The use of wines fortified with herbs or roots is believed to have begun in China as early as the Shang and Western Zhou dynasties (1250–1000 BC). The additional ingredients were added to the wine to make it a medicinal drink. Medicinal drinks made by the alcoholic fermentation of herbs and sugars are mentioned in early Indian texts on medicine. However, this does not imply that European vermouths originated from ancient Chinese and Indian drinks—recipes for infusing white wine date back to prehistoric Greece from just about 400 BC. A popular element was wormwood, based on the belief that it effectively treated stomach disorders and intestinal parasites.
The name “vermouth” is a French pronunciation of the German word Wermut for wormwood that has been used as an element in the drink over its history. Enriched wines, including wormwood as a primary element, existed in Germany throughout the 16th century. At around this time, an Italian trader named D’Alessio began making a similar product in Piedmont as a “wormwood wine.” D’Alessio’s version of the libation included other botanical ingredients in addition to wormwood. Competing brands developed shortly after that in eastern and southeastern France, including their own proprietary mix of components, including herbs, roots, bark, and spices. By the mid-17th century, the alcoholic drink was being consumed in England under the name “vermouth,” which has been the ordinary name for the drink till the present day.
Over time, two distinct types of vermouth became formed, one pale, dry, and bitter, and the other red and sweeter. Merchant Antonio Benedetto Carpano introduced the first sweet vermouth in 1786 in Turin, Italy. The drink reportedly quickly became popular with the royal court of Turin. Around 1800 to 1813, the first pale, dry vermouth was produced in France by Joseph Noilly. However, not all pale vermouths made over time have been dry, and not all red vermouths have been sweet.
The usage of vermouth as a medicinal liquor waned by the end of the 18th century. Still, its use as an apéritif increased in Italy and France. The introduction of the cocktail in the late 19th century discovered a new use for vermouth. Mixologists found that it was an ideal mixer for many cocktails, including the Manhattan (beginning around 1880) and the precursors to the Martini. In addition, the famous Vermouth cocktail, first appearing in 1868, comprised of cooled vermouth and a twist of lemon peel with the infrequent addition of minor quantities of bitters or maraschino. The popularity of vermouth-intense cocktails in America, often utilizing twice as much vermouth as gin or whiskey, was maintained through the 1880s and 1890s. Even Though the quantity of vermouth used in cocktail recipes had slightly declined, it has recently been undergoing a rise as a favorite among a new breed of bartenders, as a critical component in many mixtures. Vermouth gained fame in the 1950s with help from the Martini, which was being promoted by liquor businesses. Product positioning and celebrity endorsements from personalities such as Ernest Hemingway and Humphrey Bogart assisted in raising Martini’s profile. Though, the most influential promoter of the Martini was the fictional person, James Bond.
The fame of vermouth in the United States and Great Britain refused after the mid-20th century but was still used in those nations in many classic cocktails such as the Manhattan, albeit in smaller amounts. The drink is more prevalent in other sections of Europe, such as Italy and France, where it is often used by itself as an apéritif.
In the years since 2013, there has been rekindled interest in vermouth in the US. Artisanal creators have created new brands of vermouth which do not seek to replicate European styles, and vermouth has remained a fast-growing category within the wine trade.