A staple in the bar, sweet vermouth is a key ingredient for perfect martinis, Manhattans, and countless other cocktails. While easy to find at liquor stores, making it yourself is a fun DIY project for home bartenders that gives you complete control over the taste, and it's ready to drink within a day.
Sweet vermouth is a fortified wine infused with botanicals. There are no set style points or formulas, and you won't find two recipes that are exactly alike. Completely customizable to your taste, this recipe takes a leisurely approach, preferring to both fortify and sweeten the vermouth with cream sherry rather than using an extra sweetener. The result is a slightly drier sweet vermouth than many commercial brands, making it more refreshing to drink straight and ideal for cocktails.
The recipe's botanicals create a beautiful base flavor; it's slightly bitter with a nice citrus kick and subtle floral and spice notes. Wormwood, gentian root, chamomile, and citrus are pretty standard in sweet vermouth, and any of the ingredients can be swapped out or adjusted. You will have some upfront costs in the dried botanicals, but if you use cheap dry white wine (pinot grigio is best) and sherry, the expense of your experiments is minimal.
Once fortified, you'll have 4 1/2 cups of sweet vermouth. It will fill a 750-milliliter bottle and leave you some to taste along the way and drink immediately.
3 cups pinot grigio, divided
1/2 ounce (15 grams) fresh orange peel, from 1 navel orange
1 (3-inch) stick cinnamon stick
4 pods green cardamom
4 to 5 whole dried juniper berries
1 teaspoon dried chamomile flowers
1/2 teaspoon dried gentian root
1/2 teaspoon dried lavender
1/2 teaspoon dried sage leaf
1/4 teaspoon dried wormwood
1 1/2 cups cream sherry
Steps to Make It
Gather the ingredients.
In a medium saucepan, add 1 1/2 cups of white wine along with all of the botanicals. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, remove from the heat, cover, and allow to cool slightly before transferring it to an infusion jar (at least 1 quart) with a tight lid.
Let the wine steep for 24 hours, then strain the botanicals through a fine-mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth.
Transfer the strained wine back into the clean jar. Fortify it by adding the remaining 1 1/2 cups of wine along with the cream sherry. Seal and shake vigorously to combine.
Funnel into a bottle, and store in the refrigerator. Drink straight or use in your favorite sweet vermouth cocktails.
- Homemade sweet vermouth is an excellent use for cheap wine, especially when perfecting your personal recipe. Look to the bottom shelf for pinot grigio that costs just a few dollars (you'll need one 750-milliliter bottle per batch).
- Sweet sherry is also inexpensive, and cream sherry is readily available. Sweeter oloroso sherry is a good substitute and, for a really sweet alternative, try Pedro Ximénez.
- The botanicals are easiest to find online (particularly chamomile, gentian, juniper, and wormwood). Natural food markets may also carry them as well, and supermarkets stock the more common culinary herbs.
How to Store and Use
Vermouth does not have the shelf life of the liquors in your bar. Since it's made entirely with wine and skips the preservative powers of liquor, this homemade sweet vermouth will only keep for a month and should be refrigerated. However, there are plenty of uses, including chilled on its own as an apéritif before dinner (it's nice with dessert, too). It also pairs wonderfully with gin and whiskey in cocktails like the gin and it, Negroni, and Rob Roy.
- Customize the sweet vermouth by adjusting any of the botanicals. Taste the infused wine before fortifying it to get a sense of the base flavor; it will be slightly intense but should still have a good bitter, citrus, floral, and spice balance. When looking for substitutes, think about the botanical's main flavor properties. For instance, wormwood can be replaced with another bitter ingredient like dandelion root, and rosemary is an excellent alternative to lavender.
- For an extra kick, add 1/2 to 1 cup of brandy to the blend.
- If you want to try dry vermouth, use dry sherry (e.g., fino, manzanilla, or amontillado), and have fun creating a new botanical blend.
How Strong Is Homemade Sweet Vermouth?
The strength of sweet vermouth is similar to wine, and the homemade version is similar to commercial sweet vermouth. When made with the average pinot grigio and cream sherry, the fortified wine is around 13 percent alcohol by volume (ABV); adding a little brandy brings it up to 17 percent ABV.