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Most American vermouths are made with California white wine as a base, while much of the flavoring material is imported. The basic wine is fortified and either infused and later filtered or simply has an extract added to it. It is then aged, sometimes in small chestnut barrels.
Vermouth is named after its most typical flavoring ingredient, wormwood, derived from the woody herb of that name, called Wermuth in German and Artemisia absinthium in Latin. For the production of vermouth only a mild form of the essential oil of this shrub is used, a much more potent form of which gave its name to the cordial known as Absinthe. Besides wormwood a host of other flavoring ingredients give vermouth its aromatic and pungent character, including the berries, roots, seeds, peel, gum, bark, flowers, leaves, dried fruit, and other parts of a number of herbs, plants, shrubs, and lichens. Exactly which substances are used depends on the producer and the brand.
There are two main kinds of California Vermouth, the dry and the sweet. Recently a very light and very dry type has won separate recognition.
California Dry Vermouth Dry vermouth is also known as French vermouth, as it originated and became famous in France. California Dry Vermouth is pale golden or light amber in color and averages about i8 per cent alcohol by volume. It is made with a neutral white wine base of relatively high acid content which is fortified and blended, about half an ounce of herb mixture or extract equivalent being added per gallon of wine to obtain the desired character.
California Light Dry Vermouth This very light and very dry type of vermouth was created because of the fashion to order an ever lighter and drier martini cocktail. Were this trend to develop to its logical conclusion, a vermouthless dry martini would be the final result or one with only a soupqon of one of the world's oldest wines, to the detriment of the vermouth producers. The latter therefore developed, and with success, a special type of extremely pale and extremely dry vermouth, light and dry enough to satisfy the most rigorous advocates of the driest and palest of dry martinis.
California Light Dry Vermouth has the same alcoholic content as the regular dry type. It is variously labeled as Extra Dry, Very Dry, Triple Dry, and as White Vermouth. Under this last name it must not be confused with the Vermouth Bianco of Italy, a sweet white vermouth not produced, so far, in California, to the Guide's best knowledge.
California Sweet Vermouth Sweet vermouth is also known as Italian vermouth, as it originated in that country, where a number of world-famous brands are produced. It is reddish to dark amber in color, very aromatic and sweet, and contains on the average 16 per cent alcohol by volume.
Muscatel or angelica is used as base, to which from one to one and a half ounces of herbs are added per gallon to give the wine its typically rich and aromatic character. It is aged in the wood, preferably in oak, for only a short period of time to prevent loss of aroma through volatilization.
Use and Service-Dry vermouth is used in many cocktails, especially martinis and gibsons. It is also consumed straight as an aperitif and is mixed in Vermouth-Cassis. It makes a refreshing long drink with any of the sweet berry wines with ice, sparkling water and lemon.
Light dry vermouth makes the driest and palest martinis and gibsons.
Sweet vermouth is used in Manhattans and many other cocktails and makes a good aperitif when served neat, with or without a lemon rind.
Dry and sweet vermouth, half and half, constitute a popular aperitif served with ice in an old-fashioned glass. Both types, also, are used in cooking to give the dish an aromatic flavor, the sweet vermouth being quite popular in preparing chicken.