Lots of people are afraid of buying vermouth because, well, they think it'll be gross. That assumption might come from tasting a bottle aged in grandma's pantry for a decade or two. To those people I say: go right now to your local wine shop and buy a good fresh bottle of dry vermouth. Dolin Dry is affordable and tasty and even comes in half-size bottles. (There are also a number of domestic vermouths these days, if you're interested in investigating further.)
Once you have said bottle, crack it open and taste a little on ice. Add a lemon twist if you so desire. You might have just found your new favorite drink: low(ish) in alcohol, complex in flavor, like white wine but more herbal. After you've tried it straight, use your fresh vermouth in a martini—maybe even a fifty-fifty with equal parts gin and vermouth. Try different gins, too: you may find that you like Tanqueray in a G&T, but prefer something softer in a martini.
Once you've covered these basics, you may start to wonder what else you can do with that bottle. Here are a few ideas to use up what's left...and to convince you that you should always have a bottle on hand.
This drink, which appeared in the 1949 edition of Esquire's Handbook for Hosts, brings out the nice citrusy notes of dry vermouth, thanks to a bit of orange curaçao. The orange liqueur is stirred with vermouth and a portion of white rum to warm the drink around the edges, and the orange oils from a generous twist bring it all together.
Here's an easy one: dry vermouth, sweet vermouth, lemon twist, ice. The result is light and aromatic, one step from your try-out-the-bottle sip, but worth the tiny bit of extra effort opening bottles. Remember that this'll be best if your vermouth is fresh—if you had that bottle for a year, it's time to discard it.
The Algonquin cocktail is traditionally made with rye, dry vermouth, and pineapple juice. This variation from No. 9 Park in Boston cuts the juice, and instead features dry vermouth that's been infused with chunks of fresh pineapple for a subtle tropical flavor. The fruity vermouth is mixed with rye and celery bitters for a polished presentation.
People are always saying vermouth is herbal, or it has hints of stone fruit, but why not really bring out those flavors by adding actual stone fruit and herbs? This cocktail from Ryan Gannon of The Spotted Pig in NYC starts with dried apricots soaked in rye, mixed with dry vermouth and a fresh thyme-flavored simple syrup.
The Obituary Cocktail
Gin and vermouth come together in this simple cocktail, which has a gentle fennely flavor thanks to a touch of absinthe or pastis. If you like gin and generally enjoy a martini, this is a spin you should definitely try.
At Telegraph in Chicago, they mix this cocktail with Julien Frémont Calvados and Mauro Vergano White Vermouth (which is made with high-quality dry Moscato and Cortese wine.) But you can use it as a template: vermouth, calvados, lemon, and a dash of Bittermens Celery Shrub bitters for a savory note.