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Vermut Verdad or The Truth about Vermouth

April 13, 2010

This post was inspired by a conversation with one  of the servers at my bar……

A guest had ordered a Manhattan, and they mentioned to the server that for whatever reason the Manhattans we make are different and taste better than everywhere else in town.  Now I would like to attribute this to my own talents with this cocktail, because it is my Go-To drink of choice, or that fact that most bartenders are STILL shaking instead of stirring.   It could be that I didn’t bastardize this drink  by adding that nasty sweet red “cherry” syrup from the fruit tray or that I actually use bitters.  While those may be a part of the equation, I lend the great flavor to one of two things both centered around my good friend vermouth.

Ever since Prohibition (it just hurts to even type that word), bartenders have been taught that vermouth is bad.  Less is More.  Vermouth is there to hold up the other bottle in the well.  And there in lies part of our problem.

Vermouth is, in most bars, very mistreated and misunderstood.  Vermouth is a aromitized wine, meaning that is has various botanicals, herbs, spices, alcohol( for flavor not potency),  and possibly sugar added.  The word itself comes from the German word Wermut, meaning wormwood.  Now the key here is that Vermouth is a wine, and not a liquor, and should be treated as wine would be.   In other words, vermouth will oxidize in a relatively short time, changing  and dulling its flavor.  This is the stuff we usually get in drinks that call for vermouth.  And this is why vermouth has been shunned by those who pour and those who partake (not to mention quality, craftmanship, nad what was available during Prohibi…..I can’t do it twice in the same post).

So how should we handle this delicate ingredient?  It’s actually very simple.

  1. Don’t throw away the top and stick a pour spout in there.  Air is the culprit that causes oxidation. The Cap -On is a good addition to the bottle to help control your pour however.
  2. Keep it in the fridge.  Make it convenient to your work station, but keep it chilled.
  3. If you don’t go through the big bottles in less than a week, buy the smaller bottles.  Yes, it may cost a few pennies more, but it will worth it to your guests.  The smaller bottles also don’t allow as much air contact like the big ones (see point 1).
  4. Chill the bottle before you open it.  Two reasons here. First, cold slows down the oxidation (have you got the point yet?). Second, you can taste the vermouth when you first crack the bottle, and get to know the flavor profile.  Then periodically, taste it again and see of it has begun to go bad.

There ya go.  Four simple steps and a little love is all it takes to make your drinks a little better.

What is the best vermouth brand?  I’ll leave that to another day.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. Rodman Paixao permalink
    April 13, 2010 12:49 pm

    Thanks for let me know all those very important informations, living and learning…….

  2. July 27, 2010 6:51 pm

    Great infor bro! Never knew that putting a pourer on the bottle can lesson the oxidation

  3. alainharvey1 permalink
    May 10, 2014 3:59 am

    Vermouth is white or red wine that has been infused with a mixture of botanicals and fortified by the addition of a neutral alcohol like un-aged brandy or grain alcohol. The fact that it is fortified leads many people to believe that it is shelf-stable, that is simply not true. For a better vermouth experience, buy a high quality product such as one of the offerings from Boissiere, Noilly Prat, or Vya, and always buy from a source with high turnover. Vermouth should be used within 6-8 months of bottling or it begins to go off. Once opened, it should be stored in the refrigerator and away from light. Even when stored properly, it oxidizes like any other wine, so it is advisable to finish the bottle within a month after opening. Unfortunately, this means you should almost never order vermouth (or a cocktail containing it) in a random bar where the bottle is just sitting out and has been open for who knows how long. Find a cocktail establishment where they care about these things, or make it yourself at home.

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