Friday, March 29, 2013

Build a Better Bar IQ: Vermouth

Whenever someone asks for a martini at the bar, I inevitably follow that order with a question: Would you like any vermouth in that?  Some people look at me like I asked them if I could take a swing at them with a baseball bat.  Others say, “Only a splash” or “In and out”.  It pains me vermouth has lost its place in the martini or depending on the style, as an aperitif.

Most people’s first interaction with vermouth was with that bottle that sat on their parents’ liquor shelf for years. You reached for it, tasted it, and immediately thought what evil person would ever invent such a thing! The first problem with this is that vermouth probably should have been thrown out the week after G. Gordon Liddy was caught snooping around the Watergate, and you tried that bottle when Reagan was shot outside of the Hilton.

You see, vermouth is wine based, and just like that bottle you opened two nights ago, it has a limited life span.  Its origins go back to Turin, Italy when Carpano started making the first branded vermouth in 1786. Turin was then in the Savoy Kingdom which occupied most of northwest Italy. At the time, the winemakers didn't make the best wines (Hard to imagine that being the case given the great wines of the Piedmont today). As a result, both winemakers and shopkeepers started adding various herbs and spices to the wines to make them more palatable. One of the more popular additions was wormwood, or as the Germans called it, “vermud”, hence the name vermouth.

To me, vermouth is essential in a martini. I love the multi-layered flavors coming through. At home, I might be one of the more liberal users of vermouth. My martinis are equal parts vermouth and gin. I love vermouth on the rocks during the summer. That limited lifespan I referred to earlier? I don’t have to worry about that. Now, I don’t ask you to love it as much as I do, but I will ask you give it a chance. You’ll be glad you did. 

-- Jeff

Bar Manager and Mixologist Jeff Faile