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Martinis, which Vermouth?

  • k

I've been reading the posts about gins and I'm jonesing for a martini. But the gin is only part of the mix. The Vermouths are so varied in flavors that they must be specified for a proper martini.

Which Vermouths are best? Or which go with which gin?


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  1. My personal martini consists of Noilly Prat vermouth and Plymouth gin, with a twist. Nice combo.

    1. Cinzano vermouth, Bombay sapphire gin, to my taste.

      1. I drink vodka martinis generally, but my choice is Martini and Rossi vermouth, a couple drops of Angostura, and Grey Goose.

        Husband drinks gin and simply switches the Grey Goose to Tanqueray.

        1. Reading your post I suspect you are new to mixing martinis? If so make sure you get a dry vermouth. Most martinis are made very dry and I don't think the choice of vermouth matters. The three named above are very good. My usual - 1/2 cap Noilly Prat, 4 1/2 ounces Beefeaters. I'm not to fussy about the brand of vermouth however I do frequently sip vermouth on ice and for that I prefer NP so I have it in the house. I also keep my vermouth in the frig as the flavor will change.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Old Red

            I sometimes sip it over ice as well, and I find that there is a big difference in flavor amoung the dry vermouths. But I can never remember which I like!

          2. Not much of a gin drinker myself, but the selections in this area are multiplying. For vermouth look for Carpano Punt e Mes or Quady Vya Extra Dry, both noted for being good vermouths. I you want to drink martinis, then I recommend trying a number of vermouths and gins and using the ones you like best to find a good combination. Gins vary from traditional "Old Tom" gins of which there is one producer (I think), Plymouth Gin of which there is one producer, London Dry Gins, some newer styles from the London Gin producers made with different herbs, and both old and young Genevers from the Netherlands (and maybe Belguim). If you want to drink martinis, learning which gins and vermouths you like best in which combinations is like learning which wines made with which grapes you like best. The good thing is that once you learn, you need not relearn every year as with wines to some extent. Personally, if I want a martini, it will be made with Plymouth Gin and Quady Vya Extra Dry, and I'll tend to be slightly heavy on the vermouth. A traditional martimi is probably three or so shots of gin with somewhere from 5 drops to a teaspoon of vermouth. My teaspoon would overflow with more than 5 drops.

            1. I like Noilly Prat; I think it goes well with any gin. I've heard good things about Vya, but haven't had the chance to try it yet.

              As for proportions, I like my martinis a little wetter than some. I used to drink them super-dry, using just enough vermouth to rinse the glass or coat the ice, but then I noticed all the antique recipes called for a ratio something like 2 parts gin to 1 part vermouth. I've settled on something like 5:1 gin to vermouth. I think it takes more than a few drops of vermouth to distinguish the noble martini from a mere frosty glass of gin. The herbal flavor of the vermouth really does something to balance the bright juniper and citrus flavors of the gin.

              Also, try a dash or two of orange bitters in your martini. It's a component of some older martini recipes and adds a layer of complexity.

              1. My first choice is Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth, which is amber in color, and adds a richness to a Martini unlike anything I've every had. http://www.wilsondaniels.com/product....

                Second would be Noilly Prat.

                3 Replies
                1. re: zin1953

                  I love the carpano antica, but to use it with gin and bitters would give you a martinez, which is delicious, but a martini needs a dry vermouth. I'm using Noilly Prat. 4:1 with Plymouth, Fee's orange bitters, (and a twist if I feel ambitious).

                  1. re: sailormouth

                    Who said anything about bitters? I use Plymouth and Carpano in a 4:1 ratio. If I'm making a DRY Martini, then I substitute the Carprano for Noilly Prat . . .


                    1. re: zin1953

                      Bitters is standard in both, but gin and French/dry vermouth is a martini, gin and Italian/red vermouth is a martinez (typically also with a dash or two of maraschino, others will correct me, but I think that's almost an anachronism). A martinez is the precursor to a martini. Nothing wrong with either, but they're two different drinks. Same as a cape codder is different from a screwdriver.

                2. Some good suggestions for alternatives and variations that I'll be looking into over the holidays. Our house standard -- gin in the freezer, Noilly Prat 3 1/2:1,

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: grover78

                    I used to keep my gin in the freezer, too, but then -- in side-by-side experiments -- I realized I referred the martinis (with Noilly Prat) when made with room temperature gin.

                    I think it has to do with the "ice melt."

                    1. re: zin1953

                      I haven't done a side-by-side (not sure if I can, given the old adage about martinis -- one's too many, and two's not enough), but I do like the viscous freezer gin. Granted, the herbals do not come through as well as at room temperature, but it makes for a different cocktail.

                      1. re: grover78

                        I agree about the viscosity, and that's why I keep my vodka in the freezer -- and Bombay Saphire, too, when I went through a phase of drinking that straight.

                        But that's not the point I was raising. At room temperature, the ice melts a bit more in chilling down the martini than it would if the gin is at freezer temperature. Thus, there is a bit more water in the cocktail made with "freezer" gin-and-vermouth than there would be in the martini that is made with "room temperature" gin-and-vermouth. It's that tiny bit of "ice melt" that -- I think -- creates a difference . . .

