Put Some Vermouth in Your Mouth

Maybe it’s because I’m not a true cocktail aficionado, but I’ve never had a problem with vermouth. Sweet, herbal, medicinal (in a yummy way)—what’s not to like? Apparently a lot, for grumpy old famous men: Alfred Hitchcock’s martini recipe called for “five parts gin and a quick glance at a bottle of vermouth,” according to the Washington Post, while Winston Churchill’s version “calls for drinking a tumbler of gin while bowing in the direction of France.”

But some movers and shakers (sorry, had to do it) in the cocktail world are working to make sure the antivermouth jokes are laid to rest, the Post reports—and those “cocktail scholars” may be leading a vermouth renaissance. As Jared Brown, the coauthor of Shaken Not Stirred: A Celebration of the Martini, tells the paper, “[v]ermouth is the least-understood common beverage behind bars today.” First of all,

[G]o to your liquor cabinet, fish out that ancient bottle and pour it down the drain. Now go buy a fresh bottle and, this time, keep it in the fridge. ‘I will die a happy man,’ says Brown, ‘if I leave this life having only succeeded in leading the world to the understanding that vermouth is a wine and, like port, spoils a month or two after opening.’ Spoiled vermouth tastes like, well, spoiled wine.

In addition to Brown, “[o]ver the past year, numerous food and beverage trendspotters” have supposedly “declared a sort of vermouth renaissance.” But skeptics note that Martini & Rossi, the most popular brand of vermouth in the United States, has stocked about the same number of bottles annually for years—meaning this might be a made-up trend concocted by beverage companies to boost sales (sort of like white port tonics: Last year a rep for Portuguese maker Porto Calem told me that the drink had been dreamed up and promoted by a port industry group to help change port’s reputation as an old-man drink).

Fake trend or no, next time I order a Manhattan I’ll be sure to ask the bartender how long that bottle of vermouth has been open.

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