The Truth Lies in Vermouth

“Your drinking what?” I looked up and showed her the flat-green bottle. “Vermouth. Noilly Prat,” I answered. “Why, do you prefer Cinzano?”

She stared at me as if black widow spiders were crawling from my nose and I was carrying a copy of Huisgenoot magazine. “Siss. Only schoolgirls drink that common stuff.”

After politely telling the woman that her botox was leaking onto her boob job, I returned to my table and sipped my democratic drink of choice for a stifling hot day. Vermouth. Dry, as Noilly Prat is. Mixed half-and-half with tonic. Slice of lemon. Handful of ice. Much more satisfying and refreshing than the acid-bomb Sauvignon Blanc Miss Tart Face was drinking, and with the vermouth’s 17% alcohol hit it was going to ensure I do get onto the dance floor for the band’s rendition of “Careless Whisper”.

Vermouth is actually a very interesting drop. Named after wormwood, a trance-inducing herb which had been used by the Krauts in the 16th century to flavour wine, this blend of wine, spirit and various botanicals is more versatile than the extended Kama Sutra.

Juniper, cardamom, quinine, cinnamon, buchu and even dry garlic peel is added to the wine that will end up as vermouth. Cinzano and Martini are the main brands, but Noilly Prat has a certain salty tang I adore.

The sweeter vermouth variety, mixed with soda or neat on the rocks, has been helping modish Italians crash their scooters into ancient statues for generations. Dry vermouth helps give an insipid Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc a bit of oemf, and no self-respecting sangria can be served without a dash.

Then there is, of course, the classic Martini, one of the world’s most well-known cocktails. And seeing that Cape Town is making a play at being a modern global destination, I think Premier Helen Zille should appoint a commission to investigate the dearth of decent dry Martinis to be found in the Mother City.

Vermouth mixed with soda was fobbed off as a dry Martini at an international hotel in the Waterfront recently. When I asked the barman what he thought he was doing he pulled out the bottle of Martini Dry Vermouth and showed me the label with a self-satisfied gleaming smile. “It is Martini,” he exclaimed.

A lukewarm tot of gin mixed with vermouth served in a tumbler with two ice cubes, as found in certain night-clubs, would also have James Bond shoving his Walther somewhere dark and dingy.

The Dry Martini I learnt to drink at the Pinstripe Club in London is made as follows:

  • ?+¦?????+¦????,,,,,,,, Rinse Martini glass and place in freezer for 10 minutes.
  • ?+¦?????+¦????,,,,,,,, Remove glass and pour a tot of dry vermouth into the glass.
  • ?+¦?????+¦????,,,,,,,, Swirl glass until the inside surface is coated with vermouth.
  • ?+¦?????+¦????,,,,,,,, Pour vermouth into basin.
  • ?+¦?????+¦????,,,,,,,, Fill Martini glass with gin that has been kept in the freezer.
  • ?+¦?????+¦????,,,,,,,, Garnish with lemon or lime peel, or green olive.

Winston Churchill liked his Martini so dry he “just pointed the glass in the direction of France” before topping it with gin.

Despite its civilised, cultural image a dry Martini has a kick like a mule and has been known to turn gentlemen into rogues and ladies into vamps. So beware. But then again, what’s there not to like?

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6 thoughts on “The Truth Lies in Vermouth

  1. I think it was the inimitable Dorothy Parker who said:

    “I do like a martini, but two at most, three I’m under the table, four I’m under the host”

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