The Bartenders Basic Guide to Vermouth & Amaro
Updated: Mar 29
In recent years the shift has been made to low-abc & lighter style of cocktails worldwide. From more stronger shorter drinks that dominated cocktail menu's from 2000 - 2010 the shift is coming with a a trend towards better drinking & a global return to aperitif culture. One of the biggest drivers of this has been the global marketing of the Italian companies of differing vermouths & amaro that are currently having a moment in the global trend. Unless you're born in Italy it can be hard to navigate the confusing world of Vermouth & Amaro. Especially because in the bartending world we often use the term 'bitters' as a reference to cocktail bitters such as Angostura or Peychaud's whilst in the Italian language 'Bitter' referee to a specific type of Amaro. Linguistics aside we've produced this simple & handy guide for bartenders to be able to refer to when required for a guide to the historical category.
Vermouth There are three essential styles of vermouth to know. Sweet (red) vermouth is the most common—it's what's called for in Manhattans, Negronis, and many other cocktails. Dry vermouth is clear in color and is used in Martinis. Bianco vermouth is also clear or slightly golden in color and is sweeter than dry vermouth. Though you might think sweet vermouth uses red grapes, all three styles of vermouth typically use neutral white grapes, such as trebbiano. Red vermouth gets its color from caramelized sugar. In Europe, vermouth production is highly regulated, and while there's no hard and fast rule about which grapes can be used to make it, at least 75% by volume must be wine.
To understand Vermouth we must understand Fortified Wines & the legal definition based on the European Law. Although this law with regards to the production of Vermouth only in the region of Europe I believe it is a very good place to start since Vermouth was originally created in Europe. The EU law states: THE LAW The EU laws for vermouth (note all legal stuff below is based on the EU law, which is not the same as in the US) are here: EEC No 1601/91 and state
- Must be at least 75% wine - Must use artemesia ( of which wormwood is a member) as the main bittering agent [edit: the actual language around it is "the characteristic taste of which is obtained by the use of appropriate derived substances, in particular of the Artemisia species, which must always be used"] - 14.5% - 21% ABVMust be fortified Categories of Aromatized Wine (all have added alcohol and artemesia) are:
- Vermouth - as above - Americano - with gentian as the main bittering agent, and orange peel - Bitter Wine - including Amer Picon. Gentian - Vino Chinato - quinine wine - Vino All'uovo - Marsala and wine-based egg liqueurs like Vuv Geographical Indications for Vermouth Can Be:
Vermouth d Chambery Vermouth di Torino (which uses wormwood from the Piedmont region, and produced and bottled within region) Sugar quantities for vermouth are:
(a) 'extra-dry': in the case of products with a sugar content of less than 80 grams per litre;
(b) 'dry': in the case of products with a sugar content of less than 50 grams per litre;
(c) 'semi-dry': in the case of products with a sugar content of between 50 and 90 grams per litre;
(d) 'semi-sweet': in the case of products with a sugar content of between 90 and 130 grams per litre;
(e) 'sweet': in the case of products with a sugar content of more than 130 grams per litre.
One of the best sources for information on Vermouth & Aperitif Wines is the website known as Vermouth101.com which has a wealth of information on the subject & delves deeper into the details of different houses & as such. I've used some of their information & diagrams here to better explain Vermouth. Don't hesitate to follow the link to their website for further reading it is the best website on the subject around.
Once we understand the landscape of where Vermouth falls into we can much deeper into the finer details of what it is all about. The word “vermouth” derives from “wormwood”, and is inherited from earlier Hungarian and German wormwood-infused wines of the same name. At least since the early 19th Century, what we mean by “vermouth” is a refinement incorporating the most desirable elements of both these older wines and various other traditions: a moderately sweet, herbacious, compounded beverage. Wormwood remains vermouth’s starting point: its principal, defining botanical. Commercialization began in the late 18th Century in Torino, Italy. In ensuing years, other interpretations of the idea emerged in Chambéry (Savoy), Lyon/Marseilles and Spain.
So lets dive into Vermouth more intensely by understand the different styles available out there:
Regarding Naming & Labels: You will find that vermouths, quinquinas and americanos are often sold in different “colors” under the same brand. The color ostensibly refers to the hue of the liquor itself, which in vermouth is most commonly reddish brown, colorless (“white”) or straw-colored, although other possibilities exist, such as rosé. The naming and labeling of these products is not always straightforward.
Originally, vermouth brands were established around a singular product and color was not really a major marketing factor. Some vermouth may have been tinted with black walnut, or simply by the botanicals employed in aromatizing them. Caramel color may have been employed here or there for color consistency across bottlings (Strucchi, Il Vermouth di Torino, 1907). But color was not otherwise much discussed.
One of these spirits of any kind is amaro, an herbal liqueur whose name in Italian means “bitter.” While different versions exist throughout the world, amaro is specifically Italian. It is made from infusing a base alcohol (grape brandy, neutral spirits, or wine) with a proprietary blend of herbs, roots, flowers, and spices. The concoction is aged in casks or bottles for various amounts of time, and the finished product can be anywhere from 16-40% alcohol by volume. By the way: “Amaro” is singular and “Amari” is plural.
Amaro is specifically confusing because there is no specific definition based on EU law & as a result the category is more defined by existing styles produced in Italy specifically. There are no particular rules currently in place but regardless of it all here as some styles found. Interestingly you can say that all Vermouth is an Amaro but no other Amaro is a Vermouth. Find the answers below... The types of amaro: We classify amaro in the following categories:
Light - Lower in alcohol, lighter in flavors Medium - The standard amaro Carciofo - An amaro made with artichokes Rabarbaro - An amaro made with rhubarb, which imparts a smoky flavor Alpine - An amaro made with alpine mountain herbs Genepy - A liqueur made with artemisia (wormwood) Vermouth - An amaro made with a wine base, which infuses differently Chinato - A style of liqueur using cinchona bark, which originated in Piedmont, Italy Aperitivo - A lighter amaro made with cochineal or other red coloring Fernet - A darker, mintier, and often sweeter style Tartufo - An amaro made with truffles, a rare product outside of Italy