Bartender Brady Weise, who has shared his secrets for making great mojitos with us, is also on a crusade to protect vermouth.
For such an iconic drink dating back to the late 17th century, vermouth isn’t getting the respect it deserves. In fact, its reputation is in shambles. While craft bartenders have embraced this wine-based libation, many bartenders, not to mention the public, don’t know what to do with it.
Vermouth is nothing to be afraid of. It’s simply wine that has been infused with herbs and spices, plus a bit of neutral spirit added to it. And it’s elementary to many classic cocktails. For example, if you leave out the vermouth in a Martini or a Manhattan, you’re just drinking chilled booze, not an actual cocktail. It adds a layer of sexy, intrigue to an original creation. Drinking it on the rocks, as folks still do in Europe, is delicious too. If you do dare to order it or serve it naked, you’ll be the avant-garde trendsetter in the bar that night. Promise.
Just as granny embraced it, so you should you. According to Brady Weise, here are five ways to start up—or bring back—that loving feeling with this particular fortified wine, plus a peachy-keen cocktail recipe to boot:
1. Cool it or Lose it
Weise’s advice: “You wouldn’t leave a $60 bottle of Chardonnay or Cabernet open and out on the shelf would you? So, why treat vermouth like that? Leaving it out to collect dust and oxidize only serves to hasten its demise. It does not have the shelf life of liquor. Keep it cold in the fridge and consume it in a timely fashion. Any more than a few months and it will start to turn. Buy smaller bottles if need be.”
2. A Dry Martini Doesn’t Mean You Put Your Vermouth on Lock Down
Sure, Winston Churchill made his ‘dry’ martini by simply glancing towards the direction of France—where the majority of vermouth was produced at the time. However, a dry martini does not mean little or no vermouth. (As with wine, the opposite of dry is sweet.) An order for an extra dry martini signifies that ONLY dry vermouth be used.
Weise’s advice: “The initial martini cocktail, of course, after the real original (Martinez), was made of gin, sweet AND dry vermouth, and orange bitters. It finally found its wings as the version we know today: English gin, dry vermouth, and orange bitters.”
3. Vermouth Beyond Martinis
Weise says: “Vermouth is an amazing tool in a bartenders’ quill. It has a versatility of styles and flavors rarely found in other areas of fortified wine. One of my latest creations uses vodka, French dry vermouth, doughnut peaches, and Thai basil (see recipe below). The vermouth is the matchmaker, allowing the sweetness of the peaches and anise quality of the basil to sing. I recommend picking up different mini bottles of vermouth and consuming them next to an array of fruits and vegetables to see what excites your palette—gotta love the rigors of experimentation.”
4. Go Big or Go Home
From classic brands like Martini and Cinzano, to newer iterations such as Carpano Antica, Vya, and Dolin, the array of vermouths on the market has exploded.
Weise’s advice: “There are plenty of day-to-day applications for your standard vermouth brands; there’s a reason they have survived the test of time for their consistently tasty attributes. However, the U.S. cocktail culture resurgence has brought with it many new, craft brands of vermouth, some of which are exceptional. ‘Why would you spend $150 on a bottle of whiskey and put a $5 vermouth in with it? That’s like putting ranch dressing on a $400 steak,’ a vermouth maker once told me. I wholeheartedly agree.”
5. Vermouth Spritzers are Awesome
It’s high time to rediscover the tipple that grandma and her lady friends were imbibing during their weekly bridge game. Why? Says Weise: “If it’s good enough for the Spanish, French, the Italians (and granny), it’s good enough for you.”
Case in point, according to Weise: “The Americano Highball (Campari, sweet vermouth, soda water, and lemon) is one of my favorite sipping cocktails. It’s a low-alcohol drink that’s bitter, sweet, and refreshing—perfect for sipping all day by the pool.”
- 1 oz. Campari
- 1 oz. Sweet Vermouth
- Soda Water, to Top
- Lemon or Orange Twist, for Garnish
Preparation: Pour Campari and vermouth into a collins glass filled with ice. Top with soda water and garnish with twist.
Weise also notes, “Another example of a stellar sipper—call me all manner of names you like— but Mimosas are delicious with a hint of French rose vermouth. The vermouth transforms it into a light and fruit forward drink and showcases the fortified wine’s versatility. Baby steps. Start off with just vermouth, ice, and soda with a twist of lemon.”
The Midnight Sun
Courtesy of Brady Weise, Rathskeller, Pasadena, CA
- 1 1/2 oz. Vodka
- 1 oz. French Dry Vermouth
- 3/4 oz. Simple Syrup
- 3/4 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
- 1/2 cup White Flesh Peaches (Doughnut Preferred)
- 6 – 8 leaves Thai Basil
Preparation: Take the basil, peaches, lemon juice, and simple syrup and combine them in a mixing vessel. Lightly muddle the ingredients and then add the vermouth and vodka. Mix slightly and pour over crushed ice. Garnish with a basil sprig and peach slice.