Where Local and Global Appetites Collide

Sips & Shots: Vermouth

So, this past week I actually completed the coursework and tests for my BAC: BarSmarts Advanced Certification and, having assured my mother than no, I am not planning to become a bartender (not that there’s anything wrong with that), I gotta admit: I learned some stuff!

Granted, I enrolled in the course for precisely that reason. When I started this Friday blog feature I thought I had a pretty decent grasp of the basics, only to find out how much I had absolutely no clue I didn’t know. And I still have quite a ways to go, but the BarSmarts Wired course started to fill in the gaping chasms in the cocktail portion of my brain (hmm… wonder what part that would be, actually, lol) and the empty spots on my home bar. The lists of even classic drinks that I still have to try as well as the bottles that must be added to my collection now that I know of their existence is long, very long.

One such nugget of information that truly surprised me was the existence and use of Sweet Vermouth. If vermouth rings a bell it’s probably in the context of the notions many have about just how little of it should be included in a Dry Martini (anywhere from a capful to rinse the ice to a nod in the bottle’s general direction). I will say here that I do not like the Dry Martini, I do not like it, Jenn I am. I do not like it with the vodka, I do not like it with the gin. I do not like them shaken nor stirred nor dirty with an olive served. I do not like the Dry Martini.

BUT! Did you know that in it’s original (late 1800s) form, not only was a martini composed of equal parts gin and vermouth it was made, of all things, with SWEET Vermouth. With a dash of orange bitters as well.

Original Martini

2 oz Gin
2 oz Sweet vermouth
dash of Orange bitters

Combine in a mixing glass with ice, shake well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Rather than clear, this martini is actually a color somewhere between red and iced tea, the flavor is far more mellow and palatable (to me, at least) than those nasty ol’ Dry Martinis I’ve had in the past and this is totally thanks to the Vermouth.

Being a fortified wine, if you ever taste Vermouth straight (which is not something I’d tried before now) you can definitely detect the grape base beneath the varied aromatics. Strangely enough, the Sweet Vermouth reminded me of a beef stew sort of warmth and cozy feeling–a good example of the elusive umami (that fifth flavor or taste you may have heard of). Aside from the soup reminder, it’s also reminiscent of a tawny port which probably makes more sense than my first impression. Generally I sway towards the ruby and cherry ports, but the Vermouth was certainly tasty on it’s own and I can see why it was originally conceived as an aperitif.

More experiments with this new-to-me flavor-toy are forthcoming, I can assure you. After tracking down some Campari I plan to try out several other classic Sweet Vermouth cocktails, as well as play with the novel idea presented that sherries or ports could, in fact, be substituted for the vermouth in cocktails.

A side note: amusingly enough, as I composed this post, Pandora graced me with a track to fit the mood, as it were: Tanita Tikaram’s “Twist In My Sobriety

Jennifer Walker
Jennifer Walker

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