Friday, 30 March 2012

Vermouth: What's the point?

Well, I'll tell you.

Vermouth is classed as a fortified and aromatised wine. So according to the useful website, this means that it has been infused with botanicals to add flavour and colour, and also that the alcohol percentage of the wine has been increased by the addition of spirits. It’s a good way to improve bad wine.

I didn’t know what vermouth was until I started making cocktails, and found that it was used in quite a few (including the world famous Martini), though I had seen it in several Italian cookery recipes. Never though, had I heard of anyone actually drinking it. Apparently that does happen, and you can drink it over ice.

I’ve acquired a couple of bottles – one was brought over by my friend Dave for my first ever cocktail bonanza, and the other was a cheap one that I bought from Aldi for cooking. I had added them to a couple of cocktails, but recently I thought I’d try drinking them.

I understand from the very informative website I referenced earlier that the quality of your vermouth deteriorates pretty quickly, and I’m afraid I’ve had these two bottles for quite a while now, so I can’t pretend that they’re going to taste fresh and exactly as they should, but… I really like them. suggests you should use a vacuum pump to evacuate air from open bottles before storing, store the bottle in the fridge, keep it away from heat and light, and drink it quickly. I did none of those things, so it’s quite astonishing that I enjoyed them so much. Actually, I did drink them quite quickly, but only after they’d been opened and stored on top of the kitchen cupboard for months.

Neither appear to be premium brands, and information on the internet is limited-to-none. Vinelli is an Aldi product, and therefore its origins and pedigree are somewhat ambiguous, though it was awarded a ‘Gold – Best in Class’ award at the 2010 International Wine and Spirit Competition. Judging is blind, so that’s fairly encouraging.

The Castini does taste a little stale, but it’s very dry, while the Vinelli is very sweet. Both are refreshing, and on the strength of these I think I could find a place for vermouth in my psychological drinks cabinet.

There are times when I want a simple, refreshing [, alcoholic] drink but I don’t want a beer (or cider) and I don’t want to think about mixing things. Cocktails can be fun, but sometimes you don’t want to fanny about picking one and making it. And whisky is delicious, but sometimes you need something you can attack with big swigs.

I could imagine vermouth would be a good drink to accompany a meal so recently, as Brenda and I sat down for dinner at the Lake District’s The Swan Hotel and Spa – a pleasantly swanky and middle aged (in a good way) retreat – I had a flash of inspiration. Wine doesn’t interest me, and I didn’t fancy a beer (I’d just had one in our room), but I did want something quite refreshing, so I decided I’d put the hypothesis that you should be able to drink whatever you like, when you like and how you like to the test, and try ordering vermouth.

It was a fun little adventure. I asked for dry vermouth, over ice and the waitress immediately looked confused and carefully wrote down exactly what I’d said. Clearly I’d made an unusual request – a fact that became more apparent when the waitress returned a couple of minutes later to regrettably inform me that they didn’t have any “ver… mouth,” and would I like anything else.

No, that was ok. I couldn’t really think of anything else I wanted, though I was surprised they didn’t have any – what if someone ordered a martini? Life isn’t a Bond film and this isn’t Monte Carlo, so I guess it isn’t so common an occurrence as I grew up thinking it might be. Nevertheless, a few minutes after that the waitress returned holding a bottle of Noilly Prat - like when they show you the wine you selected. They didn’t know what it was, but they had Googled ‘vermouth’, and found that they did have some. Brenda and I were pleased to be able to commend them for their tenacity and customer service, and I got to act all knowledgeable, explaining what vermouth was – Brenda chimed in with, “it’s used to make a martini!” -  as well as feel a bit special since, with the help of the waitress, I had scored a victory for ordering what you want. Take that, wine!

Thinking back now, I suppose it would have been fun to have ordered another obscure drink, and then see how many drinks I could order that they didn’t have. I probably don’t know that many obscure drinks.

How was it? Well, it was enjoyable, and it didn’t taste much different from the Castini I had been drinking at home. I had been concerned about my Castini having deteriorated given that I’d had it for so long, but on this evidence the deterioration wasn’t that acute.

On the negative side, my drink was a lot smaller than it would have been if I’d poured it myself, but that’s always the way, I suppose. In terms of quantity it was probably equivalent to a double measure, and it came in a whisky glass (more of a tumbler, I suppose – not one of those whisky glasses that experts say you should drink from but no one has them and you can’t buy them anywhere…).

I like to put four or five ice cubes in a wine glass, and pour a generous measure – about the quantity of a nice glass of wine, so perhaps the next step is to be specific about how I want it – I could say, “three fingers of dry vermouth with ice – in a wine glass” or, “pour until you think you’ve poured too much, and then pour a little bit more.” Something like that.

Vermouth 101 states that in Europe vermouth is primarily thought of as a ‘standalone aperitif’, and is served neat, chilled or over ice in 2-3 oz servings – that’s 2-3 measures as far as I’m aware. To make things simpler, I could ask for 3 measures of vermouth with ice… but I think that might not be quite enough. Whatever. Will I actually be ordering vermouth again? I don’t know; time will tell.

When we got the bill the vermouth was £2.20, so that didn’t strike me as being too bad.

So vermouth: give it a try.

Now, since it’s Friday I’d just like to mention the weekend. I’d love this blog to be able to provide the kind of cutting edge reporting that keeps you abreast of new alcohol related developments and events but unfortunately I have a job… and this isn’t it, so I’m afraid I can’t quite be current enough in that regard. This weekend though, sees the return of the Ramsbottom Chocolate Festival.

What’s that got to do with alcohol? Well, nothing obvious, but a quick glance at the programme reveals a few alcohol and chocolate related curiosities including chocolate liqueurs and chocolate beer cocktails. I’m planning on taking Brenda if the weather’s nice and the boiler repairman arrives in good time on Saturday. I have a bit of a hankering for some beer, and could be in the market for fancy chocolate flavoured liqueurs. Hopefully I’ll be able to give you a debriefing of what goes on next week. If you’re in the Manchester/Bury area, take a look. You might see me there.


  1. Can you still purchase Vinelli Vermouth?

  2. I am desperately trying to find where I can buy it.

  3. I can't say I've seen it for a while, and it isn't listed on the Aldi website anymore, so I think you might need to settle for another brand for the timebeing. I'll keep an eye out though, and let you know if I spot it anywhere.

    Thanks for visiting.