I admit it — I cringe when I get an order for a martini sans vermouth. I don’t blame people for being leery of it, however, or claiming they don’t like it. Vermouth is perhaps one of the most misunderstood and neglected things lurking behind every bar. Good quality vermouth is a thing of pure beauty and a key ingredient in many drinks. Omit it from a martini and you’re just drinking chilled gin or vodka with a garnish.
The delicate herb and spice notes can transport you to a far off land, a distant memory, or just shine a whole new light on another spirit so subtly you might not notice if you weren’t paying attention. Most vermouth recipes date back over 200 years and are closely-guarded secrets for a reason. To understand and appreciate the variations can take time and is best done through experience. Don’t let your vermouth sit for too long. Once open, it has a shelf life and will eventually become only a shell of its former self. While it’s fortified with additional alcohol, it should be regarded more as a wine. Refrigeration helps, but the best thing to do is DRINK IT. And if you find yourself starting to love it, invest in it as you would anything you love, and the feeling will grow.
I'll spare you the full definition and history of vermouth; we have the internet at our disposal for that. I merely wish to encourage the growth and understanding of this black sheep. Free it from the dusty back bars. Raise it from the out-of-sight wells. Hold the vermouth? Yes! Hold it close, hold it tight, and hold it high!
If you find yourself feeling adventurous, ask your bartender about it and what they have to offer you. Trust your instinct. If you’re not happy with the outcome, buy your own bottle. Do some research or talk to a knowledgeable merchant. You’ll be happy you did. Just remember, vermouth is best served cold.
**Try it on the rocks with a lemon or orange peel, or mix with soda water for lighter refreshment.
The ubiquitous classic
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce sweet vermouth(rosso)
Top with club soda
Instructions: Serve on the rocks in an old fashioned glass. Garnish with half an orange slice and optional lemon peel.
A vintage Parisian cocktail unearthed
by cocktail historian David Wondrich – well suited for a summer evening.
2 ounces dry vermouth
1 ounce kirsch
1 teaspoon raspberry syrup or Chambord
1 maraschino or brandied cherry (optional)
Instructions: Combine vermouth, kirsch, and syrup or Chambord in a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with cherry.