The Drink: Vermouth – Knowledge, and two easy cocktails.

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Vermouth and its Cocktails – The Duplex and Rose

By Dappered Drinks Correspondent and Official Bartender Michael Bowers

Most people know vermouth as the thing they don’t want much of in their martinis.  Overlooked, omitted and relegated to the back of the liquor cabinet, vermouth gets a bad rap.  That’s understandable, considering that the experience most people have of vermouth is with spoiled vermouth that wasn’t very good in the first place.  Fresh, quality vermouth is one of the most versatile and satisfying beverages around.  Drink it over ice with a piece of orange or lemon peel.  Try it with a splash of soda.  Mix it into a cocktail.  However you take it, it’s a great low-alcohol option to start the evening.

Vermouth is a wine–a fortified wine flavored with aromatic and bitter herbs–but a wine all the same.  And like all wine, it tastes bad after prolonged exposure to air.  Though the increased alcohol content helps it stay fresh longer than an unfortified wine, you still need to be careful about how and for how long you store it.  Keep opened bottles in the refrigerator and use within a few weeks.  Buy smaller bottles when possible.

A few brands to try:

Carpano Antica Formula This sweet vermouth was the first premium vermouth to really catch on with bartenders in the US.  It is easy to see why.  Rich, full bodied, spicy, and lightly bitter with a lovely vanilla note in the finish, it’s excellent for drinking on its own or mixed into cocktails.  I’ve seen many minds changed about vermouth after taking a sip of Carpano.

Dolin A French import available in three varieties.  Dolin makes a dry, sweet, and blanc (moderately sweet, white vermouth) all of which are excellent.  The dry, in particular, stands out for its bright herbal flavor that shines in a classic gin martini.

Punt e Mes A rich, sweet vermouth made bitter in its finish with quinine.

Noilly Prat Since ceasing production of its American export version, Noilly Prat has been a reliable, inexpensive option for dry vermouth that is often underrated.

A couple vermouth cocktails to try:
  • 1.5 oz dry vermouth
  • 1.5 oz sweet vermouth
  • 2 Dashes orange bitters

Pour all ingredients into a short glass filled with ice.
Stir briefly.
Garnish with a piece of orange peel.

The Duplex is the perfect apertif–neither too sweet nor too dry, and lightly bitter to stimulate the appetite.  It is a straightforward way to showcase the best qualities of both styles of vermouth.

  • 2 oz dry vermouth
  • 1 oz kirschwasser (dry cherry brandy)
  • 1 tsp raspberry syrup

Stir all ingredients over ice for 45 seconds.
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
If available, garnish with a fresh sweet cherry.

One of my all-time favorites, the Rose is the seersucker suit of the cocktail world.  Casual but unmistakably classy and best reserved for sunny afternoons.  For the raspberry syrup, it is absolutely necessary you use one that is made from raspberries, not something raspberry flavored.  Small Hand Foods makes a good version, or make at home:  Combine two parts sugar to one part water.  Heat until sugar is dissolved and let cool.  Pour over raspberries in small bowl until berries are just covered.  Let sit over night then strain, pressing the berries in a sieve to extract maximum flavor.

About our Bartender – Michael Bowers is the Head Bartender at the Modern Hotel and Bar in Boise, Idaho.  His patrons know him for the uncanny precision with which he tends his bar.  Michael’s cocktails have been noted by, among others, Food and Wine, Sunset Magazine, and the New York Times.  See more in The Drink archive.