Quick Sips: Sweet Vermouths vary by distiller, but some common tastes can be found. Orange peels, wormwood, sweet caramel, bitterness, Italian herbs, and a little bit of saline can be tasted in most.
Applications: Like many European alcohols, Sweet Vermouth was originally believed to be medicinal. In Italy, it served as an aperitif in just about every cafe. However, in America, Sweet Vermouth is used primarily as an ingredient in many Golden Age cocktails like the Manhattan and the Negroni.
NOTE: Vermouth should always be refrigerated when not in use.
Backstory: Sweet (or red) Vermouth is a fortified and aromatized wine, originally created in 18th century Italy. Producers start with the juice from neutral or unfermented grapes, typically Clairette blanche, Piquepoul, Bianchetta Trevigiana, Catarratto and Trebbiano. A little sugar syrup and (normally) caramel is added for sweetness and color along with a second, fortifying alcohol. Then herbs and spices such as cloves, cinnamon, quinine, citrus peel, cardamom, marjoram, chamomile, coriander, juniper, hyssop, and ginger are added to the mix. The end product generally clocks in between 16and 18 percent abv.