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Feb 10, 2010 06:39 AM

Vermouth for Manhattans

Just as there are preferences for the base spirit of a Manhattan, I have to assume there are preferences of the sweet vermouth used. The one I see most often is Martini & Rossi. For my home bar is M&R acceptable or is there something better?


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  1. It depends on what sort of drink you're in the mood for. There are sweeter ones like M&R, spicier ones like Vya and Punt e Mes (some do not consider it a true vermouth though), mellow well-balanced ones like Dolin. Noilly Prat and Boissiere aren't bad either. And there are also not-true sweet vermouths like Dubonnet Rouge and barolo chinatos that can work great (especially the chinato, save for the price point).

    M&R is safe and is also at a great price point (besides being sold in half bottles). I would recommend rotating through vermouth bottles each time to see what you're in the mood for. Or getting something in addition to M&R so you can compare and contrast. It doesn't pay to have more than that at home (usually) since the shelf life of vermouth is short once open (even if refrigerated).

    If I were to recommend just one, I'd say to give Dolin a try. A little pricey at $15/750 ($10/375) but it is good enough to drink straight out of the bottle!

    3 Replies
    1. re: yarm

      Good to know it has short shelf life - once opened, how long before it starts to turn?

      1. re: BatMan

        Side by side, tasting vermouth opened that moment and one opened a few weeks before, it's obvious. Mixed in cocktails, a little less obvious (unless the drink is half vermouth or more, or mixed with lighter ingredients).

        It really depends on who you ask. At one extreme there is Jackson Cannon at Eastern Standard (Boston) who opens fresh half bottles of vermouth every day. On the other is the dusty bottle owner -- it doesn't matter since it's a ceremonial dash.

        Conservative estimates are 2 weeks with more liberal ones 2 months. Storing it in the fridge helps, and if you have one of those gas purger, this will extend it's life greatly (I do not know any non-restaurant that has one though). In reality, let your nose and taste buds do the work. Taste the vermouth of a freshly opened bottle and see how delicious it is on its own. When you doubt your vermouth, give it a smell and a taste unmixed, and decide whether it's worth using or picking another cocktail until you can replace the bottle. When vermouth goes off, the sugar-acid balance changes (or sugar-bitterness) becomes more unpleasant besides gaining some off-grape notes.

        For more reading, here's a class I took from Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli when he was at Craigie on Main:

        1. re: yarm

          From everything I've heard, though, sweet vermouth should last quite a bit longer than dry, no?

    2. Carpano Antica Formula is the one you'll hear most people recommend, and it seriously is amazing. Complex, a little hint of bitterness; it's about $30 for a 1 L bottle. I recommend seeking it out even if you can't find it locally. To me, a Manhattan with anything else doesn't taste anywhere near as good. If you like slightly bitter stuff, you could also consider Punt e Mes (same maker, a bit easier to find, and not as expensive).

      We store ours in the wine fridge. Despite the fact that it's a 1L bottle, so far, we've never had a bottle last more than a few months, but we use quite a lot of sweet vermouth in our Manhattans and Martinezes (sometimes doing the original proportions -- 2:1 vermouth:old tom -- I know it's an insane amount of sweet vermouth, esp. with old tom gin and the marischino adding some sweetness of their own, but I think it's pretty good this way). My girlfriend will drink it straight on ice sometimes too.

      I have used the Dolin dry but haven't tried their sweet vermouth yet.

      7 Replies
      1. re: will47

        I like to drink equal parts sweet and dry with a dash of orange bitters and a lemon twist (sometimes called a "Duplex" and sometimes other names, depending on the book)--makes a very nice aperitif. I usually do it with either both Vya formulations or Punt e Mes and Lillet Blonde for a spicier variation. Good way to use up your vermouth if you're running the risk of it going south.

        1. re: will47

          I agree about the Carpano Antica, its gotten to be the one I use the most, and the one used by the great majority of the top cocktail bars.

          1. re: will47

            Another strong vote for Carpano Antica - worth every penny and not hard to use up stored in fridge because it's so good on its own or mixed in - just rotated though it, Dolin (seems to lose its flavor most quickly), Martini & Rossi (fine), Stock (no), and Vya (also pricey and so very distinctive it doesn't work at all in some drinks).

            1. re: will47

              We tried the Vya sweet vermouth this week. By itself on the rocks, I don't like it quite as much as Carpano, but in a Manhattan, it's excellent. As a sort of comparison test, at my girlfriend's urging, I made one Manhattan with Vya and one with the Carpano Antica Formula tonight, with roughly the same other ingredients (2:1 Russell's Reserve Rye : Sweet Vermouth, plus 4 dashes of Adam's Boker's bitters; I think I managed to get the dilution roughly the same). I like them both pretty well. The girlfriend said that the Carpano's distinct flavor stuck out a little more, but at the same time, she found the one with Vya a little less smooth. I think the chocolatey tones came out slightly more in the one with the Carpano.

              On a more practical note, I find the (rubber) "cork" in the Vya a lot more of a pain to deal with than the standard liquor bottle cork top on the Carpano. But it's nice that the Vya comes in small bottles and is only ~ $10.

              1. re: will47

                Haven't seen the small bottles of Vya - that's nice to know for some variety at times - the standard cork top on my most recent Carpano actually separated which is kind of annoying at that price point (using another stopper until I get it glued back together...).

                  1. re: EvergreenDan

                    Imagine it would last a really long time if I had a vac-u-vin, but a regular rubber stopper and keeping it cold seems to hold it for a couple of months and it seldom stays around for us longer than that. Even though I know they're connected, it seems to me it's the temperature more than the oxidation that's the problem.

              2. I was in a similar situation a while back, BatMan. I mainly used M&R at home and after rotating through a lot of different bourbons and ryes, figuring out what spirits i preferred and proportions, I wanted to try something new on the vermouth front. Luckily, my local liquor store started carrying Dolin at about that time, and I gave it a whirl. I've been using it ever since. At first, I wasn't sure i liked it, because in relation to M&R, the spirit came through very strongly. I adjusted the amount of vermouth up and I've been enjoying it ever since. It's a really nice vermouth and doesn't break the bank

                I will also heap some praise upon Carpano Antica, although I've yet to buy it for home. Several months ago I ordered a Manhattan in a bar and was blown away at the first sip. I asked the bartender if he would mind sharing his recipe, and it was the Carpano Antica. Having consumed a fair amount of Manhattans up to that point, it was both unexpected and exciting to be so pleasantly surprised , and i look forward to buying a bottle for home.