By Camper English
You think you don’t like vermouth, and you are probably wrong. If you only ever ate moldy cheeseburgers found in the dumpster you would think cheeseburgers are disgusting, and likewise that nearly-full, dusty bottle of vermouth in your cupboard probably went bad a couple of years ago. Try a fresh bottle and you may change your tune.
Vermouth is a fortified and aromatized wine. The wine part is why it spoils once it’s opened. The fortified part indicates that has some higher-proof spirit added to give it a longer shelf life than table wine. (Other fortified wines include port and sherry.) That vermouth is aromatized means that it has extra flavorings added, in this case herbs, flowers, spices, and bark, according secret recipes unique to each brand.
We generally speak of two types of vermouth: sweet/Italian/red, and dry/French/white. I sometimes forget which is Italian and which is French, so I remember that the sweet/Italian/red has the acronym SIR, and the other has the same initials as the Dallas/Ft. Worth international airport.
The red one (Thank you, SIR) usually pairs well with dark spirits like whisky and goes into drinks like the Manhattan, Negroni, and Americano. The white works well with clear spirits and goes into the vodka or gin Martini, of course, as well as newly popular old drinks like the Chrysanthemum and the Obituary Cocktail. When you request an Extra Dry Martini you are requesting one with less dry vermouth, not more, so perhaps it should be called the “Extra Vodka Martini” instead.
But long before anyone put vodka in a Martini, the drink (and its predecessor, the Martinez) was made with genever (a malty gin from Holland) and sweet vermouth. Over the years leading up to Prohibition, the London dry style of gin became increasingly popular, and dry vermouth is a better match to that. So the term “Dry Martini” may have first referred to dry gin and dry vermouth over the sweet versions of each. Nowadays it refers to using as little vermouth as possible, and that’s a shame because the wet version can be delicious.
To improve your Martini and Manhattan mixology at home, buy the smallest bottles of the most expensive vermouth you can find. Look for boutique brands Dolin or Vya, but Noilly-Prat is a good and inexpensive dry vermouth and Martini & Rossi is a good sweet one. Before you throw out your current bottle, buy a new one and compare the two. The old vermouth will smell like vinegar and rancid vegetation (kind of like that dumpster cheeseburger) while the new will have a crisp fresh aroma.
After opening, keep your vermouth in the refrigerator to help it last longer. (This is especially important with dry vermouth.) The better and fresher the vermouth, the more of it you’ll want mix into your cocktails. Soon instead of crying for a dry Martini you’ll be begging the bartender to make it wet.