Vermouth is, to put it mildly, a misunderstood ingredient. As we’ve mentioned elsewhere, most of its bad reputation stems from the fact that people don’t know how to go about storing a bottle once they’ve opened it. Even though it’s a fortified wine, and can last quite a bit longer than your standard bottle of vino, it’s still subject to oxidation and other spoilage after just a few weeks. It’s pretty reasonable that lots of people don’t like the stuff—chances are, they’ve only ever had it after it’s gone bad.
To us, that’s a bit of a tragedy. The breadth and variety of vermouth available today is miles ahead of where it was just a decade ago, and new offerings seem to pop up every few months. There’s no longer any excuse to make a sub-par Negroni, Martini, or Manhattan, and it’s trivial to do some experimentation if you get tired of your go-to recipes. Plus (and this might be the best part), a lot of the best brands are available for less than $15 a bottle.
In an effort to rectify this issue, we’ve put together a quick and dirty list of tips about how to store vermouth. It’s an ingredient that’s as classic as it is essential to a home bar, and it’s pretty easy to avoid letting it go to waste.
Buy Small Bottles
The first line of defense against spoiled vermouth is to simply use it up before it starts to go bad. But if you’re only an occasional vermouth-based cocktail drinker, that can be easier said than done. That’s why we recommend sticking to the small, 375 ml bottles whenever possible—the 750 ml behemoths can be a bit daunting for a casual consumer.
It typically takes about one or two months for a bottle of vermouth to start showing noticeable signs of spoilage, be it the fault of intrusive microbes or simple oxidation, so plan around that when you’re in the liquor store. If you’re only going to make one Boulevardier in that period of time, go with the smallest option. But if there’s a James Bond-themed party in the works? Stock up and get ready for some Vesper cocktails.
Keep it in the Fridge
It may seem obvious, but the most tried-and-true way to keep your vermouth going strong is to keep it chilled. Once it’s opened, screw the cap back on tightly and stick it in the fridge. This slows down the chemical processes that are trying to ruin your cocktails, and should be sufficient for up to two months.
If you’re a wine drinker, this is a useful tip for non-fortified varieties as well. They won’t keep for nearly as long as vermouth (usually about a week or so at the most), but both reds and whites benefit from refrigeration if you’re not going to finish the bottle in one night.
Rebottle if Necessary
If you think even a month might be a stretch for you to polish off that Noilly Prat, rebottling the vermouth into a smaller container is the way to go. The reasoning behind this method is that, once the level of liquid falls below the narrow bottleneck into the wider body of the container, it exposes a larger surface area to the air in the bottle. As a result, the oxidation occurs faster.
Pouring the remaining vermouth into a smaller bottle with as little air as possible slows the process down again. In our experience it doesn’t tend to make a huge difference, but it can certainly add a few days or a week to its shelf-life. Just make sure that whatever bottles you’re using have been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. If you don’t, intrusive bacteria on the glass can take up residence in the vermouth and create some funky flavors and aromas.
If you find yourself stuck with a lot of leftover vermouth despite all these measures, there’s still hope: drink more of it! Don’t feel limited to a few old, classic recipes. Try an Americano or a Milano-Torino, or even drink it by itself. Both dry and sweet vermouths are really quite delicious on their own, and make for a great after-dinner sip or nightcap.
And if you’re feeling creative, play around with the flavors and try to come up with some new cocktails of your own! We’d love to try them out for ourselves.