Search & Distill: Giving Vermouth a Chance

It belongs in your martini.

I could list 17 reasons why I'm not so sweet on vodka, and chief among them would be what the odorless and flavorless liquid has done to poor vermouth. The advent of the very dry, don't-even-let-it-see-the-vermouth-bottle vodka martini has managed to malign an entire genre of booze because nobody knew what vermouth tasted like—just that they didn't or shouldn't want it in their drink.Industry people sometimes look down their noses at dry-vodka-martini drinkers, but I blame bartenders for not sticking their nuts out and fulfilling their obligation as tastemakers. Kowtowing to customers, they threw vermouth under the bus. Luckily, with the newfound obsession with craft cocktails and obscure liqueurs, vermouth now has an opportunity for a comeback.At the turn of the 20th century, vermouth was all the rage, adding depth and flavor to cocktails. Vermouth is aromatized wine—doctored up with herbs, spices, maybe even sugar. In the past, making vermouth was a way to turn crappy wine into something palatable. Humans have been making vermouth in one form or another as long as there's been bad wine, but vermouth as we know it today was honed by the French and the Italians.Dry, or white, vermouth—the kind that goes in a martini—may also be described as French. Because it's so herbal, with a sharp finish, dry vermouth appeals to those who like very dry white wines or gin and tonics. Sue me for liking the catch-all Martini & Rossi, but I think a fresh $4 half-bottle of this brand is a great place to start. Throw a pinkie's worth on top of your vodka or gin; the vermouth acts like an equalizer, balancing out high tones of alcohol and juniper and adding a mouth-coating feel. Take your next step with a bottle of Noilly Prat white vermouth: Pour it on the rocks and add a little lime and soda if it's too dry for you. This aperitif cocktail will remind you of a gin and tonic, but with far less alcohol, you can drink it all night long.Red, or sweet, vermouth—the kind that goes in a Manhattan—may also be described as Italian. Red vermouth's flavor can range anywhere from spicy grape punch to something as complex as a young, half-red tawny port. Try red vermouth on the rocks with a piece of citrus, and you'll be damned if it doesn't remind you of an elaborate sangria—and it's far cheaper than a glass of red wine. Usually too sweet for most people alone, red vermouth shines in an Americano cocktail, a one-to-one mixture of sweet and dry vermouths on the rocks. The two cancel out each other's extremes, the red toning down the acerbic white and the white making the sweet red less cloying.The Dolin line of vermouths is the new darling among upscale bartenders and booze freaks, as it just became available in Washington state. Each style of Dolin has a particularly mellow and elegant flavor profile compared to other vermouths; you can taste all three varieties for a mere $4 each at Café Presse (1117 12th Ave.).The dry Dolin has a fresh green aroma as exhilarating as any sauvignon blanc, with a much richer flavor and feel than its zingy first impression foretells. Dolin's blanc vermouth, the middle of the range in terms of richness, is not as heavy in the mouth as Lillet—especially when it's served on the rocks—but presents a barely sweet liquid oozing intense, spicy aromas and flavors. And the red Dolin ranks as one of the lighter on the market, with an array of heady spice notes. This sweet vermouth has the essence of red wine and the spice of sangria but is far drier, lighter, and better for summer. Don't let misunderstanding public opinion keep you from one of the most refreshing summer beverages out there. The next time you hear someone make a stink about vermouth, be sure to roll your eyes.msavarino@seattleweekly.com

 
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