Sweet vermouths compared

There’s a lot to vermouths these days. It’s no longer about dry, sweet and bianco anymore. Oh no. Here I decided to compare 4 sweet vermouths in a taste test. Objective to understand their flavour profile better – in order to help when formulating new cocktails.

We’re talking about sweet vermouths here, also distinguished as red vermouth. The historians among you will also know that in prohibition days this style of vermouth was known as Italian vermouth. A reference to French vermouth means dry vermouth such as Noilly Prat if you’re reading an old cocktail book. And the old prohibition cocktail the Gin and It is a reference to the fact that it’s made with Gin and IT-alian vermouth. Not quite sure what the difference is then between a Gin & It and a Martini. But that’s for another time.

Sweet vermouth – taste test 

The market leading red vermouth
The market leading red vermouth

Not very scientific this. But a taste test with 4 very different red vermouths. My chief taste tester of new cocktails from the apothecary, and myself sat and tried this staple ingredient of classic cocktails to understand the differences between them. No awards, no winners, no specific suggestions, just a few notes.

Martini Rosso 

This was the obvious one to start with, as for me it’s the benchmark. Not because it’s the best quality necessarily (I don’t know) but because it’s the most well known, and common. And it is the original.

The nose of this (hark at me sounding like a pretentious wine buff) is slightly herbal. It is sweet & seems slightly spicy to taste which produces a warming effect. It produces a lightly bitter effect. It is a (relatively) smooth flavour.

 

Punt e Mes 

Punt e MesAnother Italian red vermouth, I have tried this in a few cocktails where I would normally have used Martini and it has changed the cocktail’s taste significantly. And not for the better. In cocktails I feel it leaves a bitter after taste.

By contrast this has a big, punchy flavour with lots of depth. It is full of fruit on the nose with flavours of prune, date and raisin. But then you get the bitter aftertaste which lingers a bit. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s important to bear in mind when combining with other flavours to make cocktails.

Sacred spiced red vermouth 

Sacred Spirits red vermouthUnusually, this vermouth is English. There aren’t many English vermouths. But this is one to fly the English flag alongside Sipsmith and Chase who’ve made a big impact in the spirits world.

I think it smells and certainly tastes Christmasy. Lightly spicy, so is that orange, cinammon and clove? Not sure but Christmas all the same. It is herbal with a short finish. And the most significant thing is that the aftertaste reminds me of Campari. Most definitely with it’s light orange taste but not the usual Campari bitter aftertaste.

Antica formula 

Antica FormulaI’ve always thought when used in cocktails, that this velvety red vermouth is a bit like port. So this tasting (the first time I’ve tried most of these vermouths as stand-alone) surprised me. It has a strongly fruity flavour early on : again prune-like with a short finish, but a lingering vanilla flavour and some mint. It was not as rich and port-like as I’d imagined, but that isn’t a criticism.

I’m also pleased to be able to talk about English producers of some of these great cocktail ingredients. As anyone interested in mixology will know there is a healthy explosion of English and British distillers and craft producers springing up at the moment. It’s happening with spirits and it’s happening with craft brewers and microbreweries. I’m not sure they’ll all survive but let’s all enjoy the choice we have while it lasts. I’d like to know where the English producers of vermouth are though. You can read more about that article : Where are the English vermouth producers by clicking the link.

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