When it comes to the contest for “least respected, most versatile alcohol in the world,” there’s no question that vermouth has a fair shot at the prize. Without it, there would be no Manhattans, no martinis, and (as if things could get any worse) no Negronis—the latter somehow having become the cool-kid cocktail of the season, in addition to being just plain great.
Cocktails aside, good vermouth can also be delicious poured straight over an ice-cube or two. But what is the stuff, actually? The first clue comes from the name, vermouth, a French bastardization of the Old High German wermuota, or wormwood, an aromatic ingredient once used to flavor it (and absinthe, too).
There are two main styles, sweet (originally Italian) and dry (originally French). Both are made with wine that has been infused with herbs, roots, spices and other botanical ingredients; the specific recipes are usually secret. These days most brands make both styles. Because vermouth is wine-based, it should be kept in the refrigerator after it is opened, and will last for two to three months before losing its character (use what’s left for cooking).