007 facts about vermouth, the misunderstood beverage
James Bond may have had it wrong. Mixing drinks can be more messy business than classy presentation depending on whether you’re on a turbulent flight, in a bar fight, or dining with a beautiful would-be assassin. So let’s debunk the myths and set the record straight with “007” facts about vermouth.
Fact #1: Vermouth is a wine, not a mixer. And it should not be confused with the syrupy sweet ‘n’ sour mixers used in America. Vermouth hails from the French Savoy and Italian Turino regions of Europe. It is infused with herbs, or aromatized, and intensified with grape liquor—fortified—to make an intense liquid that can be red or white, sweet or dry.
Fact #2: It was created for the people. Traditionally, vermouth was fermented with botanicals for two purposes. The first was medicinal—for various digestive and restorative properties—and the second was to bring a more robust, affordable wine to the masses.
Fact #3: Vermouth has a high alcohol content. The alcohol content ranges from 13 to 24 percent, almost double the punch of a regular wine, and sometimes three to four times the potency of a beer or cider, which vary from 3 to 6 percent.
Fact #4: Each bottle is unique. There is a color system in place to identify varietals, but beware brand labels. Some distributors put the same label on their aperitifs regardless of whether they are red or white wines.
Fact #5: Purists drink it stirred. In Europe, wine connoisseurs favor a 150-year-old concoction known as a Vermouth Cocktail: a nip of chilled vermouth with bitters in a cold glass. It is an “old-school” beverage that simplifies the drinks-on-ice concept. The cocktail is considered elegant, the drink you drink when you don’t just want a cup of booze regardless—and it’s stirred, not shaken.
Fact #6: There is minimal difference between shaken or stirred in mixed cocktails. For Bond enthusiasts, there is a ton of documentation on how 007 liked his martinis (or vespers) in both the Ian Fleming novels and the motion pictures. (Did you know that in the Fleming novels, Bond orders a total of 19 vodka martinis and 16 gin martinis? Seriously. There are websites.) And in the movies Bond prefers his drinks shaken, not stirred. Studies have shown that the ratio of antioxidants is higher in shaken vs. stirred and that aeration makes for a purer taste in shaken beverages, but that the main difference between “shaken or stirred” is the visual. Shaken drinks are cloudy, not clear, so theoretically Bond liked the look of a messy cocktail.
Fact #7: Manhattans and martinis use the same vermouth recipe. In America, vermouth is regarded as a mixer and manhattans and martinis are the normal preparations. The basic recipes are traditionally the same: One part vermouth to one part bourbon whiskey (for a manhattan) or gin (for a martini) with a splash of bitters. There are multiple variations, including the vesper (from Bond fame), the vodka martini, the Rob Roy and others.
Want to know more? Visit vermouth101.com for a fairly comprehensive history and recipes, and decide whether your next drink will be shaken or stirred.