Vermouth for Classic Cocktails

 

When it comes to vermouth, there are three kinds of people in the world: people who think it is all terrible (aka people who have almost certainly only had vermouth that had gone bad), people who think it is all the same (aka people who have yet to experience how a different vermouth totally changes a cocktail), and people who won’t bat an eye at all if I say something like “Well, this is my favorite vermouth for a Manhattan but this over here is my favorite vermouth for a Negroni.”

If you’re anything short of the 3rd category, a vermouth lover, please allow me to plead the case as to why you should give it another shot.  

Vermouth is wine that has been aromatized with botanicals (many people say this must include wormwood but others say this is negotiable) and fortified (usually with a neutral grape spirit). If you think vermouth is terrible it’s probably because you’ve had vermouth that sat on a backbar or in your parents’ liquor cabinet for years gathering dust, and of course *that* vermouth is terrible! You wouldn’t leave a open bottle of Pinot sitting around for ages and expect it to taste good, would you?

Yes, vermouth is fortified so it’s slightly heartier than table wine but it is still wine. It’s not likely to ever hurt you but as soon as you open the bottle it’s going to start changing and eventually it will get too oxidized and taste bad. The more often you open it and the more air in the bottle the faster it will change.

The golden rule of vermouth unless you’re using a bottle up in a day or two like a bar in Italy would? Keep it in the refrigerator! That will give you at least a couple of weeks/months before you’ll want a new bottle. If you’re not sure you can use a bottle fast enough stick to a vermouth that comes in a smaller bottle.

If you’re the second type of person, well, a little more education. It happens all the time: people come to the store with vermouth on their shopping list but they don’t know if they want something light or rich, and sometimes they don’t even know if they want dry or sweet. The truth is there is a huge range of vermouths out there and they will make your cocktails vary immensely. Dry vermouth is well known for being used in the Martini. It has little to no sugar added and will taste more herbaceous but less bitter. Sweet vermouth has, unsurprisingly, a higher amount of sugar added and is often brownish red from caramel coloring (almost all vermouths are made from white wine).

Some people think dry or sweet is all you need to know but there’s a spectrum in between including white vermouth that is sweetened slightly and amber vermouth that has a little bit of that caramel coloring. Even sweet vermouth ranges from light in body like Dolin to dark and rich like Carpano. So if your cocktail isn’t cutting it try switching up your vermouth and it might be the fix you need.

If you’re the third type of person let’s compare notes! What do you like to use in different cocktails? What’s your universal workhorse?

  • My favorite vermouth for a Martini: Personally I’m not super into dry vermouth and I never seem to like the Martinis I make for myself (I think it’s partly because when someone makes one for me I’m usually having french fries and/or oysters as well). So I like the slightly unusual, new-school dry vermouths like Imbue’s new classic Dry or Lo-Fi Aperitifs Dry.
  • Universal red vermouth: I’m a big Negroni and Manhattan fan so sweets are my more useful vermouths. If I could only have one? Cocchi Vermouth di Torino. Definitely a universal workhorse for your sweet vermouth needs.
  • My favorite vermouth for a Manhattan: Carpano Antica, that vanilla bomb that convinces so many people to like vermouth again, remains king of the Manhattan.
  • My favorite vermouth for a Negroni: I like dark and bitter red vermouth for a Negroni. Gran Lusso was my pick but sadly, that was a limited edition that lasted four years and just recently ran dry. Punt e Mes and Alessio Chinato are currently fighting for my top spot.
  • My favorite vermouth for a Martinez: Bordiga’s Rosso is sort of a rosé, is light and lovely, and works amazingly well here. I’ve seen a number of Martinez recipes floating around with equal parts gin and vermouth but I like a stepped recipe for this classic cocktail.

The Martinez

Stir with ice, strain, and serve up. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Ready to become a vermouth lover and join me as the third type of person? Check out our vermouth section online or visit the store and I’ll help you find a great vermouth match for you and for your cocktail.

Comments

Niel flores:

Love the info. And thank you for it all of coarse. Which base would you say plays best with a vermouth blanc?

Aug 21, 2017

Ethan Prater:

Love the rundown and generally agree with the conclusions and recommendations.

For the Martinez, I suggest either a base of Old Tom Gin or a barspoon of simple syrup. Closer to the older recipes.

Aug 16, 2017

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