It’s a good time to be a vermouth drinker in the United States. With more and more vermouths being imported and created locally, the liquor store shelves are practically sagging under the weight of these various bottles. If you are, in fact, a vermouth super fan, the question of which bottle to buy is easy: all of them. But if you’re just looking for a standard sweet vermouth to use in Manhattans and Negronis, and maybe drink on its own with some soda water, then choosing becomes a bit more difficult. To help you out, we asked bartenders to weigh in. Here, the pros reveal their go-to sweet vermouths.
This easy-to-find vermouth originated in France when it was created by Joseph Dubonnet in 1846 as a means of making quinine more palatable for the French Foreign Legion troops as they made their way through North Africa. “It has an intense winey profile compared to other vermouths today,” says Samy Berdai of Boulud Sud in NYC. “The history and the medicinal ties to the vermouth have earned it a loyal following.”
“Martini Rubino is my favorite sweet vermouth because it is made with Nebbiolo Italian grapes which are bright and rich,” says Hemant Pathak of Junoon. “It is rested in Tino oak casks for two months, giving it time to fully marry. [And it is] crafted with three different types of artemisia [bitter, herbaceous plants] which combine perfectly with the Martini Bitter for a fantastic Negroni, which is my favorite.” Darnell Holguin of The VNYL agrees with Pethak. He loves it in a cocktail as well as by itself. “I get notes of black pepper and strawberries with a hint of wormwood and cassis,” he says. “I really enjoy this vermouth in an Americano.”
This ultra complex vermouth is made with 38 different botanicals, including Italian juniper, vanilla, orange and rhubarb. “The nose on this has some nice vanilla notes, and the palate has some bright hints of rhubarb,” says Kelsey E. Shelton of Parker at The Fontaine in Kansas City, Missouri. “But don't be fooled, this vermouth is more on the bitter side. With American cocktail culture’s rising trend of low-ABV cocktails on menus, this will be your star player behind your bar. Mancino's vermouth flourishes as an aperitif, Cobbler [and] Spritz, and complements spirits and cordials. So don't sleep on this patio pounder!”
"Picking a sweet vermouth is all about balance,” says Topher White of Stagecoach Inn in Salado, Texas. “I love Carpano Antica, but Carpano is vanilla bean dominant; I love Punt e Mes, but it has a bittering component that needs accommodation. Cocchi has an herbal bitterness that is balanced by a light sweetness, and it has a depth that lower end options lack. It isn’t too bitter, or too sweet, or too vanilla-dominant like certain vermouth alla vaniglia.” Made with Chinese rhubarb, cinchona, wormwood, bitter orange and many other botanicals, it’s an extremely versatile sweet vermouth. “I use Cocchi in a variety of cocktails: Manhattan, Vieux Carre, Americano, Rob Roy, Boulevardier, Negroni,” White says. “The balance it possesses between sweetness and bitterness, and the depth of quality, lends this product to all around utility behind the stick.” Evan Hawkins of New York’s Bo Peep Cocktail & Highball Store also relies on Cocchi. “It is so beautiful on the palate,” he says. “For its affordable price point, it’s extraordinary. It has great notes of cocoa and bitter orange, which makes it perfect for Manhattans and exciting for Negronis. You can put it down on a big rock with an orange peel and drink it by itself (which is what I do). That’s how good it is."
Created by the California-based Tempus Fugit Spirits, this sweet vermouth was designed to be sipped on its own—but that doesn’t means it’s not amazing in cocktails. “It has a much more distinctly bitter expression than most rosso vermouths,” says Heather Perkins of DiAnoia's Eatery in Pittsburgh. “It’s almost a cross between vermouth and amaro.” Perkins calls it an “all-in-one product,” saying that it is at once “sweet, ripe and bitter.”
Here it is, folks. This is the sweet vermouth nearly all bartenders can seemingly agree upon. Many cited this as their go-to, praising it for its versatility, its fruit-forward flavors and its silky mouthfeel. "One sweet vermouth I make sure that all the bars at Eataly NYC Flatiron have is Carpano Antica Formula,” Alan Lam says. “I love the sweetness it brings to a cocktail without having a texture that is too syrupy.” For William Frost of Blue Harbour in Tampa, Florida, Carpano Antica changed his perception of sweet vermouth entirely. “Sweet vermouth was almost an afterthought before I started using this,” he says. “It’s the original sweet vermouth,” Josh Schaeffer of The Lobby Bar of The Don Cesar in St. Pete Beach, Florida, opines. “It provides the perfect balance for Manhattans, Rob Roys or simply standing alone on the rocks.” It’s the key to a great Boulevardier for Sam Borzi of BLT Prime by David Burke in Washington, D.C. It’s the best way to make a Negroni or a Manhattan, according to Achille Confuorto of Rossopomodoro. It’s even good on the rocks “with a big orange twist,” according to Jesse Ostroski of San Francisco’s Botellón. We get it, guys, it’s good.