                  2. J. Boissiere from France and a lot of real old timers swear by
                    G&D (Gambarelli and Devito) from California.

                    1. This is just one man's opinion, but I have a background as a very picky wine snob as my credential, if that's worth anything.

                      Fill a pint glass with high quality ice. Add 10 cl of gin, 2 cl of dry vermouth, and stir slowly about 30 times with the back end of a bar spoon. Fasten the bar strainer and let it rest as you get the martini glass out of your freezer and skewer two high quality cocktail onions (I forgot the brand but you can get them at whole foods) onto a plastic martini pick (bevmo sells good ones). Rinse the onions with water. Carefully strain the cocktail into the glass and carefully add the onions. The goal is to have no loose chips of ice and not to taint the cocktail with too much brine.

                      Favorite gins:
                      Old Raj Dry Gin - Expensive, but worth it. Best balance and lots of power for seasoned martini drinkers.
                      Plymouth - The classic martini gin. Subtle and sophisticated.
                      Junipero - Very juniper-heavy and punchy
                      Hendrick's - cucumbery, perfect for a martini on the patio in the summer heat
                      Beefeater - Best option you're likely to find at a normal bar, good dose of juniper
                      Bombay - More balanced option than Beefeater, but lower in quality
                      Tanqueray - Powerful, but low quality and rather undistinctive
                      Seagrams - More interesting than the above, but very low quality
                      Bombay Sapphire - totally wrong for a martini...kind of disgusting

                      Vermouth: I only use Noilly Prat. Martini & Rossi is not dry enough and will ruin a martini, even at a 5 to 1 ratio. Remember that vermouth is a wine. Buy the smallest bottles available and keep them in the fridge after opening or else they will oxidize and taste rather awful.

                      Why not dirty? Because it just ruins a martini for me. Mouthpuckering vinegar and salt are just not enjoyable, although they do a good job covering up bad liquor, so maybe that's an advantage if all you have is Bombay lying around.

                      Why no olives or lemon twists? Olives with pimiento are almost impossible to rinse the strong brine off of. Your last sip is always heavy with the brine flavor and to me, the last sip should be the best--not something you dread. Lemon twists interfere with the nose--literally all you can smell is lemon zest and for a wine drinker, it's a big turnoff when the nose and palate don't intersect. Also, the lemon oil on the rim just doesn't go well with the martini to me.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: mjmmm

                        If you have an opportunity to try Vya vermouth from Quadry winery in California, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. IMHO it's heads and shoulders above everything else out there.

                        1. re: alanbarnes

                          Thanks. I'll definitely give it a shot.

                      2. There are a lot of posts here about sweet vermouth, so I'll give my manhattan spiel too, although I don't have as much experience with them. Here's what I've learned though.

                        Fill a pint glass with high quality ice. Add 10 cl of rye, 4 cl of sweet vermouth, and stir slowly about 30 times with the back end of a bar spoon. Fasten the bar strainer and let it rest as you get the martini glass out of your freezer and skewer two sweetened morello cherries (I get mine at TJ's) onto a plastic martini pick. Rinse the cherries with water. Carefully strain the cocktail into the glass and carefully add the cherries.

                        For the vermouth, I haven't tried a lot of them, but carpano antica formula is amazing--a lot better than Martini & Rossi. It's less bitter, more viscous, less sweet and more complex. A quality Manhattan more complex than a Martini and good for cold weather days.

                        The use of rye in Manhattans and Old-Fashioned Cocktails was widespread before prohibition, but Canadian whiskey and bourbon got mixed in afterwards due to better availability and lower costs. As far as type of whiskey, a rye Manhattan blows the other liquors out of the water with it's increased bite and cereal sweetness. I've been mixing manhattans with carpano antica and Wild Turkey Rye and it has an awesome finish that tastes a lot like roasted marshmallows. I have yet to try other high quality ryes like Sazerac, but Wild Turkey makes a five star cocktail for sure.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: mjmmm

                          Thanks for the post. Manhattans are fun because of all the ways you can vary them with the ryes, vermouths and bitters.

                          You have to try Rittenhouse 100 proof rye. It is slightly more expensive now that it has gotten more popular (last year $14 a bottle!), but still one of the best values around. I haven't tried many other ryes, but Michter's for instance, was too much like bourbon--nice but lacking that sharp sour bite that makes rye so wonderful.

                          Carpano Antica is definitely the best, but give Martelletti a try. Wood flavors. While Vya dry vermouth is wonderful, I find their sweet vermouth too sweet, although the spicy flavors are nice. It works better in drinks other than Manhattans, IMO. Punt e Mes is another option when you want to ramp up the bitter aromatics.

                          I love changing up the bitters between Angostura and Regan's orange, sometimes combining them. My new favorite is Fee's Whiskey-barrel-aged Old Fashioned bitters, wonderful woodsy flavors.

                          For garnish, I actually prefer a lemon twist to any sort of cherry, although I haven't really sought out premium marinated cherries.

