Restaurants and bars are jumping on the vermouth train—by making their own.

By Justine Sterling
Updated May 23, 2017

In the past year, vermouth has moved from the back of the pantry to the front of the fridge. For that, we owe writers like F&W executive wine editor Ray Isle's praising the aromatic, infused wine and producers like California’s Vya and New York’s Atsby for crafting flavorful new vermouths that are as delicious on their own as they are in cocktails. Restaurants and bars are also jumping on the vermouth train—by making their own.

The house vermouth at San Francisco’s 15 Romolo was borne of necessity rather than desire. Six months ago, general manager Ian Anderson was tasked with making a martini with sherry. It wasn’t working. Then he tried merging the vermouth and the sherry into one ingredient: a fino sherry-based bianco vermouth. Anderson uses between 17 and 21 botanicals in his vermouth (“It depends on my mood,” he says) including wormwood, bitter orange peel, sage, vanilla, oregano and elecampane (the bitter root of a flower). With all that, he infuses Armagnac for two days, then strains and blends it with pear eau de vie and fino sherry. The final product is slightly off-dry because of the fruity pear eau de vie, with a savory salinity from the sherry. He uses it in the 50/50 Martini: half Beefeater gin, half vermouth, a dash each of orange and lemon bitters, stirred.

At the brand new Lupo Verde in Washington, D.C., partner Antionio Matarazzo and bar manager Francesco Amodeo (who also owns Don Ciccio & Figli, an artisanal liqueur company) worked together to create a signature vermouth for the restaurant. The recipe comes from a long-gone distillery on Italy’s Amalfi Coast. To make the vermouth, they place orange peels, lemon peels, cinnamon, cinchona bark (a bitter bark used in tonic waters) and quassia (a bitter wood classically used to flavor red vermouth) in a pouch and submerge it into white wine. They let the mix infuse for three months in a cool, dry place, then bottle it with more orange and lemon peels for added bitterness. The result falls somewhere between a dry vermouth and a sweet vermouth. Right now, the bar is using the vermouth in a cocktail with Laird’s Applejack, amaro and Maraschino liqueur, but Matarazzo hopes that when the weather warms up, people will learn to love drinking vermouth the Italian way: on the rocks with a lemon peel.