Beyond Martinis

It might have gained notoriety as an ingredient in James bond’s signature drink, but Vermouth’s reach is far wider, reports Holly Motion.


IT’S AN ESSENTIAL IN any bartender’s arsenal and an ingredient in some of the most famous classic cocktails. Vermouth is by no means new, but it’s in resurgence and reaching new consumers far and wide.                                                                                        

“2015 has been the year of a rediscovery of vermouth,” says Riserva Carlo Alberto marketing manager Fabio Torretta. “Born to be sipped by itself, for many years it has been just one of the many ingredients of a cocktail, without too much care about quality and characteristics of the vermouth. What we can see now is a kind of maniacal research of ‘artisanal’ vermouth, rich in flavours and based on old recipes.”

It has taken time, but change has accelerated in the past five years, according to Adam Ford, author of Vermouth: the Revival of the Spirit that Created America’s Cocktail Culture and founder of Atsby New York vermouth. “Vermouth is still shaking off the past 50 years of people being used to lower-quality vermouths made specifically for mixing.”

He continues: “It has changed radically from being a category consisting of only a handful vermouths made for mixing to literally scores of new craft vermouth producers all over the world releasing various expressions. Even the large companies such as Martini and Cinzano are releasing ‘small batch’ expressions of their vermouths.

“The current trend for vermouth has been a total move away from the larger, industrial, nondescript brands towards the newer craft brands,” Ford says.

Bartenders have played a significant role in this change and cocktail culture is undoubtedly contributing to vermouth consumption. But rather than holding up sales.

Ford adds: “It is the cocktail culture that has been a primary driving force behind the resurgence of vermouth. As I detail in my book, it has been the new wave of professional bartenders and seriously geeky cocktail enthusiasts that have rediscovered the primary role of vermouth in classic cocktails and the role that good, high-quality vermouths can play in cocktails.”

Ludo Miazga, brand guardian of Noilly Prat, says vermouth is a must-have ingredient in a true cocktail bar. He says: “Some of the greatest classic cocktails in the world that are coming back into fashion today – such as the Dry Martini, Vieux-Carré and Manhattan, to name a few – are made with vermouth.”

It seems bartenders are reaching for the books – as well as the bottle – to understand the liquid behind the classic drinks.

“Bartenders, but also consumers, now want to know more about the products, about the wine used for the preparation, the botanicals infused and everything about the history of the company,” says Riserva Carlo Alberto’s Torretta.


A big challenge for the category is its relative obscurity. People know about vermouth – whether it be through Bond or the classics – but education is still required.

John Burke, Martini global vice-president, says this is also the category’s biggest opportunity. “Vermouth is still relatively unknown to the new generation who need to learn how to consume and when to enjoy vermouth in a modern way.”

He says the category needs to accelerate the millennials’ personal discovery of vermouth. “Typically it takes two to three years for consumers to try and then adopt a brand as part of their permanent consumption repertoire. If we want this to change we need to invest at scale and single-mindedly.”

Bacardi says Martini – as the number one vermouth brand in the world – has the scale, focus and commitment needed to make it happen.

Education and understanding are just as important for smaller brands and new entrants. Roberto Bava, managing director of Cocchi and manager of export says: “The market is currently experiencing a period of change with new vermouths coming from different parts of the world.

“One thing that may begin to present itself as a challenge for regulators is quality definition, with so many different styles of aromatised wines being created under the name ‘vermouth’.”

Torretta seconds this: “As happened a few years ago (and it’s still going on now) for the gin category, now everyone wants their own vermouth. Every day a new brand of vermouth is born. But there is no history behind them.

“From our point of view the biggest challenge is to transmit the message that vermouth is not only a ‘cool’ product of the moment, it is one of the most classic spirits, with a very old history, rich in tradition.”

He says the industry must reinterpret the classic in a modern way, while remaining true its origins.


Aperitif and digestif culture took a hit when drink-driving laws became more stringent and people dropped them to cut down alcohol consumption.

