The idea of vermouth has been so demonized in contemporary "bar culture" that it has been relieved of duty in just about every vodka martini requested by patrons... which is a sincere shame. On the other hand, vermouth has seen a huge resurgence in
"cocktail culture" as better educated mixologists have realized that with a better vermouth comes a better crafted cocktail.
Vermouth is, for all intents & purpose, a fortified wine flavored with aromatic herbs & spices. There are 3 basic types of vermouth, dry & sweet (which are the most popular) and blanc or white. Dry & blanc vermouths are clear in color (while blanc may have a little more straw coloring) and sweet will be a dark reddish color that will be difficult to see through. Vermouth is a primary component in classic cocktails such as Martini, Manhattan or Rob Roy. Typically the lighter vermouths are used in the lighter colored cocktails (ie; gin or vodka based liquors) where sweet (or red) vermouth is used in more brown liquor based cocktails, though this was not always the case.
There are two reasons for the decline of vermouth in martini's.
- 1) most bars use cheap vermouth... the cheapest they can find. One of classic cocktailian David Embury's primary principles of drink mixing is "use good quality liquor". Certainly, the idea of using the best quality liquor with a substandard mixer defeats the purpose of using that mixer to enhance the flavor of the cocktail.
- 2) Vermouth is wine, and as such needs to be treated as a delicate libation, rather than as a high alcohol well-pour that can withstand the deteriorating effects of air and heat. Vermouth SHOULD be kept in coolers overnight, and pumped with a vacu-vin everyday. I'd say 99% of all vermouth used in bars and restaurants today never receive this kind of care.
Now, onto the good news! As I said earlier, most cocktail culture bartenders are getting hip to the notion that vermouth is an integral part of most cocktails. AND better vermouths are finding their way onto the shelves of better establishments. These newer vermouths may be difficult to find... however they are well worth the search. I've been able to find most online. My recommendations for the best vermouths out there with links to purchase, are as follows:
Dolin Dry Vermouth: $13.99
Dolin Vermouth Blanc: $10.99
Carpano AnticaFormula Vermouth: $25.95
My favorite recipe with these new vermouths is to do a 50/50 split between vermouth and gin. When you've got good vermouth, why wouldn't you want to taste it?
I call this the Prohibition Martini. Vermouth was used heavily during prohibition to cut the flavor of bad bathtub gin. Now with exceptional gins and exceptional vermouths, the opportunity for a delicious gin martini is in your all-to-capable hands:
- 1 1/2 oz. Cadenhead Old Raj Gin
- 1 1/2 oz. Dolin Vermouth Blanc (I've also used Dolin Dry to some excellent result)
- 1 preserved lemon zest and goat cheese stuffed olive (if you don't have the time or patience to preserve some lemons... a simple lemon peel works well. Try to peel with no pith)