A few years ago, I was a casual drinker. I could have probably told you the difference between well and top shelf tequila, but if you would have asked me about vermouth, I would have told you that I’ve never polished furniture before. Inspiration, a new direction, a jimgermanbar education and quite a few empty cocktail glasses later, I can tell you that vermouth is an essential ingredient for me and bartenders across the world. Far more than just a rinse of the glass when making a martini, vermouth is an unsung hero. It’s often overlooked and underappreciated, it’s like the offensive line of the liquor cabinet (sorry, NFL Draft still on the brain). Yet despite its seemingly humble reputation, The Manhattan, Rob Roy and The Martinez (one of the first true martinis) all feature vermouth. So how does such an integral part of so many classic cocktails rarely get the recognition it deserves?
For most people, vermouth isn’t typically bought out of desire but rather necessity – unlike our neighbors across the Atlantic. Drinking vermouth as an aperitif is still largely a European habit, thus making the selection at your local liquor store limited to boring impersonations of this delicious spirit. However, there is a new brand of vermouth popping up in cocktail bars across the country, I’d call it the Walter Jones of vermouth (too many football comparisons?) Dolin Vermouth de Chambery has been a welcome addition to The Real McCoy suitcase. Earning France’s only A.O (Appelation d’ Origine) certification for vermouth, in 1932, Dolin is held up to the same standards as some of the finest wines from France. Since the early 19th century Dolin has been produced in France’s Chambery region, recently taking advantage of a bland and overly sweet vermouth market in the U.S. and making its way west into our glasses. Using a secret collection of over fifty different plants and herbs, Dolin makes all three classic vermouth styles – Dry, Rouge and Blanc.
All three styles are outstanding, lighter and carry more life than any other vermouth I’ve tasted. The Dry has grassy, white wine characteristics and is excellent in a Can Can cocktail (gin, St. Germain, Dolin Dry Vermouth). The Rouge (sweet) has the nose of tomatoes and apple skins, is golden-brown in color from dark, caramelized sugar and will make any Manhattan a “Man-thats good-hattan!” The Blanc is the sweetest of the three and is similar to Lillet - perfect on its own, over the rocks with a twist. So next time you are sitting at the bar, or hovering over the Gin section at the liquor store, be braver then I once was. Give vermouth a chance. And if you happen to seek out Dolin, I promise you won’t be disappointed.
* All three styles of Dolin Vermouth are available at Purple Smile Wines. $11.99 (375 ml)