These words are as true today as they were in 1924 when Cole Porter wrote them. Okay, so perhaps a cocktail can’t give you grail-like eternal life, but the combination of these two ingredients is one that endures.
But why are gin and vermouth such inseparable partners? It is true that whisky and vermouth have had encounters, with the likes of the Manhattan, but this is more of a first love, or night to remember, than the life-long relationship that exists between juniper and wormwood.
I think the reason for this is revealed when looking at how each is made; a typical recipe for vermouth may include ingredients such as coriander, clove, caraway, cardamom, star anise, wormwood, angelica, liquorice, vanilla, and juniper — a list that reads as if it could be the botanical mix of a standard gin. In addition, when mixing, sweet vermouth can provide a pleasant contrast to the dryness of gin, whereas a dry vermouth (usually used in smaller quantities) complements a dry gin.
In the last year, both Beefeater and Bombay Sapphire have released gins that have been aged in
ex-vermouth barrels, using Jean de Lillet and Noilly Prat barrels, respectively; the result is a spirit that tastes more like an aged Martini.
But how do you choose the right vermouth for your gin? It depends on what you’re drinking.
The Dry Martini
This is a variation on the Manhattan that has gradually become dryer and dryer. Although there are similarities in name and recipe, it is now thought that the name comes from the brand, ‘Martini & Rossi’; in fact, there are advertisements to that effect.
4-5 parts Dry Gin 1 part Dry Vermouth Stir
For lighter gins, which are less botanically-intense, Martini Extra Dry is a good choice; it is readily available, affordable, stands up well to mixing, and won’t overpower a lighter gin.
For floral or citrus gins, then Noilly Prat Original Dry is the order of the day. The chamomile flavors used work well alongside complex floral botanicals and the fruit peel used in the vermouth complements the brightness of citrus-forward gins. Lillet Blanc works well for similar reasons, but contains no vermouth.
For the more classic, juniper-forward and herbal gins, the recommendation is the French Dolin of Chambery, which provides an exceptionally clean drink with a balanced bitterness and a touch of spice.
For Vespers and Corpse Revivers, there is only one vermouth to choose: Sacred’s Extra Dry Vermouth, which is more bitter and dry than many other vermouths. It also has a citrus sweetness, making it a great replacement for Kina Lillet; unfortunately, it is only available in Japan or the Duke’s Hotel in London.
The Sweet Martini and the Martinez are both great drinks, but when it comes to gin and red vermouth, the Negroni is king!
Equal parts Dry Gin Campari Red Vermouth Stir
A good, all-rounder vermouth for these is Martini Rossi. In the course of all of the gin reviews that I have written, I must have tried Martini Rossi in a negroni with over three hundred different gins, and it rarely fails. It makes a good or very good Negroni, but if you want a great one, then try one of the following:
Punt e Mes complex, this works well with gins that have simple, bold botanical flavors.
Byrhh less bitter than many, this works well with lighter or more delicately-flavored, floral gins.
Carpano Antica Formula very bitter, but works well with a good punch of juniper, heavy, herbal gins, or ones that have a high ABV to stand up to its flavors. For lighter gins, try adding a little less vermouth.
Noilly Prat Rouge good for more herbal gins or aged gins; it has a distinctly woody characteristic.
Perucchi a relatively sweet red vermouth, this pair well with citrus-forward gins, along with a pink grapefruit garnish.
These are the two main types of vermouth. There are also the following;
white sweet (bianco), which works best with very dry or citrus-forward gins.
ambers (such as Noilly Ambre or Sacred Amber), which have an almost sherry-like quality and pair well with spicy gins.
There has also been the welcome rise of craft vermouth producers, such as Atsby in New York, with Amberthorn and Armadillo Cake and their neighbors in Brooklyn, Uncouth Vermouth, with flavors such as Apple Mint, Beet Eucalyptus, and Serrano Chile Lavender, as well as others across the US. These are new styles and are described by fellow vermouth lover, Martin Doudoroff, as “New World” vermouths. As such, each one has to be mixed on its own merits, although one thing is certain: they’ll work wonders with gin.