Though many Americans consider vermouth a rather uninteresting addition to their martini or Manhattan, vermouth—even solo—can be the best way to start a meal.
Vermouth is a fortified, aromatized wine. This means it’s a non-distilled wine with botanicals and herbs infused for flavor, bouquet and color. Vermouth is also an aperitif wine, which means it’s meant to stimulate the appetite.
The fate of vermouth was uncertain post-World War II when old-world ways gave room to homogenized, mass-produced whites and reds whose makers were more concerned with shelf-life than nuances and authentic expressions.
Now, the entire beverage world is enjoying a renaissance, from craft brew to local spirits to natural wine. Everything old is new again. Classic houses are producing beautiful examples of beverages we already know, and vermouth is winning new audiences as a number of new players create engaging and vibrant examples that show just how wonderful vermouth can be.
Whether elderflower or rose-petal-infused, a glass of vermouth is a delicate and elegant start to stimulate the palate before a meal. It has also found a home with mixologists who use the wide range of offerings in a variety of creations showcasing its versatility.
The array of vermouth options includes Imbue Petal & Thorn (chamomile and orange peel), Manuel Acha (botanicals, gentian and orange peel) and Tempus Fugit (bright citrus). Classic cocktails that have been renewed by the greater availability of higher-quality vermouth include Blood & Sand, which tends to pull out the darker, more savory qualities of a vermouth while a Negroni tends to accentuate notes of blood orange and spice. Others make a wonderful, light finish to a meal with herbal or cola notes.
On its own, vermouth can be an ethereal experience, rising on the palate as it reveals a unique blend of infused botanicals, opening up as they interact with air.
A note on handling: vermouth is essentially a kind of wine, so to preserve aromatics and prolong vibrancy, we always refrigerate our bottles. Failing to do so causes a flat bottle that’s bereft of its intended character. Treated properly, vermouth can be the best way to start—or even end—a meal. (John Aranza)
Editor’s note: John Aranza is owner/sommelier at Autre Monde Café and Spirits (6727 West Roosevelt, Berwyn), arguably the most exciting place to eat and drink in the near western suburbs. Aranza is also owner of Horrorbles (6729 Stanley, Berwyn), an outstandingly eccentric store that deals in horror and sci-fi memorabilia. It you make the trek to Berwyn to eat at Autre Monde, a trip to Horrorbles is highly recommended.