Food & Drink

Get the dust off that bottle of vermouth

You don’t have to stick with the same, familiar vermouths
You don’t have to stick with the same, familiar vermouths Heather Gavagan

I can’t tell you how many times someone has been making me a drink, extolling the virtues of this whiskey or that rum, only to have them yank a 2-year-old bottle of vermouth out of a cabinet, wipe the dust off and pour a jigger full. I try hard not to visually manifest my horror.

To make the best drink, all your ingredients need to be at their best. It’s time we discuss vermouth, one of the ingredients that is taken for granted in any bar, home or professional.

In general terms, vermouth is a fortified wine that has been infused with herbs and other plants to create a deep, rich flavor. Most vermouths are derived from a white-wine base. In the case of dry, or French, vermouth, only botanicals are added to the wine. When you are talking about sweet, or Italian, vermouth, a caramel coloring is added.

The bottle most often conjured in the imagination when discussing vermouth is the old standby, Martini & Rossi. To be fair, this is a solid, if not extraordinary, example. If you’re looking for something a little more interesting, make your way to The Assorted Table in 7th Street Market. Proprietor Josh Villapando has done a very good job of bringing in some real standout products. So has Earl’s Grocery, farther out Seventh Street in Elizabeth. Total Wine and More also has some decent selections.

Brands to look out for on the dry side are Dolin and Noilly Prat. The sweet side is where things get a little more interesting. Carpano Antica is considered the king of all sweet vermouths. It makes a killer cocktail and is easily drinkable over ice. What makes it stand out is the vanilla in the infusion – and the price tag is kingly as well.

I prefer Antica’s little sibling, Punt e Mes, which is slightly more bitter and half the price. Another standout is a bottle I recently discovered, Casa Martelletti-Vermouth Classico. If I had to have only one sweet vermouth in my house – perish the thought – this would be it.

Regardless of which brand you choose, it is important to keep your vermouth in prime condition. Being a fortified wine means it will oxidize more slowly than everyday wine, but it isn’t impervious to time and temperature. Keep it in the refrigerator, keep it sealed, and don’t keep it too long. With ideal storage, a bottle should last a couple of months. Beyond that, the flavors start to go off.

If using vermouth that fast seems daunting, you can use them in place of other wines in cooking. They’re already open, so why not use them?

When making cocktails, changing the vermouth is a great way to make all your favorites new again. There is almost no better drink than a Manhattan made with Carpano Antica and a spicy bourbon or rye whiskey. Here are some great drinks that show off vermouth in its best light. Or just pour some over ice and enjoy it solo.

Kevin and Heather Gavagan are Charlotte cocktail nerds who host public and private cocktail events. Follow them on Twitter (@hauntbarCLT) or email HauntbarCLT@gmail.com.

Vieux Carre

1 ounce rye whiskey

1 ounce cognac

1 ounce sweet vermouth

1/2 teaspoon Benedictine

2 dashes Angostura bitters

2 dashes Peychauds bitters

Combine everything in a cocktail shaker over ice. Shake and strain into a rocks glass over ice. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Negroni

1 ounce sweet vermouth

1 ounce gin

1 ounce Campari

Place everything in a mixing glass with ice and stir. Strain and serve neat or over a large ice cube in a rocks or old-fashioned glass. Garnish with a wide strip of orange zest.

Lucien Gaudin

A dry-vermouth cousin of the Negroni, it’s a classic in its own right.

1 ounce gin

1/2 ounce Cointreau

1/2 ounce Campari

3/4 ounce dry vermouth

Combine all the ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Stir and strain into a cocktail glass. Top with an orange twist.

Algonquin

Named for the hotel made famous by Dorothy Parker and her literary circle, the Algonquin Cocktail is subtle in its complexity and a snap to make. It shows that a dry vermouth can be a counterpoint to sweeter ingredients.

1 1/2 ounces rye whiskey

3/4 ounce dry vermouth

3/4 ounce pineapple juice

Place all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well and strain into a cocktail glass. Serve with no garnish.

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