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Monday, 20 February 2012

The thing about vermouth...

So one of my drinking pet-peeves involves vermouth. It's a newer one because I avoided vermouth heavy drinks earlier in my drinking career, but to be fair, one of the main reasons a lot of people say they "don't like vermouth" is because of the pet peeve I'm going to talk about RIGHT NOW. Well, not yet, because I'll say this first. I feel pretentious writing about this. Hell, I feel pretentious very often writing about cocktaildom and the like, but as I'm typing this I've realized that writing a blog is in of itself ostentatious and arrogant in many ways, and this being my blog I'm allowed to be whatever the hell I want while I ramble on about my own opinions on life or how I don't like Martini & Rossi, and nobody can stop me because it's my blog so I should just stop typing this insanely long sentence and move the fuck on.

I digress.

What I hate about vermouth is that it goes bad. I hate this about vermouth because most bars suck and most bartenders suck and we just won't be able to train every bar ever so that everyone knows that vermouth goes bad and they shouldn't keep a bottle on their shelf forever. But they do.
Maybe I should point the blame at today's drinkers, who for the most part don't drink any kind of classic cocktail (though this is changing more and more in recent years), a lot of which require vermouth. As a result, the bottles sit on the shelf.
Maybe I should blame the 1970's to 1990's, during which cocktails and mixology suffered terrible and unspeakable travesties at the hands of blenders, funky coloured liqueurs, and the close-mindedness of the palate of the average population. (Perhaps I've gotten into a chicken or the egg situation here...)
Actually, no, I'm going to blame the bars. Vermouth is a fortified wine and is not high proof and must be refrigerated and kept no longer than 2 months (which my tongue tells me is pushing it). Most vermouths say the word "wine" on the bottle somewhere, and I don't very often see bars keeping a bottle of red or white on a shelf for months and months at a time. If you run a bar, or if you're a bartender, you should be forced to learn basic alcohol knowledge, and despite how much the Martini has changed (and I mean a real Martini, which is gin, dry vermouth, and optionally orange bitters - don't even get me started on the "Martini's Menu" thing), it's still a popular drink and thereby vermouth is needed and you should know at least something about it.
I think I've opened up a bigger argument than I realized as my fingers ramble on here, because the crappy state of bartending and cocktails we have now (and it's gotten so much better) seems to be a combination of cyclical elements. The dark ages of mixology started using sweeter ingredients and more juice, the blender become more widely available, and a shift in culture took people away from the bar in general. More liqueurs and sweet, flavoured alcohol started being produced. Cheap merlot and burgundy started being mass produced. While all of this was happening, and perhaps as a result of this happening, people started losing their palate for bitter, dry, and herbal flavours. Sugar became the norm. Most importantly, people more and more weren't used to the taste of alcohol. I chatted with an acquaintance not too long ago about bartending and he told me the key to making good drinks is being able to mask the taste of the alcohol. I think my brain exploded. Anyway, the point is that we ended up in a time period where people like to get drunk just as much as they always have, but they don't really like the taste of the substance that gets them drunk. Problematic, n'est pas?
Wow, digression city, hey?

Ok, so the point was supposed to be that bars need to know how to treat vermouth. Even the way a Martini is typically made today - i.e. very, very dry - vermouth that has gone bad can completely ruin a drink. And in my case, it can make me think that I don't like vermouth. I learned otherwise when I tried Carpano Antica, and when I had awesome cocktails like the Martinez or Negroni for the first time, and when I had a Martini with a fresh, cold bottle of dry vermouth. I try to stay away from bars where the only no-risk order is neat whiskey (which I can do at home, so why am I giving you money?), but I still find myself consistently confronted with bars that have a dusty bottle of Martini & Rossi sitting on the shelf desperately waiting to be put out of its misery, and yet continues to be called upon a couple times a month for a terrible, overly-dry Martini.

I'm hoping that some unknowing bartenders and bars stumble across this blog post and learn something: Refrigerate your vermouth. Get rid of it after a month. Learn about what you're serving before you serve it. 

P.S. this goes for all wines, fortified or not. Your Lillet, Dubonnet, Punt e Mes, any kind of wine, can't sit on a shelf for ages and be expected to taste good.

Despite the first rant about feeling pretentious writing about this, I also feel entitled because I work hard for my money and if I'm going to go out and spend it on the skill and service of a bartender, it better be worth it. I don't think that's unfair. If I just want to get messed up, I'll buy cheap booze and serve myself while sitting on my couch in my penguin-drinking-martini's pyjamas (yes, I actually own these) and watching re-runs of The Voice or Pretty Little Liars or whatever other ridiculous or ridiculously entertaining bullcrap is on Much Music these days.

So anyway, I guess that's the thing about vermouth.

1 comment:

  1. Great post...so simple and easy to keep these fortified bottles (vermouths, aperitifs, americanos, etc) as fresh as possible, it makes all the difference, so continue to rant all you want!

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