To many, Vermouth is simply an addition to some fancy cocktails and has most likely been gathering dust in the back of your parents’ liquor cabinet for the last 15 years. But to the French and Italians, it’s a staple of the drinking culture and consumed in large quantities all year round and for almost any occasion.
As for the product itself, it’s a fortified wine with herbs and spices added to give it either a sweet or dry finish. Although fortified, it is still an active product and must be kept in the fridge to ensure it doesn’t turn. It’s fair to say that bottle in the back of your liquor cabinet isn’t going to be any good after this long.
The French excel at making the dry version, commonly used in the Martini. When you ask for a ‘dry’ Martini, you’re asking for less dry vermouth, meaning you’re partial to tasting your gin a little more clearly. Dry vermouths are the perfect aperitif before dinner, either by themselves or mixed with soda or tonic. On a hot day, when you’re trying to keep pace, a ‘Dry and Dry’ can be the perfect solution – combining the low alcohol dry vermouth with Schweppes Dry Ginger Ale and a touch of citrus can keep you in the game all day.
The Italians have the market cornered on the sweet variety, used in the Manhattan. It’s best to always drink your Manhattans ‘sweet’, using only sweet vermouth. Certain brands lend themselves nicely to being drunk after dinner as a digestif.
Recently we’ve seen other countries getting involved in vermouth production. Americans and thankfully Australians are trying their hand at producing vermouth, using local ingredients and attuning their products to our particular palettes. We really like Maiden II, made by a Melbourne bartender Shaun Byrne and the Regal Rogue range.
However you choose to use your vermouth – whether it be in a Martini, a Manhattan, a Negroni or straight – you can be sure you’re on to a sophisticated choice. Its herbaceousness is a delicious addition to mixed drinks and prefect by itself. It’s supremely versatile and heavily underrated.