Like wine, vermouth doesn’t last once open. Refrigeration adds a few weeks but in order to avoid regularly tossing barely opened bottles, please invest in a vacuum sealer with bottle sealing accessories. I religiously vacuum seal all vermouths after use and store them in the fridge for added longevity. I rarely have to toss a bottle now with this system. Check out www.foodsaver.com for a good model. Canadian Tire and Walmart sell them. The units come with the hose but you’ll have to buy the bottle accessories separately. I bought my sealer on Kijiji for $20 used. Keep in mind, vermouth is considered wine by Canada Customs, meaning you can bring back twice as much as spirits.
Vermouth is basically fortified wine. The composition can vary widely, and include all kinds of botanicals including roots, herbs, spices, dried fruits, flowers and seeds. In all cases vermouth begins with neutral grape wine. It is then sweetened and then instilled with botanicals. It was apparently invented in Turin, Italy at the turn of the last century and originally intended to be medicinal, as were the majority of spirits. Vermouth, or Vermut in German, refers to wormwood, a commonly included botanical and the mystical component of absinthe.
Vermouth can be broadly divided into sweet (Italian) and dry (French). Dolin has introduced a Blanc, which is somewhere in between. They are not interchangeable in recipes.
It would be disrespectful to begin this section with anything other than the grandfather of all vermouth. I first tried it at The Harbord Room compliments of Dave Mitton and immediately was stunned at its complexity. So many cocktails call for sweet or Italian vermouth and pretty much all of them can be made much better by using Carpano Antica. The HUGE news these days is that the LCBO has started limited supply of the 375ml version. My advice is to buy a bunch because you may never see it again in this part of the world. It would be one of first things I would purchase in if starting a bar. It is totally indispensable.
Punt y Mes
Also made by Carpano, this bitter vermouth can be used interchangeably with regular rosso vermouth if you’re looking for a different flavour to say, an Americano or Manhattan. I’ve also seen certain bartenders mix half regular rosso with Punt E Mes for a more interesting flavour profile. It is not available at the LCBO as regular stock but can be ordered in cases.
Lillet is really an aperitif wine but it makes the most sense to include it in this category. It was an absolute mainstay on my bar until I got a hold of Cocchi Americano and Tempus Fugit Kina L’Avion D’Or (see below). Lillet used to be made with quinine and called Kina Lillet, making it more bitter than the current aperitif style at present. When the recipe was rejigged in 1986, much of the quinine was dropped in order to make it more appealing to the masses. This was considered a disaster of epic proportions in the cocktail world and many of its most influential have crusaded to have the original brought back. We’re still waiting on that. In the meantime, Cocchi and Kina L’Avion D’Or go a long way to matching Lillet’s original composition. Lillet is also available in Rouge and Rose. I’m only familiar with the Rouge and am not a huge fan.
From the same house as Antica, this vermouth is now, shockingly, also available at LCBO. Get what you can while available.
Blanc – When I finally got my hands on this incredible vermouth, I made my first Ethereal with the Ransom Old Tom gin I’d bought in the US. It’s an entirely different beast and though it’s not suited to all cocktails calling for dry vermouth, it can really bring a mixed drink alive all on its own.
Dry – Dry, or french, vermouths, do not vary in quality or profile as much as the sweet, or Italian, variety. At least that’s what I’ve been told by people who should know. That said, I use Dolin dry for mixing because it is an outstanding product. NOW available at the LCBO!
Rouge – This is a beautiful sweet vermouth that I use often. NOW available at the LCBO!
Cocchi is now my go to dry vermouth, especially for Vespers and Martinins. It is only available in the US and is a must on my bar. It more closely approximates the bitterness of the original Kina Lillet, than does the current Lillet. Truth be told, I’ve never tried Kina Lillet (I doubt many have), and therefore have no idea how close Cocchi comes.
Tempus Fugit “Kina L’Avion D’Or” Vin Aperitif au Quinquina
Kina L’Avion D’Or” is a superlative product that is now available online in the US. I had to order mine from England, which is an even bigger hassle than ordering from the US. It is produced following an old recipe from the turn of the last century by infusing white wine with Cinchona bark, orange peel, wormwood and other exotic spices. The complex, mildly bitter flavor makes it as close to the original Kina Lillet as we’re going to get.
This vermouth out of California is available in both red and white and can be purchased at Legacy Liquors in Vancouver. I have only one bottle of each and therefore consider it to be like gold. PDT recipes regularly call for it.
This aperitif/vermouth can be found as stock at the SAQ in Quebec. I’ve not used it much but it’s quite lovely. Because vermouth doesn’t last long once the bottle is open, I’m not sure it’s worth it to stock this product.
As the LCBO mainstay, this vermouth will do only if absolutely nothing else is available.
Byhrr Grand Quinquina
A red wine-based aperitif made with mistelle and quinine. I own a bottle and cherish it, more for the ancient looking label than anything else. I tried it in a few old Savoy recipes but it has otherwise gone unused.
Although last on this list, Dubonnet might be the most well known of all fortified aperitif wines. It is a bit sweeter than the others, and less bitter, which probably explains why it’s done so well. I use it rarely but it lasts on the shelf. I’ve never tried the Blanc version.
This fortified wine from France is actually called a ‘wine liqueur’ but it is largely consumed as an aperitif. I just picked up a few bottles as it seems to be popping up in more and more cocktail recipes of late.