How to Drink and Mix Vermouth: A User's Guide

By Sean Kenniff | Antoinette Bruno

By

Sean Kenniff
Antoinette Bruno
Jacques Bezuidenhout's Collection of Vermouth at Wildhawk | San Francisco, CA
Jacques Bezuidenhout's Collection of Vermouth at Wildhawk | San Francisco, CA

Veteran Bartender Jacques Bezuidenhout loves a good martini—the wet part, especially. Owner of Forgery in San Francisco, he now pours 17 different vermouths at his latest bar, Wildhawk. “I always want to make sure we offer a great Martini at our bars. This lead to installing two vermouth fridges at Wildhawk,” he says.

Bezuidenhout’s passion for vermouth was right on cue, both with the low-ABV trend that’s catching on all over the country and the industry’s deep-dive exploration of lesser-understood spirits and ingredients (sotol, grappa, and even Marsala.) “I’ve always loved playing around with Sherries, Port, and Madeira. For us, we like that we can offer our guests some new flavor experiences,” he says.

Wildhawk’s menu has a “Vermouth Libations” section, as well as “Vermouth by the Glass,” and guests can expect to pay a very reasonable-for-San-Francisco $8 or $9 for a cocktail and $6 for a three-ounce pour in a small wine glass, straight up, or on the rocks. It’s an imbibing experience uncommon even in cocktail-crazed San Francisco.

When expanding your vermouth program—by the brand and category—Bezuidenhout suggests straight sipping, followed by exploring the aromatized wine in the context of classic cocktails like the Martini, Manhattan, and El Presidente. To make sure the product moves fast, Bezuidenhout’s staff  attends a special vermouth seminar as part of their training, and he guides them through a comprehensive tasting so they can speak confidently about any vermouth to guests. “Everyone on our team has been given a book on vermouth to study.”

As for storage, Wildhawk’s sexy Perlick brand chillers (starting around $3,500 a pop) are set to a constant temperature of 32°F, “colder than you would generally serve white wine, but I like vermouth with that extra chill—especially if you’re using it as a cocktail ingredient,” says Bezuidenhout. The cold also helps keep the vermouth fresher longer, as does using small format bottles. Because it’s fortified, vermouth oxidizes much more slowly than wine. “After a month, vermouth doesn’t necessarily go bad or oxidize, but it loses its fresh botanical vibrancy,” he says.  

Vermouth curious? Here’s Bezuidenhout’s guide to the fortified wine, broken down by category, brands, tasting notes, suggested uses, and recipes.  

Dry
Dry vermouth works within the spring and summer category. Long, refreshing drinks with a dry finish.
Dolin: sage, grass, lemon
La Quintinye: rosemary, pear, grapefruit
Noilly Pratt: lemon thyme, white pepper, basil
Vya: Moscato, sage, lavender
La Poire, featured at Wildhawk: In a highball glass with ice, stir to combine 2 ounces La Quintinye dry vermouth, ½ ounce Mathilde pear liqueur, ½ ounce lemon juice, 2 dashes orange bitters, and a splash club soda. Garnish with lemon wheel and rosemary. 

Rouge
This sweet category tends to work well in spirit-forward cocktails and with whiskeys, aged rums, and tequilas.
Carpano Antica: vanilla, anise, orange
Cinzano 1757: strawberry, herbes de Provence, mint
Cocchi Turino: rhubarb, eucalyptus, rose hips
La Quintinye: raspberry, lavender, cinnamon
Martini & Rossi Rubino: blueberry, oregano, black pepper
Punt e Mes: quina, rhubarb, quassia Vya: stewed berries, cinnamon, bitter orange
Gran Cobbler, featured at Forgery: In a cocktail shaker with ice, combine 2 ounces Cinzano 1757 vermouth, 2 barspoons Pernod absinthe, 6 raspberries, and ¼ ounce lime juice. Shake 20 to 30 seconds. Strain into a Claret glass over cobbled ice and garnish with 2 speared raspberries.

Bianco
The color of dry vermouth with the brix of rouge, bianco naturally lends itself to spring and summer cocktails, as well. Try with gin, un-aged tequila, white rums, etc.
Carpano: vanilla, chinchona, mineral
Dolin: bay leaf, melon, grapes
Martini & Rossi Ambrato: bitter lemon, chamomile, grapefruit
Hip Hops, featured at Wildhawk: In a shaker filled with ice, combine 2¼ ounces Martini Ambrato vermouth, ½ ounce grapefruit juice, ½ ounce pineapple gomme syrup, and 6 drops Bittermens Hopped Grapefruit bitters. Shake and double strain into a sour glass. Garnish with a spiral grapefruit twist. 

Amber
Amber can move in between the categories. Very versatile from spirit-forward drinks to refreshing highballs.
Delprofessore: honey, gentian, vanilla
Noilly Pratt Ambre: apricot, light oak, tobacco
Sutton Cellars: honeysuckle, bright melon, lemon
Sichuan, featured at Wildhawk: In a mixing glass filled with ice, stir to combine 1½ ounces Noilly Ambre vermouth, 1 ounce Amontillado Sherry, ½ ounce Pierre Ferrand orange curacao, ¼ ounce Sichuan peppercorn syrup. Strain into a Nick and Nora glass and garnish with an orange twist. 

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