Why This Recipe Works
- The process is uncomplicated and provides ample opportunity to customize a blend of flavors that better suits your taste than the store-bought kind.
- Besides wormwood, which can be ordered online, the rest of the components are common grocery store items.
- The recipe can be made with an inexpensive, simple dry white wine that is not heavily oaked, like pinot grigio.
Sweet vermouth plays a supporting role in so many cocktails that it's easy to take it for granted. It brings out the nuanced flavors of a bold spirit, so it pairs well with both whiskey and gin, supporting the star player in a wide variety of cocktails. But a simple glass of sweet vermouth has a delicate balance of rich, spicy, sweet, and bitter flavors that can also be delicious on its own.
What's Available to Buy?
The biggest names in vermouth have been around for centuries. Cinzano, Noilly Prat, and Martini & Rossi are all affordable and easy to find. These standbys blend well with other flavors in a cocktail but don't have the zing of a great sipping vermouth.
Dolin, one of our favorite French vermouth companies, makes a lovely (slightly lighter) version that is nice for drinking on ice (with a twist of orange—think of it as a simplified red sangria.) Carpano Antica and Punt e Mes offer fuller flavor with a bitter edge and more pronounced botanicals. They're fantastic straight-up, on the rocks, or mixed in cocktails, but they run $20 to $30 a bottle, and don't keep forever. Vya is a relative newcomer to the vermouth scene, but it's already popping up on lots of upscale cocktail lists because of its intense herbal flavor. Any of these can be found in better liquor stores—but probably not every corner booze shop.
Vermouth is a fortified aromatized wine, which is a fancy way of saying that you make it by adding hard liquor and herbs to wine. The process isn't complicated, and finding the right mix of botanicals is a fun project. With a little experimentation, you can design a sweet vermouth that pairs perfectly with your favorite spirit or suits your taste better than the store-bought kind.
The signature bitter bite in vermouth comes from wormwood, which is also the key ingredient in absinthe. But other than that, the rest of the components are common grocery store items.
The base is a dry white wine—since it gets boiled and flavored, cheap wine will do. I went for a spiced flavor profile in honor of the holidays, accented by a little sherry. However, everything from apples to wood chips can add a unique touch to your vermouth. You can try other herbs like rosemary or sage or sweeten the mixture up a bit more if you like.
There's no need to get complicated: drop an olive or slice of citrus into a glass of chilled vermouth for a satisfying pre-dinner drink. But of course, there are dozens of classics cocktails to mix with your DIY sweet vermouth.
For the cocktail lover on your Christmas list, pair a bottle of your homemade vermouth with a nice whiskey and some cocktail cherries as a DIY Manhattan kit or with gin and Campari for a DIY Negroni kit.
Branch out a little, and try the French Kiss or the Martinez, the Derby, or the Maddow.
You can even cook with your vermouth—it comes in handy for deglazing a pan.
DIY Sweet Vermouth Recipe
A delicate balance of rich, spicy, sweet, and bitter flavors makes sweet vermouth essential to many classic cocktails.
3 1/4 cups white wine, divided
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon dried chamomile
8 cardamom pods
1 star anise
1 teaspoon dried lavender
1/4 teaspoon wormwood leaf
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup boiling water
1/2 cup brandy
1/2 cup sweet or India sherry
Zest orange and set aside the rest of the orange for another use.
Pour 1 cup of wine into a pot and set the rest aside. Add all orange zest, cinnamon stick, chamomile, cardamom, star anise, lavender, and wormwood, and cook on medium heat until it comes to a boil, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Strain out solids and return liquid to pot.
In a separate pot, pour in sugar and cook on medium heat, stirring frequently, to caramelize it. Once sugar melts into a caramel-colored liquid, in about 5 minutes, turn off heat and let caramelized sugar cool.
Bring water to a boil in a saucepan or tea kettle, then measure 1/4 cup and slowly pour it into caramelized sugar, stirring as you pour. Be careful!
Add remaining wine (2 1/4 cups) to the herb-infused wine. Bring it to a boil, then pour it slowly into the pot of caramelized sugar syrup, stirring frequently to integrate them. Add brandy and sherry, then let cool. Pour cooled mixture into a bottle, seal and store in the refrigerator.
Wormwood leaf is a bitter herb that can be a bit difficult to find. Contrary to rumor, a little wormwood in your cocktail will not cause hallucinations. Lhasa Karnak sells it online and at their Berkeley stores.
Use caution when you caramelize sugar, as it becomes scalding hot. If you pour a cool liquid on hot caramelized sugar, it will harden like candy.
Vermouth should be stored in the refrigerator and is best if used within a month. Though it will take longer than that for it to "go bad," like wine it will taste flat and develop off flavors if kept too long.
Zester or peeler
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 0g||0%|
|Saturated Fat 0g||0%|
|Total Carbohydrate 3g||1%|
|Dietary Fiber 0g||0%|
|Total Sugars 2g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||2%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|