For some time now, I’ve had the nagging feeling that I have made a mistake.
Of course I make lots of mistakes, with both good and bad results — hence the title of this blog — but this particular mistake is one I’ve made over and over, and it’s of the bad variety.
The mistake is that I have been mean to vermouth.
“Mean” isn’t quite the right word, but it’s close. I’ve ignored vermouth, made fun of it, argued with people who held that it has merit, and made faces when anyone put it in or even near my drink.
But lately, I’ve begun to pay more attention to those who would stand up for poor vermouth (such as here and here). After all, it’s been around for centuries. Surely all those bartenders and cocktail drinkers can’t be completely without taste.
And then I’d add a little vermouth to my Martinis, and I’d be disappointed again with the nasty, sticky flavor that got in the way of my gin.
I started to wonder if the problem was not vermouth as a whole, but the bottle of it that I was using. If cheap gin is nothing compared to pricier types, the same was likely to be true of vermouth. Unfortunately, the selection of vermouths available in my area is very limited. I searched around for Noilly Pratt, which seems to be the most generally favored, but the stores around here don’t carry it. Old standby Martini & Rossi turns out to be the top of the line in Pennsylvania liquor stores.
Still, maybe it wasn’t just the brand. So I bought a new bottle of Martini & Rossi, poured one glass of it and another from the year-old bottle sitting in my liquor cabinet, and had a look. Here’s the result: new bottle on the left, old on the right.
I could taste and smell a big difference as well: The old vermouth is sour and cloying, which the new stuff is light and sweet, clean on the tongue, kind of like a softer white wine.
I mixed up a Martini and found the fresh vermouth combined in a friendly way with my Plymouth gin, adding layers to the drink’s flavor. Then I made another with a dash of Pernod (Have you tried adding a little Pernod to your Martini? Oh my, it’s good.), and the whole thing was happy, smooth, and complex, as a good cocktail should be.
I’ve since found that a little glass of vermouth, chilled by an ice cube, is a fine thing to sip while I fix dinner — it raises the spirits and whets the appetite, and thanks to a lower alcohol content it puts me less at risk of cutting off a finger or setting the house afire.
So, apparently my trouble is not with vermouth, but with skunked vermouth. The real mistake I’ve made is not caring for my dry vermouth properly. I now store dry vermouth in the fridge and try to drink it within six months of opening.
Thanks to my new appreciation for it, especially as an aperitif, consuming a bottle in a few months is not a problem at all.