1.2 The best vermouths
Vermouths are essential bottles for making great gin cocktails
A couple of bottles of vermouth are staple ingredients of any gin bar. Whether dry or red, these herbaceous and aromatic fortified wines pair amazingly with the complex set of botanicals found in a quality gin. Originating in Italy, red vermouth was a medicine prescribed to Italians who quickly discovered it was a perfectly palatable aperitif. The trend for drinking vermouth crossed the Alps and the French started fortifying their white wines to create a drier variation. It is now made all over the world, with some really interesting vermouths coming out of Spain and Britain.
Once corked, treat vermouth like any other wine. Vacuum seal the bottle and keep it in the fridge (yes, even the red!). They’ll last much longer than wine, but you’ll start to notice a decline in quality after a month.
Here are my key vermouths for your home gin bar
Aside from the choice of gin, the first bottle in my home gin bar is a dry vermouth. With a dry vermouth, the world of Martinis begins to reveal itself. Served dry, wet or dirty, the Martini is an all-time classic gin cocktail using just two ingredients: gin and dry vermouth. Noilly Prat is an excellent choice for the Martini novice as it is considered fairly ‘inoffensive’. However, if you want more of a (British) aromatic punch, get your hands on Asterley Bros. Schofield’s Dry Vermouth, and level up your Martini.
It’s rare that you are ever going to shake a cocktail containing vermouth. The best way to keep these liquors silky and smooth is to stir with ice.
You may have noticed I missed ‘perfect’ from my list of Martini serves. For this, you need dry vermouth’s sweet, sexy sister: red (sweet) vermouth. Premium red vermouths are silky fortified wines which undress inside your mouth, teasing your tongue with a delicate, full-bodied, almost velvety texture. A good red vermouth, such as the Estate Sweet Vermouth from Asterley Bros. or Paso Vermú, is the perfect way to add sweetness to your cocktails without the need for syrups and juices. This is the principal role of vermouth in the classic Negroni.
Steer clear of any vermouth brands emblazoned on the sides of Formula One cars. Opt instead for a quality, small batch vermouth and taste the difference.
Not Just a Vermouth
Fancy something regal? Dubonnet Rouge is a rich, smooth fortified wine enjoyed by the Queen in a Gin and Dubonnet. This ceremonial sipper is bittersweet, herbal and slightly nutty. Lillet Rouge is similar, but has a gentle spice that I think the Queen would like. Try Lillet Rouge in a Pink Martini. Or, do you fancy something a bit naughty? Let me introduce you to a beautiful blond. A bottle of Lillet Blanc in your closet will allow you to experiment with Blond Martinis. Lillet Blanc is a sort of ‘halfway house’ vermouth: She’s drier and lighter than a full-bodied red vermouth, but has sweeter, fruiter notes than a traditional dry vermouth. Similar to Lillet Rouge, this sweetness is balanced with bitter quinine.