Sales have now recovered and the before and after-meal drink culture is growing – mainly in big cities where consumers use their cars less and commute instead with public transport.

Martini’s Burke explains: “The concept of aperitivo has evolved from a southern European experience to a global trend.

“We estimate that aperitivo accounts for approximately 30% of total alcohol consumption occasions. We expect continued growth in this occasion helping to drive category growth for vermouth.”


Now, arguably more than ever, low abv is also a drink’s USP. Burke says: “We see our low abv as an advantage and an opportunity.” He explains: “Consumers are more and more conscious about healthy living and this is reflected in current drinking habits. There is a need for tasty, sessionable, low-abv drinks that currently beer and still wine cover off as easy, ‘default’ drinks.”


Vermouth is satisfying needs in a number of markets.

More than 90% of Martini’s volume is export – 80% to its ‘stronghold’ Europe and 20% rest of the world. “Our biggest export market is undoubtedly Europe,” Burke says. “In western Europe this is driven by the 150-year tradition of vermouth and the fact that the drink is deeply entrenched in the Mediterranean culture.

“In eastern Europe and more specifically Russia, Martini is the category. It is an aspirational brand regarded as a true, international icon of quintessential Italian-ness and style.”

For Noilly Prat, France is by far its biggest market, at about 30%. “The Original Dry resonates among many generations of epicureans,” Miazga says. “Then outside Europe (Germany and the UK are also very important markets there) the US and Japan are leading the export.”

Italy is Riserva Carlo Alberto’s biggest market in terms of volume – “of course,” Torretta says.

The company plans to launch Vermouth Riserva Carlo Alberto in some American states later this year. “That one can be a huge market for us,” he says. “We always love to do things well. We will start the distribution in a few markets, working on a good positioning of the products, on the brand awareness and only after that can we look to expand the distribution in more states.”

“The US has a long-established relationship with vermouth, both as an ingredient in cocktails, and more recently as something to be sipped on its own as well. The UK is also a strong contender as people really understand Cocchi and vermouth as a whole there,” Cocchi’s Bava says.

London bar Tozi has its own menu dedicated to vermouth. Senior restaurant & bar manager Stefano Meloni says: “Vermouth is set to be the drink of the summer in 2016. With its bitter taste and low alcohol content, it’s the perfect base for a refreshing long drink when the weather is warm.

“Complementing a variety of dishes, it’s the perfect evolution from last years’ revival of the Aperol spritz and Negroni trend.”


In terms of future trends, Ford predicts there will continue to be a move towards novel and unique flavour profiles. He says: “Many of the most successful new brands of vermouth on the market today are successful because of how different they taste to what was the prototype flavour profile.”

His Atsby vermouth uses unusual spices such as nigella seeds, damiana, and shiitake mushrooms. “Hammer & Tongs vermouth uses flavours prominent during biblical times, such as myrrh and turmeric and Uncouth Vermouth is making seasonal varieties based on butternut squash and rhubarb,” Ford says.

The main consumers of these new vermouths, Ford says, “tend to be younger people who place a premium on knowing and caring about where their food and beverages come from, are generally averse to old, big-brand names that are known for just producing industrial products”.

Riserva Carlo Alberto’s Torretta says the future of the category is in his and his counterparts’ hands. “Today is the vermouth momentum – everyone is talking about vermouth, everyone wants to know more about vermouth. But to make the ‘vermouth momentum’ durable we have to transmit the concept that vermouth can be consumed by itself, before lunch, as an aperitif, or after lunch, as digestive.”

Ford adds: “I see the category continuing to expand and grow. I think vermouth will be as big as whisky is now in five years.”

It’s a bold claim, but vermouth appears to be the drink of the moment and ticks a lot of boxes.

Whether it is sipped or stirred,

vermouth is currently experiencing a resurgence and with big-money backing and new entrants, this low-abv versatile drink is tipped to reach new highs.

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