Don’t Use Old Vermouth

There used to be a time when the amount of dry vermouth that would make it into your Martini would have been better measured by an eye dropper instead of a jigger. To this day, you can still find little spray bottles being sold as “vermouth misters” to allow only the slightest amount of vermouth to be added to your Martini. When you are using that little vermouth in your Martini, that means that you are going through your vermouth very slowly, making it very, very old before you make even the slightest dent in it.



Vermouth is a wine. And like any wine, it will oxidize over time, which will impact its flavor. Vermouth is what is known as a fortified/aromatized wine (Port and Sherry are simply fortified wines). Fortification simply means adding an alcohol to the wine, usually brandy. This originally was done to help preserve it, the higher alcohol content would make it last longer. Aromatization means that herbs, spices, and botanicals have been added to it. The original intent of this was to produce a supposedly medicinal beverage, with wormwood being the key ingredient of vermouth, which is where it gets its name. These botanicals also had a side-effect of giving the wine a longer shelf-life, not because it reduced oxidation, but because it would sort of mask the effects of oxidation. Even with fortification and aromatization vermouth is still a wine, and so its shelf life, once opened, is limited.



Those dusty bottles of vermouth you might have on your shelf are not going to do anything good for any drink you use them in. This could be part of what leads to the fear that some people have of vermouth, and hence the gymnastics they may go through to use as little of it as possible in their cocktails (the Martini specifically). You owe it to yourself, and the guests you are serving, to use as fresh of a bottle of vermouth as you can. This will mean buying as small a bottle as possible and keeping it refrigerated when not in use. If you have any doubts about the age of that bottle, then relegate it for use in cooking, where it works quite well.

Ingredients

1 1/2 oz gin

1/2 oz dry vermouth

dash orange bitters

Instructions

Stir ingredients with ice.

Strain into a chilled cocktail coup.

Garnish with a lemon twist.

Comments

Jan 13 Nov 2014
12:26 pm

There are some ways how to increase the shelf-life. You should always keep the bottles refrigerated which is easy to do. You can also use the vacuum wine stoppers which allow you to pump most of the air from the bottle so it oxidizes much much slower. Where I live I can buy the good brands like Noilly Prat or Dolin in 1 liter bottles only so I don’t open more than two each year, but if stored like that, they don’t taste too different even when you taste them side by side. I use vacuum stoppers for anything that is below 40 proof :)

Rick M. 14 Nov 2014
4:30 pm

Robert, I’m not sure the comparison between vermouth and WINE is a FAIR one.  Wine is obviously packaged to be consumed in either one, or two, settings (with the exception of large “boxed” wines, but that’s another story).  With vermouth, MOST people consume it as a MODIFIER in their cocktails, thereby, using perhaps an ounce or two at any one occasion, so unless you’re an alcoholic with a penchant for dry martinis, or lead a super active social life and throwing tons of parties, chances are any vermouth you possess is going to last you awhile.

The question then becomes: what is the IDEAL amount of time to hold onto a bottle of vermouth?  There’s enough debate on the internet on the topic of “refrigerate/don’t refrigerate” vermouth and I think the “refrigerate” side has won.  So, to modify the question: what’s the IDEAL time to hold onto a REFRIGERATED bottle of vermouth, most likely of the pint size, and can one really tell the difference between a bottle stored for a little bit longer?  Anyone?  Thanks!

Dinah (MetaGrrrl/Bibulous) 15 Nov 2014
12:17 pm

An even better way to have fresher vermouth in all your drinks is to enjoy it more often so those bottles don’t stick around too long. This late 20th century fear of vermouth is not part of classic cocktail drinking or of the current cocktail renaissance. The inventors of the cocktail as a drink form loved their vermouth—along with lots of other interesting low-proof ingredients—and any trip through 19th century drink books will show you that we lost a lot of variety after Prohibition which we’re only now beginning to regain.

Rediscover aperitifs and other drinks which call for lots of vermouth (or other delicate ingredients you should be refrigerating and using fairly quickly, like sherry and port or anything else under 24% ABV). You’ll broaden your palate, find more food-compatible cocktail options, and get to enjoy more drinks in an evening when you make lower-proof a bigger part of your repertoire.

onkelandy 16 Nov 2014
1:45 am

There are a lot of opinions out there that the dryness indeed is determined by the amount of vermouth and not the type of vermouth. At least a lot of bar(tenders) think of “very dry” = “almost only gin”.  Although that’s kinda irritating after all ;)

Robert Hess 16 Nov 2014
12:51 pm

Rick,

I think the comparison between vermouth and wine is quite a fair one, vermouth is almost, but not quite, a wine. But you are correct in that the expected time-for-consumption of a vermouth is different from wine. So yes, a bottle of vermouth is going to be around longer than a bottle of wine, which is a great reason to use as small of a bottle of vermouth as possible. Ideally, you’d buy your vermouth in “minis”, which are made, but unfortunately rarely (if ever?) sold here in the US.

As for how long to hold onto that bottle of vermouth in the fridge… it should be fine for several months. As for being able to tell the difference in a bottle that has been held onto for “just a little too long”, the answer is yes, but not everybody. Some people have a better sense of taste than others, and I know that my wife is more sensitive to slightly-too-old vermouth than I am.

My recommendation for a question like this is always to experiment yourself! If you’ve got what you think might be a “too old” bottle of vermouth around, just pick up a fresh bottle of the same brand, and do a taste comparison, both straight, and in your favorite cocktail. If you can’t tell the difference, then you’ve got your answer.

