Among cocktail ingredients, dry vermouth is an unsung hero. As we noted last week, in our overture about this bottle, the bad rep it acquired in years past — as something begrudgingly added to a dry martini, lest it be incomplete or inauthentic — still lingers around dry vermouth. Which is a shame, because a good, fresh dry vermouth does wonders for a cocktail, and many good vermouths are also good and cheap.
While there have been several newcomer brands to the category in recent years, including a few that are American-made, we tend to favor the longest-standing labels when it comes to the dry vermouth we mix into cocktails. They serve their purpose well and are painlessly (i.e., inexpensively) replaceable.
Martini & Rossi Extra Dry — $5.50 for 375 mL
Made in Torino, Italy, the birthplace of commercial vermouth, Martini & Rossi's dry vermouth is pretty ubiquitous, and for good reason. It bears that heady dry-vermouth aroma, yet is delicate, bright, and refreshing on the palate. In Europe, it's commonly enjoyed on its own, chilled, as an afternoon aperitif; in fact, on visits to the Continent we've had it happen where an order for "a martini" returns a glass of M&R dry rather than the gin cocktail. In other words, it makes a great mixer, and you may even like it alone.
(It's a shame, really, that there are likely thousands of dusty, once-fresh bottles of Martini dry out there, relegated to the backs of many a home bartender's liquor cabinets, in the throes of spoilage, ready to prove the lie that dry vermouth is gross. Remember, vermouth is a wine product that should be refrigerated after opening and consumed briskly.)
Noilly Prat Extra Dry — $6 for 375 mL
Held out to be the first of its kind, Noilly Prat Extra Dry is more restrained on the nose than M&R's, and more fruity on the palate. The herbal, aromatic qualities characteristic of dry vermouth are there, but in support of an almost juicy, wine-forward composition. In many cases, neutral-tasting wines are selected as bases for vermouth, but Noilly Prat's has a distinct and pleasing presence in the final product.
Dolin Vermouth de Chambéry Dry — $10 for 375 mL
Our favorite of the group, even if it's on the higher end of the price spectrum. (Although, in the scheme of things, still pretty reasonable.) Dolin's entire line of vermouths tend to skew drier than their counterparts, and the French outfit's dry expression builds intrigue through layers of aromatic herbs and hints of citrus. Try it in a dry martini. Like, tonight.
(Image credits: Roger Kamholz)