February 22, 2024
If you're making martinis that contain nothing but gin, read on. You've been making vermouth mistakes!

Somewhere deep in the recesses of your kitchen liquor cabinet probably sits a bottle of dry vermouth. You know it’s there, but you really have no idea how long it’s been there. Maybe your uncle or a date wanted dry martinis, and you bought it because you confused dry gin with dry vermouth. Or maybe you knew exactly what you were doing and wanted actual vermouth in your martini, a rarity these days. Whatever the case, you opened it way back when and now, there it sits.

We’re not talking about the sweet, red stuff, although ever since Carpano Antica upped the game in sweet vermouth quality back in the late 1990s, new, high-quality sweet vermouths have begun appearing on the market, ready to elevate your Manhattan and Negroni game. (And we’re not talking about bianco vermouth, either, which in many cases is simply uncolored sweet vermouth.)

Dry or French vermouth is the other kind of vermouth — and it has always had a problem. The main difference between the sweet and dry, aside from color, is the taste. Dry vermouth typically has a pronounced oxidized flavor, which is ironic, because oxidized wine is seen as “old” or “flawed” wine, even if it’s new.

It doesn’t help that most people don’t refrigerate their vermouth. Even though modern vermouth is fortified with the addition of spirits, it’s not enough to prolong its lifespan significantly. Wine can last for about two months, if it is refrigerated, but lasting and being good are not the same thing. Now imagine something that has been opened, then stashed — unused and unrefrigerated — for three years.

With a recent resurgence in good-quality dry vermouth, it’s a good time to use them in cocktails. Jay Premack/The Denver Post

That might be why the proportion of dry vermouth in martinis has shrunk down to essentially nothing these days.

There’s an obvious (and delicious) solution here: Refrigerate your dry vermouth and enjoy it in a timely fashion. Bartenders are starting to make all kinds of craft cocktails using dry vermouth, partly because several California producers are making much better tasting versions.

Three leaders in that movement are Vya out of the Central Valley, Lo-Fi in Napa and Rockwell in Sonoma. Vya, which is made by Madera’s Quady Wines, offers two delightfully fresh-tasting vermouths: a whisper dry, with slight herbaceous notes mixed with subtle citrus fruit and spice, and an extra dry that ups the herbaceousnous a notch.

Lo-Fi, is a subsidiary project of Gallo, and it proves that if you have the money and the will, you can create a great product. Lo-Fi dry vermouth eschews the oxidation completely and opts for a spicier, lighter finish.

A newer player is Rockwell, made by winemaker Birk O’Halloran from Santa Rosa’s Iconic Wines. Their entry is stronger proof than the other two, yet still retains a floral and fruity character without residual sweetness. Rockwell is marketed as “American flavor” vermouth, partly because instead of wormwood — vermouth means “wormwood” — it use wormwood’s “cousin,” sage.

So, throw out that old bottle in your cupboard and put your new bottle in the refrigerator — and then mix up this trio of cocktails.

The Hipster is a take on a classic Boulevardier, substituting dry vermouth for sweet vermouth and Aperol for Campari. Boulevardier means essentially “one who prowls the boulevards” for what is cool and new — and this very definitely is. The White Smoke is a mezcal-tinged version. And the Dry Martini is a dry martini, in every sense — the way it was meant to be.

Hipster

2 Griffo Distillery Stony Point whiskey

¾ ounce Vya Vermouth Whisper Dry

½ ounce Aperol

1 orange zest

Directions: Combine the whiskey, vermouth and Aperol in a mixing beaker with ice. Stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with orange zest.

White Smoke

1 ounce Santo Spirit Mezquila

1 ounce Luxardo Bitter Bianco (imported by Hotaling & Co.)

1 ounce Lo-Fi Aperitifs dry vermouth

1 orange zest

Directions: Combine the first three ingredients in a mixing beaker with ice. Stir and strain over a large format ice cube in a rocks glass and garnish with orange zest.

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New Millennia Dry Martini

2 ounces Alamere Spirits London dry gin

1 ounce Rockwell Vermouth American Version dry vermouth

1 lemon zest

Directions: Combine the gin and vermouth in a shaker with ice. Shake until ice cold and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with lemon twist.

Jeff Burkhart is the author of “Twenty Years Behind Bars: The Spirited Adventures of a Real Bartender, Vol. I and II,” the host of the Barfly podcast. Follow him at jeffburkhart.net and contact him at [email protected].

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