To most of us, vermouth is the stuff you use to make a Martini. Or a Manhattan.

Fair enough.

But as many of us are rediscovering, vermouth is among the most versatile of cocktail ingredients. What’s more, it’s great straight.

Vermouth’s origins, as with most quaffs, are hazy. But evidence unearthed in China suggests it just may be the oldest alcoholic beverage in the world.

No matter its provenance, the apéritif was likely first developed for medicinal purposes, says Adam Ford, author of a book on the spirit. Folks found that botanical remedies, often foul-tasting, were more palatable when mixed with wine. Over the years, better ingredients—and recipes—would transform vermouth into less a treatment than a genuine (if pricey) treat.

But it wasn’t until 1786 that the aromatized vino got the attention it deserved when Italian distiller Antonio Benedetto Carpano produced a version that combined higher quality wine with less expensive herbs and spices. “Carpano really created the first commercially viable vermouth,” Ford says.

Carpano’s home base of Turin (Torino) would become something of the world capital of vermouth, as local rival vermouth makers emerged and improved their offerings, including iconic brands such as Martini and Cinzano. Vermouth had finally become cool. Soon after, it was being mixed with other booze, and, voila, cocktail culture was born.

The Americano cocktail—first known as the Milano-Torino because its main ingredient, Campari and sweet vermouth, came from those cities—was what “really kicked off [Italian] cocktail culture,” explains Jacob Briars, global brand advocacy director of Bacardi, which has owned Martini & Rossi since 1993.

His personal favorite vermouth cocktail is the Negroni Sbagliato—or Wrong Negroni. The Sbagliato was supposedly born from a happy mistake, when in a bartender at Milan’s legendary Bar Basso accidentally used spumante (sparkling wine) instead of gin when mixing up a Negroni. The result was an instant hit, and it’s easy to see why. The Negroni Sbagliato is a lovely drink.

Though traditionalists, (Read more...)

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