Bittersweet, aromatic, complex, esoteric, vermouth is a drink which makes the mind and mouth water. You can drink it a hundred ways – in a Negroni, a Martini, with tonic, or simply sloshed over ice with a slice (which is how all real aficionados take it). And it comes in a kaleidoscope of styles. It can be white, gold, amber, rosé or red; spicy and sweet as Christmas pudding or as dry as fino sherry. No two vermouths are alike. Yet they are all, in essence, the same thing: fortified wine that’s been sweetened and flavoured with wormwood, a silver-grey herb with a sagelike flavour, and a face-puckeringly bitter finish.
By law, all vermouths must contain wormwood – the word itself derives from the German for wormwood, wermut. But most vermouths contain more than a dozen different botanicals including citrus peels, herbs, spices and flowers, which are blended together like a giant perfume. You can find vermouths flavoured with roses, myrrh, sandalwood, citrus peels, rhubarb, nutmeg, raspberries and coffee. There are vermouths that showcase botanicals from the forests of California and the Sussex countryside, the Australian outback and the French Alps. Here are five to seek out.