktails because of the wine’s sometimes spiced or florally flavor profile.

Fun fact: Vermouth contains common spices like ginger, cloves, cinnamon, citrus peel, cardamom, quinine, chamomile, marjoram, coriander, hyssop, labdanum, and juniper! It’s what gives vermouth such a unique and distinct taste in general.

The fortified wine’s taste differs based on the types, so let’s differentiate between dry and sweet vermouth.

Dry vermouth tends to have more floral, herbed, and fruitier notes. It’s light and airy, not overpowering, perfect for classic martinis. And as the name suggests, it finishes with a bracing dryness.

With sweet vermouth, it has heartier notes of spices like caramel, vanilla, and dark fruits. It has a fuller body and grander flavor than dry vermouth. It’s best suited for martinis but can add exceptional tastes to other cocktails, like the Negroni or Manhattan.

Sweet vermouth has a mildly sweet and spicy flavor, finishing with a bitter aftertaste. It’s brown and with a sweet, spicy, and pungent aroma. You’ll notice a mellow herbal aroma and flavor when added to cocktails.

In general, many people comment how vermouth reminds them of licorice. Funnily enough, it isn’t licorice that’s the main ingredient, but wormwood, which is what makes vermouth bitter. Wormwood is also used in absinthe!

This doesn’t tackle the flavors of specific kinds of vermouths, though! Since the flavors and sweetness levels range widely, we recommend tasting various quality vermouths to find which suits your tastebuds, drinks, and recipes.

Is There a Difference Between Sweet Vermouth and Dry Vermouth?

Other than the flavor and aroma, sweet and dry vermouth also have notable differences. Knowing their differences will make it easier to choose which one you want and need.

Dry vermouth is also called white or French vermouth, clear or pale yellow. The name dry refers to the flavor profile. It also has about 5% sugar, made of a combination of botanicals.

Fun fact: Sweet vermouth came first, being made in 1786. Dry vermouth followed suit in 1813, created by Joseph oily in France.

As for sweet vermouth, it’s known as red or Italian vermouth because of its origin and color. It’s significantly sweeter than dry vermouth, containing 15% sugar. While sweet, it isn’t as sweet as other liqueurs like the amaretto.

Sweet vermouth would have a notable vanilla aroma combined with other herb and spice notes, pairing well with dark spirits like brandy and whiskey.

Fun fact: While sweet vermouth is usually red, there’s also such a thing as white vermouth, labeled as blanc or Bianco vermouth.

Frequently Asked Questions

Now that you’re more familiar with vermouth and its taste, you’re probably left with a few questions about this fortified wine. Here are frequently asked questions you can refer to:

1. How do we use vermouth?

Vermouth is famous in numerous cocktails like the Martini, Manhattan, Negroni, Vieux Carre, and more.

Not only can you use vermouth in your favorite boozy drinks but in food as well. You can use vermouth in chicken, seafood, and shellfish dishes. It also works amazingly in sweet recipes like jams or chocolate sauces.

Pro-tip: Use dry vermouth as a white wine substitute as needed for cooking. Vermouth has more aroma and flavor than white wine, adding a more complex and richer flavor profile to recipes.

2. Are vermouth and sherry the same?

Sherry tast6es similar to vermouth, but they are not the same. Sherry is also a fortified wine, but its crucial difference is how they are made. Vermouth’s aroma and flavor come from the botanicals and spices, while sherry’s aroma and flavor come from the fermentation and aging process.

Pro-tip: You can use vermouth as a sherry substitute and vice versa if you need it for cocktails. However, sherry has a more subtle, savory flavor than vermouth.

3. Do you need to refrigerate vermouth?

You don’t need to store vermouth in the fridge, but it’s the best way to retain its flavor. Keeping your bottles of vermouth cold can help maintain its flavor profile for as long as possible, but once you open your vermouth, it begins oxidizing. We suggest using your vermouth within 3-6 months of opening it to take advantage of its full flavor.

Pro-tip: If you believe that your vermouth has “gone bad” and lost some of its flavors, don’t throw it out! You don’t need to serve it or use it in cocktails where the loss of taste is more noticeable. Instead, use it for cooking!

4. What food do you pair with vermouth?

Both dry and sweet vermouth make excellent aperitifs, served alongside bites of fried anchovies, shrimp, or salty ham. Dry vermouth pairs well with funkier cheeses, while sweet vermouth complements dry and salty cheeses.

If you plan to serve vermouth straight up as an aperitif, pour it into three-ounce amounts and serve it chilled over an ice cube in cocktail glasses. You can add a twist of orange or lemon to bring out the fortified wine’s flavors.

5. Where do you buy vermouth?

You can easily find vermouth in liquor stores or grocery stores. Make sure you go for more reputable, high-quality brands like Carpano, Cinzano, Vya, Folin, Niolly Prat, Tribuno, and Punt e Mes.

What are suitable substitutes for vermouth?

If you can’t find any vermouth, you can always go for sherry, Cocchi Americano, or Lillet Blanc for dry vermouth. Dubonnet Rouge makes a good replacement for sweet vermouth, but it’s important to note that the results won’t be the same.

6. Is vermouth healthy?

While vermouth isn’t exactly a healthy drink (it is alcohol, after all), it has its advantages over other alcoholic beverages.

For example, dry vermouth only has 45 calories per serving, compared to whiskey or vodka, which has 65-70 calories per serving. Vermouth also doesn’t contain any fat, and while not high in nutrients, it does have 0.2% calcium and 0.4% iron. If you’re looking for a lower-calorie beverage, vermouth is a good option. (*)

Wrapping It Up

Vermouth is such a unique alcoholic beverage with flavors that work amazingly when drunk on its own, in cocktails, or even in sweet and savory dishes! It’s versatile and tasty, making it worth owning a bottle or two to enjoy with loved ones.

We hope that this article on “what does vermouth taste like?” gave you an idea of what kind of vermouth is best suited for your tastebuds or recipes. Let us know about your opinions of vermouth in the comments section below!

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