Vermouth, like gin, seems to be one of those ingredients that many people do not like. Or understand. And since they do not understand it they chase it about the village wielding torches and pitchforks screaming for its demise. Poor vermouth. It only wanted to be friends.
It’s a shame, really. Vermouth is very friendly with a lot of different liquors. Somehow I feel that it is all tied up with the whole “dry martini” thing. Too much vermouth in your martini is, apparently, unmanly, or unwomanly, or uncool. Too much, nowadays, seems to be anything more than a rinse in the glass. Granted, vermouth does not mix that well with vodka, but if you’re having a martini, you should be drinking gin anyway. If you want a vodka martini, drink a Vesper (which, granted, is mostly gin) like James Bond. James Bond is cool, manly, and likes women, right?
I don’t know why vermouth fell out of favor with the American public. I think it happened sometime after Prohibition. Vermouth is wine. If you don’t like wine, then there is probably something wrong with you, but that’s ok. Vermouth has been fortified and aromatized with a plethora of herbs and spices commonly referred to as botanicals: angelica, chamomile, nutmeg, citrus peel, just to name a few, so it doesn’t taste a lot like wine anymore. How can you not like something with angelica in it, huh? In France and Italy where it is produced, it is taken as an aperitif to stimulate the appetite before a meal. It can be served neat or on the rocks. When first introduced in the U.S. in the latter half of the 19th century, it became a favorite with bartenders, opening up a whole new avenue of drink making. The old recipes list either French or Italian vermouth to be used in a particular drink. French vermouth referred to the dry, white variety while the Italian was sweet and red. This despite the fact that all the major French and Italian producers of fortified and aromatized wines, Dubonnet, Noilly Prat, Martini and Rossi, make both red and white vermouth. For a thorough education on vermouth, check out Vermouth101.com.
So, if you have a dusty, half-full bottle of vermouth languishing in the back of your bar, throw it out. Now. Or if you want to find out why so many people don’t like vermouth, try a sip. It’s wine and needs to be consumed before it turns to vinegar. No amount of botanicals, not even angelica, can rescue a vermouth that has turned. So, when you are ready for a cocktail with vermouth in it, go buy a fresh bottle and, after opening, store it in the refrigerator. A vacuum sealer, the kind with the rubber stopper and hand pump like a VacuVin, will help the vermouth last even longer. Another good idea is to buy the smaller half-bottles. You will use them quicker so there is less chance of spoilage.
1 1/4 oz Sweet Vermouth
1 1/4 oz Dry Vermouth
2 dashes Orange Bitters
Stir with ice until cold and strain into a fancy cocktail glass. In the Savoy Cocktail Book recipe you choose either dry or sweet and increase the number of dashes to four. Add an additional dash of Grenadine and you have a Trocadero Cocktail.
There are many, many cocktails combining gin, sweet and dry vermouth. Some of these recipes include bitters, others do not. Try it both ways and see which you prefer.
1 oz Gin
1 oz Dry Vermouth
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
Stir with ice until cold and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with whatever strikes your fancy or nothing at all.
Play around with the proportions of this simple idea and you’ll come to see the versatility of vermouth. Increase the gin to vermouth ratio to 2:1 and you have a Medium Martini. Reduce the sweet vermouth by half and you have a Knickerbocker. The combinations are endless.
So befriend poor vermouth. Its only wish is to please.