                          As for Martinis--my favorite is 2:1 Plymouth to Vya dry with a small dash of Regan's orange bitters (orange bitters are in the original recipe; careful with the Regan's though, the spice is strong), and I like a lemon twist garnish or cocktail onions (making it a Gibson). Sometimes I Gibsonize with a Vietnamese pickled leek, which has a chili in the jar with the leeks.

                          1. re: kenito799

                            Second the Rittenhouse 100 for manhattans. i like the Vya Sweet as well, but have been folling around with Lillet Rouge as a differnt approach and the Fee whiskey barrel aged bitters, and amarena cherries for the finish. On the Martinis, My preference is Plymouth Gin and Vya dry Vermouth 3-1 witha drop of Regan's orange bitters, stirred for 1 minute and served up with a twist or a tiny hot pickled tomato( made by a local farmer) for garnish.

                          2. I've tried a few vermouths and no luck yet. While I don't mind sweet vermouth in a manhattan, I dislike the dry in a martini. usual ratio is 4:1. I'll have to try some of these options as well.

                            1. I like Vya Dry for my dry vermouth, and either Vya or Antica Forumula for my sweet - though the latter is very hard to come by outside of Europe.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: Steve_K

                                I have no problem buying Caprano Antica Formula here in California.

                                1. re: zin1953

                                  Really? I've heard it is hard to get in the states, took me about a month to get one in the UK

                                  1. re: Steve_K

                                    It's nearly always in stock at the upscale local grocery here in Sacramento. When it's not, Punt e Mes and/or Vya sweet are on the shelf.

                                    1. re: alanbarnes

                                      Carpano antica is also available in NYC (or mail order from NYC to certain states)

                              2. I'll agree with the (now aged) post by byrd - in choosing between what tends to be readily available to me (Martini & Rossi, Noilly Prat, and J. Boissiere) I prefer J. Boissiere. It's the only one of the three that I like on its own. Haven't tried the others mentioned, and will look for stuff like Vya and Carpano Antica

                                1. I keep going back to Noilly Prat, though I have strayed often over the years in search of something "better".

                                  Glasses kept in the freezer. Gin and Vermouth both kept in my wine refrigerator. 1/3rd Vermouth, 2/3rd Gin.

                                  *Which* gin varies depending on the season and my palate. A hot summer day begs for Hendricks with a slice of a cold fresh cucumber from our garden. In winter, I go for Bombay more often. Plymouth and Tanqueray and Junipero round out the ones I most commonly want to drink.

                                  A drop of bitters or 2 on a cold winters night, perhaps.

                                  Some may argue that this won't constitute a martini, but I honestly enjoy Lillet as a substitute for Vermouth.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: fussycouple

                                    I think Vya dry is veering toward Lillet, so Lillet makes sense. I will try it.

                                    1. re: fussycouple

                                      Yes! I definitely second using Lillet Blanc as a substitute for Vermouth. Delicious. I think of it as kind of a high-end vermouth, anyway. Everyone I've served it to has started using it in martinis. And, it seems to pair well with a small bit of citrus rind garnish, too.

                                    2. I've tried Beefeater with Martini (Beefeater was too floral and Martini was wrong for a dry martini), Bombay Sapphire with Tribuno (Tribuno, I drank alone, it was so good), Plymouth with Cinzano and a Polish Potato vodka with Noilly Prat. I usually had some vermouth left over to compare. Never open for more than a week, always refrigerated. My answer to your question so far; Tribuno! It's cheap. Maybe too flavorful or colorful for most purists, so - 2nd place for me and my pocket; Noilly Prat. Worst; Cinzano and Martini.

                                      1. I have been having shaken 3:1 Hendricks and Dolin lately and enjoying them a lot.

                                        7 Replies
                                        1. re: tim irvine

                                          Sounds like my next purchase. Have you tried Plymouth Gin? It has no overwhelming pine or floral going on, I found it to be my most agreeable gin yet for a martini.

                                          1. re: bsdxlr8r

                                            I really enjoy Plymouth (among others), and -- true -- I find it best in a Martini. In a G&T or in a Negroni, I want something a bit more "forceful."

                                          2. re: tim irvine

                                            Dolin is nice. In my opinion, Hendrick's is boring, and shaking ruins a good martini.

                                            1. re: tim irvine

                                              Dolin Dry or Dolin Blanc? both are great in Martinis, IMO, but Dry seems to be a little more common. (I do Dry at 4:1 and Blanc at 5:1.)

                                              My everyday Martini is Bombay Sapphire, but I do like Hendricks for the occasional premium Martini. At about the same price as Hendrick's, Junipero is my current favorite.

                                              1. re: TVHilton

                                                instead of the Dolin blanc for your martini/martinez, try Grand Poppy (very floral, like chrysanthemum tea, but slightly bitter/sweet like Lillet)

                                                1. re: barleywino

                                                  Sounds intriguing. Thanks for the tip.

                                                  1. re: TVHilton

                                                    Cask in San Fran currently has some in stock