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Stocking Vermouth

January 18, 2013

Where have all the cocktails gone? Long time passing.
Where have all the cocktails gone? Long time ago.

I think I recall a time when I faithfully wrote about cocktails once a week. Whatever happened to that? Well, part of it is that over the last couple of months I largely stopped drinking as cocktails didn’t quite jibe with my medication.

Anyhow, it’s January and I haven’t even transitioned the bar from fall to winter. Really, this year I may not even make the attempt. The bar is cluttered with far too many mostly empty bottles to bring anything new into the house, including some of the Peach Jack from summer and a bunch of the Coal Yard (which I really enjoy) from fall.

This notion of hanging onto bottles is one I want to talk about further. I totally get the impulse. We still have some Chartreuse in a bottle that’s at least five years old. But that’s a hearty spirit and some have even said that it’s a rare example of something that ages well in the bottle.

Vermouth, on the other hand, isn’t quite as tough.

I don’t want to single anybody out on this one. Especially since I’m guilty of doing this myself. But if you have an open bottle of vermouth that’s been sitting out on a counter, or, even worse, someplace warm like over the refrigerator, we need to talk.

Vermouth is different from the other items in your bar. It’s not a base spirit. At its heart vermouth is a wine. And it should be treated like a wine. Sure, it’s fortified which helps to preserve it a little. But once it has been opened, it fades quickly. Refrigeration helps delay the inevitable. Still one should not be holding onto open bottles indefinitely.

Consider that the most common applications of vermouth are the Martini and the Manhattan. In these drinks, the flavor of the vermouth can make or break your cocktail.

Fortunately, vermouth is commonly available in 375ml bottles. It’s hard to buy these. I know, because I’m a cheap bastard. For just a couple bucks more you can get twice as much. And for about another buck on top of that, you can get a full liter of delicious aromatic fortified wine.

And I do think it’s delicious. I’ll drink vermouth on the rocks with a twist for a simple aperitif, or vermouth with seltzer as a refreshing cooler. Manhattans are also our house cocktail. But even with all of these uses for sweet vermouth, it takes us well over a month to drain a liter bottle.

That’s far too long.

We would be better served buying vermouth in smaller quantities and replenishing it more often. Even buying a couple of small bottles at a time, lest I was concerned about adding more frequent trips to the liquor store.

It kind of breaks my heart when I see large bottles of vermouth that look like they have been sitting around for years. Because I know that one day they will be put into service, and that at best the results will be a mere shadow of what they could have been.

The killer part is that even really good vermouth isn’t that expensive, so it’s not like holding on to the last few ounces of some rare and precious single malt scotch.

I’m a big fan of the Martini and Rossi sweet vermouth. Dolin is the dry vermouth of choice for gin based cocktails now that Noilly Prat changed its formulation (a grudge I still hold). I will sometimes select a fruitier dry vermouth for cooking. But that’s a whole different story.

There are more expensive vermouths out there, but these are solid selections. Some of the cheapest brands are best avoided. My rule of thumb is that if you don’t like drinking it on its own, it shouldn’t be used in your cocktail.

But I digress.

Let’s take the new year to do a little house cleaning. If you are one of the vermouth hoarders out there, just throw away your old bottle. Do it now, or as soon as you get home. Then go out this weekend and buy a new 375ml bottle of something decent. Maybe you make that two, so you have a backup should you run out.

Your next Manhattan will thank you for it.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. January 18, 2013 10:20 am

    “I don’t want to single anybody out on this one. Especially since I’m guilty of doing this myself. But if you have an open bottle of vermouth that’s been sitting out on a counter, or, even worse, someplace warm like over the refrigerator, we need to talk.” – So really, you were talking about me. It’s okay, you can say it.

  2. January 18, 2013 10:23 am

    /laughing Deanna, you told me this was coming, but I didn’t know it would be this good! ;)

    • January 18, 2013 11:25 am

      He might as well have said: “Deanna is a fraud and knows nothing about cocktails. She has nasty vermouth just sitting there, stagnating. WTH?” At least to my own credit, my summer kitchen/pantry isn’t heated and it stays pretty frigid back there, and before the vermouth lived there, it lived in the root cellar (which has roughly the same temp as a wine fridge).

  3. January 18, 2013 11:18 am

    Once you confirm your vermouth hasn’t turned, you can make a nice shrimp dish with it. Butterfly the shrimp and fan around the edges with the tails facing out. Pour in some melted butter and chopped garlic and saute till the shrimp are pink. Pour in equal amounts of vermouth and lemon juice (maybe 1/3 cup each), reduce, serve over rice.

  4. January 18, 2013 11:18 am

    Fan around the edges #of a saute pan# that should say.

  5. -R. permalink
    January 18, 2013 12:51 pm

    Lots of unfinished business this week Profussor: you got us started on the whole class issue regarding restaurants, and kind of dropped it; you also discussed issues of objectivity vs. subjectivity in food and dropped that too. Now we’re talking vermouth. Yet even more pressing is the issue of why Barnes has dropped your link from his little TU thing-a-ma-blog (which I must say has REALLY been sliding as of late – fewer daily entries, and watered down content (do we really need to see yet another photo of Yono anywhere on the TU website? I think not)). Will we be revisiting these topics anytime soon, or do you need further time to ruminate?

  6. January 18, 2013 7:16 pm

    Hi Daniel:

    Interesting that you apparently don’t care for the current incarnation of Noilly Prat dry vermouth. I happen to love it. Of course, as with virtually anything, it’s all a matter of taste.

    For those of your readers who care about the background on the change, here’s a link to a story I wrote back when it happened:


  7. Eric Scheirer Stott permalink
    January 19, 2013 12:01 pm

    Do you have an opinion on NY State Vermouth?

  8. Eric Scheirer Stott permalink
    January 20, 2013 5:04 pm

    I was about to dump my open bottles of Martini & Rossi when I gave them a thought: I got them when my Grandmother’s house closed up – that was around 1990, and they were already open. Anyone want a taste of the 1980’s?

  9. maltnsmoke permalink
    January 21, 2013 12:48 pm

    Have you seen this???:

    Noilly Prat brings back US-only dry vermouth formula

  10. January 24, 2013 2:26 pm

    Yeah… remember all the fun cocktail stuff you used to do? :)

    YES on the vermouth. Once you open it, it goes in the fridge. Even then, it doesn’t last long. My general rule of thumb is to toss it after a month. I’m a cheap bastard too, but when I dump 1/4 of the liter bottle, I realize it didn’t save me anything. That next Manhattan with fresh vermouth is always MUCH more flavorful.

    I also use the Martini & Rossi as an “everyday” vermouth. Been considering buying a case of the 375 bottles and having a fresh one every month, instead of repeated trips to the liquor store (who am I kidding… those trips happen anyway). The unopened ones would prob last for awhile, right?

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