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How to know if vermouth (sweet or dry) is bad

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This feels like a dumb question, but how do you actually know if your vermouth is bad? Does it develop a horrible taste, or is it just less good? And can it go bad in the bottle even if unopened?

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  1. Vermouth is basically wine. Refrigerate it after opening. If it's really undrinkably bad you'll be able to tell. If it's just old it'll probably be a little off and have some odd flavors but it's still drinkable. I keep my open vermouth a long time (6+ months) because I don't use much of it, but I also don't expect much out of it. People who care more will try to use it much faster, maybe within a month? Buy the smaller bottles unless you need large quantities.

    If it's unopened it should last a long, long time, just like wine. I suppose it's possible for it to go bad in the bottle, but it's pretty unlikely.

    1. It's not as though it spoils and becomes undrinkable like, say for example, milk, and I wouldn't even say it gets a strong unpleasant taste, like tainted wine. But it does develop a bit of an "off" taste after a while. As for how to tell if it's off, the easiest way to tell is just to taste it: if it tastes different than it did when you first got it, then there you go. And if it's been 3 months, or 6 months, and you can't notice any discernible difference in taste, then I'd say don't worry about it, since then you're obviously still enjoying it, whether or not someone else might drink it at that point.

      Also, it seems a bit counterintuitive, but I find the cutoff point for me for when I'll use vermouth in a cocktail is somewhat sooner than the cutoff point for when I'll drink it on its own. I have no idea why, but even after a point where I won't use vermouth in a cocktail, I'm still fine with drinking it. Sure, it doesn't taste as fresh, but it's still drinkable, and as long as it's drinkable, I say you might as well drink it. Also, any excess vermouth goes pretty quickly when you're using it by the glass rather than the 3/4 oz.

      And it might eventually reach a point where you wouldn't want to drink it at all, but if I've never had vermouth long enough that it's reached the point of becoming that bad.

      5 Replies
      1. re: sanjacinto

        My problem is that I'm not positive that I've ever had actual fresh vermouth- I bought one bottle at a store (Bevmo) and another bottle was about six years old, given to me recently unopened by a relative. (Both of these are sweet vermouth). Both the bottles poured sort of a brownish color- I thought it was supposed to be more of a red- although I believe the Bevmo bottle tasted better- I finished it and it was a week or so before I opened the other bottle, so I don't know if I can trust my taste memory. Either way, I don't really like the taste of the vermouth by itself, so I'm not sure if something's wrong with it, or if it just isn't my thing straight. I suppose I just have to buy a fresh bottle and compare.

        1. re: tinnywatty

          Brownish is the right color. Sweet vermouth is colored using caramel -- just like cola.

          You say you don't like the taste by itself; but what kind is it? Various brands can be extremely different in terms of quality and flavor profiles, and this is one area where you can definitely expect higher quality if you pay more. (A $5.00 bottle of Stock, for example, is pretty bad when compared with a $20 bottle of Dolin.)

          As vermouth gets older it develops a characteristic off flavor, which I might describe as tasting something like the smell of musty wet cardboard. It starts subtle--more of an aftertaste--and slowly becomes more potent as the wine oxidizes. It takes quite a long time for this to happen if the vermouth is refrigerated.

          1. re: davis_sq_pro

            That's funny, I guess I always assumed it was supposed to be kind of garnet colored. The brand for both was Martini & Rossi. The first bottle, I remembered tasting slightly herbal but not bad at all. The new bottle, after a second taste, has to be bad. It leaves a strong bitter aftertaste in the mouth, and smells bitter as well. It's only been open for a week but it must have spoiled in the bottle.

            1. re: tinnywatty

              Bitter? Interesting; I don't know how it would get bitter by spoiling, but I'm not really an expert in such things. Anyway if it doesn't taste quite right, don't feel bad about not drinking it. M&R sells for around $6 or $7 a bottle. So toss it and move on with life!

              1. re: davis_sq_pro

                It may have been exposed to too much sunlight, as being placed in front of a sunny window for a period of time.

      2. I've been a Dolin only guy for a while now, and my experience with red is that the older it gets, the less complex it becomes. To put it another way, I do notice it becoming more cloyingly sweet, with little else there. I've had some dry that after about six weeks, in the fridge, dutifully using a vacu-vin after each use, began to develop a slight vinegar-y taste in the finish. That was when I knew it had to go.