-Robert

Robert Hess 16 Nov 2014
12:57 pm

Dinah,

You are so right about getting away from the “fear” of vermouth! I once asked a bartender to make me a gin martini in a 3-to-1 ratio, and he tried his hardest to talk me out of it. Telling me that so much vermouth would ruin the drink. You could see the pain on his face as I encouraged him to add more and more vermouth as he slowly drizzled it into the mixing glass. It was pure torture for him. Then I had him taste it… he had to walk away for a few moments, but when he came back, he admitted it was the best Martini he had ever had (he preferred vodka Martinis).

Another way to make it easier to always have fresh vermouth around, is to realize that it can also be a great drink had all by itself! In Europe, it is quite common to drink vermouth on the rocks with a twist of lemon. This works well for both dry and sweet.

And I’m sure the vermouth producers would appreciate it!

-Robert

Robert Hess 16 Nov 2014
1:02 pm

Onkelandy,

Exactly, which is why we still have a lot of teaching to do. It’s pretty amazing how people “redefined” what a “dry Martini” is, and more amazing that their new-found definition resulted in making a worse drink, and yet their attachment to this ill-conceived bias got them to convince themselves that the drink was actually better. The fact that this also was happening about the time when vodka was replacing gin played a role too, since you typically would want to use far less vermouth in a vodka martini then you would a gin one… of course you could easily argue that a vodka martini is a martini in name only.

-Robert

Rick M. 17 Nov 2014
4:00 pm

Robert,

As a LONG time fan of your web series, I am HONORED by your response!  As a consumer, I often find myself REPEATEDLY watching selected episodes to confirm that I’ve either gotten the quantities right or the process right.  Looking forward to many more NEW episodes!

One brief question though:  when you refer to “minis,” are you referring to the “375 ml” size?  That’s the smallest I’ve ever seen, and I can’t imagine purchasing anything larger (unless one planned to use it in the European manner you suggest).

As to the AVERSION to using vermouth in a Martini, I find it so AFFECTED.  The whole concept of a cocktail involves the MAGIC of combining disparate ingredients to create a unique, and special, whole.  A Martini without a substantive amount of vermouth should NOT be considered a Martini “cocktail,” but rather, a gin served NEAT.  Cheers! 

 

Robert Hess 17 Nov 2014
4:39 pm

Rick, when I say “minis”, I mean honest to goodness minis… just like those small little bottles of gin, whiskey, etc that you can get at many liquor stores. They are about 5cl in size, and so work really well for making Martinis and not having to worry about needing to store the vermouth in the fridge. I’m stumped as to why liquor stores don’t carry them.

-Robert

Rick M. 17 Nov 2014
5:27 pm

Again, an HONOR to receive a response from you, sir!  :)

I’m going to assume your experience with “5cl” sized portions of vermouth is strictly limited to the EUROPEAN market.
 
If the American populace CONTINUES to be exposed to (and educated in) the pleasures of creating TRUE craft cocktails, that MAY create a DEMAND for these “5cl” sized bottles you referred to (if it were me, I’d DEFINITELY stock up on those, for those occasions when you crave a “true” Martini).

P.S.:  Idea for a future episode:  how to use vermouth in cocktails OTHER than the Martini.  Cheers!

Robert Hess 18 Nov 2014
10:21 am

I’ve frankly never seen the 5cl bottles for sale in any liquor stores, I had to get mine by asking Martini & Rossi directly for them. I’m sure there must be somebody somewhere selling them since they “are” being made.

As for using vermouth in drinks other than the Martini. I’ve already done about 25 episodes so far! :-> Here is a list of those, plus some episodes that others have done here on Small Screen too:

http://www.smallscreennetwork.com/show/category/dry_vermouth/

I might specifically recommend the “Black Feather”, one of my own drinks that I think showcases dry vermouth nicely:

http://www.smallscreennetwork.com/video/72/cocktail_spirit_black_feather

-Robert

Rick M. 18 Nov 2014
11:09 am

25 EPISODES?!  Looks like I’ve got my WORK cut out for me!  ;)

Thanks, Robert!  :)

Celestino 25 Nov 2014
1:33 pm

Robert you said: “I’m stumped as to why liquor stores don’t carry them.”

I’ve never seen mini vermouths myself either. The only sweet ones are huge 1L bottles and the dry usually 0.5/0.7L ones.

I chip in my 2 cents and would GUESS that the mains reason mini-vermouths are not available is a practical one. Vermouth doesn’t cost nearly as much as liquors so it would only add a tremendous cost to manufacturers to try and pack thousands and thousands of them for retailers to sell. Moreover, for most people vermouth is enjoyed more than 5 cl at a time (they don’t see the cocktail aspect of it) so in addition of costing at lot of money to produce, people generally would not buy them.

It’s sad though.

Robert Hess 25 Nov 2014
4:53 pm

Celestino, it’s not that vermouth minis aren’t “made”, just that they aren’t readily “available”. As you can see here:

http://www.thedrinkshop.com/products/nlpdetail.php?prodid=5642

They are available.

But your rational is also correct in noting that the cost of bottling minis is ounce for ounce more expensive than larger bottles.

Angostura makes a “2 drink” mini of their bitters, and I recall hearing somewhere that it costs more to bottle the mini then it does to bottle the standard size.

Celestino 25 Nov 2014
11:35 pm

Wow well I’ll be damned! :) I seriously didn’t know such thing existed (especially regarding vermouths). Then again living in Finland we hardly ever have anything nice when it comes to alcohol products.

On a side note, I remember watching a clip of your colleague/pal Anthony where he discussed this similar issue. His and this video were real eye-openers. That’s why I haven’t made manhattans at home in a very long time since that would be a waste of good bourbon!

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