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Holidays call for vermouth

The wine/spirit hybrid is a must for festive cocktails.

Marnie: Hi, Buzz, how was your holiday?

Buzz: Aggravating. I ran out of vermouth. Again.

Marnie: Vermouth is definitely a staple for holiday parties, in both colors - the sweet red and dry white - because they are essential ingredients in so many classic cocktails. But why do you always run out? Do you cook with it?

Buzz: No. I run out because Manhattans are the only way I can get through the holidays with my family and the in-laws. And you can't have a Manhattan without vermouth. What's in that stuff anyway? Vermouth berries?

Marnie: Vermouth is a weird hybrid of wine and spirits. It's essential in a Manhattan, of course, but I also love it in the retro-chic Negroni and Americano. A century ago, vermouth was a bartender's secret weapon - a way to add flavor complexity to more neutral spirits. In fact, the progenitor of the original dry Martini, called the Martinez, was made with gin and sweet red vermouth, not the dry white used today.

Buzz: What do you mean, weird hybrid? Like a Prius?

Marnie: Hybrid as in wine mixed with distilled spirits. Back before electricity made refrigeration possible, wine spoiled faster and people used to experiment with ways to preserve it. One way was to spike it with brandy to make it stronger. Wines "fortified" that way, like port and sherry, kept longer. Another way was to infuse the wine with bitter herbs, like wormwood, that were considered medicinal. Vermouths are made with both techniques - they are technically wines, but wines that have been spiked with brandy and flavored with wormwood plus herbs, spices and dried fruit.

Buzz: But if vermouth is wine, why no cork?

Marnie: I'm sure they had them at one point, Buzz, but since they're often used only in dribs and drabs, screwcaps made more sense. What most people have forgotten is that they taste delicious alone, too. In a way, vermouths were like the first bottled cocktails. You should try some on the rocks by itself next time.

Buzz: I'm happy to take that kind of medicine.

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interpreted by Daily News Assistant