Out with the old

June 27th, 2008

One of the tips you come across regularly in the more learned cocktail guides and resources is to keep opened bottles of vermouth in the fridge to prevent them spoiling, and to not keep them around for too long no matter where they are stored. Unfortunately vermouth, though fortified and far more shelf-stable than wine, is fairly low in alcohol content (usually around the 18% mark) and will slowly degrade over days and weeks if left at room temperature.

At least that’s what I have always been told. I’ve always taken this advice as fact and not really given it much though, but tonight I found myself unusually well prepared with brand new bottles of dry and sweet vermouth to replace my rapidly emptying old bottles so decided to see if I could really taste a difference. You’ll notice both brands have had their bottles redesigned recently – perhaps a sign vermouth is gaining in popularity and worthy of a re-brand, but then again maybe an attempt to modernise a sadly underrated category of spirits.

Noilly Prat bottles

Noilly Prat dry is my standard dry vermouth, and this bottle has probably been sat in the fridge for perhaps three months, though it could be anything up to six. The new bottle is brand new, opened tonight, and sports the new design that Noilly Prat appear to have rolled out at some point in the past month or two. To keep things fair, I stuck the new bottle in the fridge last night so they’re both at the exact same temperature.

I was surprised that soon as I poured the two vermouths I could see a noticeable difference even in the colour. The older bottle had a slight copper tint to it, compared the the light straw colour of the new one. The nose was also quite different, with the older bottle having a fairly smooth, mildly aromatic aroma. This contrasted with the fairly sharp, fragrant nose of the fresh vermouth.

In the mouth the old vermouth continued the mellowness from the nose, and had a slightly sweet fruity tang. The finish was mildly bitter and the overall taste fairly one-dimensional. The new bottle had a much drier, more intense flavour that was more overtly fruity and with a floral undertone, and the finish had a more defined bitterness. Overall the old bottle had definitely changed in character quite a lot, and while it hadn’t gone bad as such it would definitely have an effect on cocktails made with it.

Martini & Rossi Rosso bottles

Unfortunately while some are lucky enough to build their own basement bar I reside in the second most expensive city in the world and as such am stuck sharing a kitchen, and hence refrigerator, with several friends for the foreseeable future. My fridge space is therefore limited, and so I have to choose which bottles of cocktail goodness reside there carefully. My bottle of Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth unfortunately didn’t make the cut, so has been sat out at room temperature for a good six months since I first opened it.

With the differences in the Noilly Prat after around three months in a fridge I was expecting six months on the shelf to have a noticeable effect, but when pouring out the two samples there was no difference between the two, at least visually. On the nose too there was little to tell the two apart, both having a mellow, fruity aroma.

When it came to tasting the new bottle did have a fuller, more intense flavour, but unlike the Noilly Prat where the flavour profile had altered, the Martini & Rossi had merely mellowed. The same flavours were there, they were just more subdued. Given the age of the old bottle I was surprised at this, though also pleased as it means I can let my sweet vermouth sit out on the shelf without too much worry.


Overall then, confirmation of knowledge I already practise. Dry vermouth is relatively unstable, so should be used quickly and/or refrigerated once opened. Sweet vermouth fairs better, but does still dull so shouldn’t be kept around too long. Given the low-cost of vermouth it is thankfully affordable to keep bottle around for 3-6 months and dispose of once faded.

I just wish smaller, more easily finished bottles were readily available. Here in the UK a lot of supermarkets only sell 1 litre bottles of vermouth, and given how long these often sit in peoples alcohol cabinets, that makes for a lot of imperfect vermouth…

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Posted in Vermouth

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13 responses to “Out with the old”

  1. Barbara Barbara says:

    This has been something that I have asked liquor store owners and managers with unsatisfactory responses. They have either told me that it doesn’t go bad or that they didn’t know. So, now I have some additional input. I, too have noticed that my Noilly Prat tastes different after a couple of months, but never did the taste-test.Thanks so much for doing the experiment for us!

  2. Doug Winship Doug Winship says:

    Jay,

    This is really pretty incredible information. I always just assume that the bottles on my shelves are stable.
    Given the microscopic amounts of vermouth I use, I will definitely have to work at finding the smallest bottles possible in the future!

