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For some drinkers, sweet vermouth is a bit of an enigma that only gets used an ounce at a time on the occasion one makes a Manhattan. Many stores carry just a few options and relegate those to the bottom shelf, but with a little searching, great vermouth isn’t hard to find. If you want to make excellent cocktails, it’s important to use quality ingredients.
“A great vermouth, in our opinion, is one that's strong on its own, either with some ice or chilled,” says Juliette Larrouy and Pom Modeste, bar managers at Two Schmucks in Barcelona, which was recently named one of the World’s 50 Best Bars. Of course, choosing the right vermouth requires a bit of thought.
“I think you should begin with asking what you want to use the vermouth for,” says Larrouy. “If you're going to drink it Spanish-style—only with some ice and a wedge of orange, maybe some olives—you want something slightly heavier with a lot more spice. For a cocktail, I think you should look more towards French- and Italian-style sweet vermouth, as they're made to be mixed with other ingredients.”
So whether you’re ready to start sipping vermouth on its own or want to freshen up your classic Manhattan, here are the best sweet vermouths for your bar.
Best for Negroni: Cinzano 1757 Rosso Vermouth
The Negroni is certainly a classic that bears a bit of experimentation. Playing with different gins and vermouths can yield massive variations in flavor, but we think it’s important to use a heavier Italian vermouth with enough richness to buttress, but not overpower the bitterness of the Campari. It’s hard to find one more robust than 1757 Vermouth di Torino. Named in honor of the year Cinzano’s founding fathers, Giovanni Giacomo and Carlo Stefano, launched their label in Turin. It’s a luscious vermouth with loads of tangy fruit notes, a plethora of aromatics, and a dry finish that lets the Campari work its bitter magic.
While there are a few requirements to be called vermouth—at least 75 percent wine with a minimum ABV of 14.5 percent and a maximum of 22 percent—there is no one recipe. Different makers use a variety of herbal elements to add flavors.
Best for Manhattan: Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth
The sight of Carpano Antica behind any bar is a good sign that the watering hole’s Manhattan is top-notch. Long considered the gold standard for craft cocktails, Carpano Antica vermouth is big, bold, and pleasantly intense. Another vermouth originally created in Turin in the late 18th century, Antica boasts a remarkably herbal nose and notes of tropical vanilla, cocoa, orange, and a hint of saffron. This gives it an ideal profile to complete a bourbon or rye Manhattan, or even Scotch if you prefer a Rob Roy.
Best for Americano: Quady Vya Sweet Vermouth
An Americano is one of the easiest and most refreshing drinks for summer, but even if the temperatures are dropping, don’t let that stop you from making this iconic beverage. It’s easy to make with equal parts Campari and sweet vermouth, topped with soda and garnished with an orange or lemon twist. Campari and the right vermouth go together like peanut butter and jelly. That’s why Quady Vya Sweet Vermouth is our go-to for the Americano. Sure, it’s made in California and not Italy (purists may want to choose Carpano Antica), but its smooth sweetness delicately foils the Campari’s bitterness.
Keep in mind is that vermouth does spoil. After opening a bottle, the flavors are only at their peak for about a month when stored in the refrigerator. After that, the notes diminish, and about three months on, it might start to ruin your cocktails. You’ll want to dump and replace it quarterly.
Best for Boulevardier: Carpano Punt e Mes
The Boulevardier is, of course, just a Negroni made with whiskey in the stead of gin. We like to start with a good bourbon and Campari, obviously, and Punt e Mes. As legend has it, this variety of vermouth was created after a broker who was engaged in a discourse on that day’s stock prices, which had gone up one and a half points. So, the trader ordered his Carpano vermouth aperitif with one point sweet and a half a point bitter—or “Punt e Mes” in Piedmontese. That additional bitterness, along with exceptional fruit juiciness, gives the Boulevardier added intensity.
Best Versatile: Dolin Vermouth Rouge
The French brand Dolin uses upwards of 30 herbs and botanicals, including coriander, hyssop, rhubarb, and a number found in the alpine grasses above Chambéry to make this Rouge vermouth. It’s floral, but not overly sweet, so it won’t turn your cocktails into cloying calamities. Though Dolin Rouge is on the lighter side, it still offers robust notes of tree fruit and soft touches of honey and sherry, which go well with nearly any cocktail you might want to mix up.
Best Budget: Cinzano Rosso Sweet Vermouth
Even high-end vermouth is not particularly expensive, but if you’re looking to spend as little as possible and still get substantial bang for your buck, look no further than Cinzano Rosso. The brand’s original recipe is infused with a lovely bouquet of herbs and spices that tickles the olfactory. It’s a darker vermouth with good viscosity that can add mouthfeel to cocktails. Spicy and sweet Cinzano also offers a lingering fruity finish that marries well with whiskey or gin.
Best for Sipping: Cocchi Vermouth Di Torino
While most drinkers don’t think to sip vermouth on the regular, it’s an experience worth giving a spin. Cocchi Vermouth di Torino is the place to start. The current recipe, which has been on shelves for nearly a decade, is based on Giulio Cocchi’s original formula from the late 19th century. The depth is evident from the second it touches the lips. The textured herbal bitterness gently pulses against a rich sweetness hued with cocoa, cherry, vanilla, and candied fruit. It’s a lovely glass neat, but it's dynamite with a bit of ice and lemon zest.
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Nicholas McClelland has written about spirits for Men’s Journal, Fatherly, and Inside Hook. His bar is deep with rare single malts, hard-to-find bourbons, and ryes, but he doesn't believe there's anything too precious to share with friends.