  3. niels niels says:

    what I did was getting a wine refrigerator cabinet with a UHV-blocking glass door, which set me back some 500£, but on the other hand allows me to keep my vermouth collection and the low alcohol liqueurs at appr 10 degrees celsius.
    another thing i do is pouring dry vermouth from a fresh bottle over into 10 cl bottles – if you do it immediately after the mother bottle is opened, cork severely, and store refregirated, the vermouth will keep its freshness. this works best with italian vermouths though.

  4. http://ohgo.sh/archive/out-with-the-old/ | The Pegu Blog says:

    [...] Canton 1/2 oz. Dry Vermouth Shake over ice and strain into chilled cocktail glass. My Vermouth is old and tired, but it seems to do the job here nicely. I’d help Michael out with a smart-ass name playing [...]

  5. Jay Jay says:

    niels – wow I’m jealous! I’m experimenting with a slightly less exciting method, the vacuum seals you can get that are designed for keeping wine fresh. I figure it should help keep the vermouth fresh even better than just plain refrigeration.

  6. niels niels says:

    well like any other liquid vermouth reacts chemically when in contact with air, sunlight, and when heated – so what we want when we store the noilly is minimal air contact, minimal sunlight, coolness, and minimal temperature change.
    same thing with un-corked low alcohol liqueurs and bitters: treat’em like a corked wine.
    also wine tricks work for re-bottleing into smaller bottles: half a bottle of bordeaux will keep perfectly over night if you pour it into an empty clean plastic soda bottle with cap screw, especially if you pour all the way to the top of the bottle’s top so there’s practically no air contact once the cap is on tight. again, same thing with vermouth…
    another thing – you might simply use the vermouth in cooking instead of white wine. basically, vermoth is spiced up wine, so why not, and its even cheap compared to a decent wine – 5£ for a 1 liter bottle of noilly dry in my local supermarket.

  7. Singer Singer says:

    I wonder if using one of those fancy champagne stoppers, designed to keep air away from the insides of a bottle at all costs would fare any better. Or perhaps a variably sized bottle…

  8. seriousdarious seriousdarious says:

    Thanks for this Jay. I’ve tried both my on-the-counter-for-6-months-at-least Martini & Rosso sweet and my in-the-fridge-for-a-few-months Noilly Prat dry recently (with this exact subject in mind) and they both tasted OK. Certainly not as vile as some posts I’ve seen (elsewhere) would have you believe.

    I second niels on the cooking with vermouth. As I’m usually the only one drinking cocktails in my house I don’t go through vermouth that fast either. I started using it in my cooking to use it up and was pleased with the added flavor to the dishes.

  9. Jay Jay says:

    Niels & Singer – following this post I’ve started sealing my vermouths using a vacuum stopper designed for wine. I’m still keeping my dry vermouth in the fridge too, but due to limited space my sweet vermouths are still out on the shelf at room temperature. I’ll almost certainly post a follow up in a few months letting people know if the vacuum stoppers have had any effect.

    seriousdarious – Yeah I think the speed of deterioration is definitely overstated by some. Noilly Prat themselves say six months, and they have a vested interest in having people throw out old bottles to buy new ones! There’s no doubt the flavour does change, but it certainly doesn’t turn in to vinegar after a month or anything.

    That said, I’ve a feeling if not kept in the fridge dry vermouth can be a lot more unstable. I’m tempted to buy a bottle, half empty it and let it sit out for a few months just to test this theory actually…

  10. spike spike says:

    Hello guys, what do you thing about gancia dry vermouth??
    have you ever try it? any testing notes??

  11. nick nick says:

    Hi, for the noilly prat, could it be that you re using the new vermouth? aoparently they recently came out with the new version (old in europe) vs. the old version (american market noilly).

  12. Jay Jay says:

    Nick – I am based in the UK so for me, Noilly Prat has always been the “new” old formulation. The difference was definitely due to the age of the older vermouth.

  13. Cocktail: The Income Tax | The Pegu Blog says:

    [...] a final note, I’m not sure which is more important to be fresh in this drink, the vermouths or the OJ. Play it same and make sure all three are. Bookmark This Post No Comments [...]

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