Gin vs. Vermouth: A Martini Tasting
Updated: Feb 26, 2021
As you may have heard, I collected, tasted, and wrote about a lot of vermouth. I initially had the idea for the vermouth tasting guides to help folks navigate the vermouth shelf at their local liquor store or bar, so it made sense to test the products in cocktails as I opened each for tasting.
With the first 19 bottles of dry vermouth in front of me, I decided to take these cocktail experiments to the next level. Since most people only buy dry vermouth to make Martinis, I figured I should test how each vermouth performed against various London Dry style gins.
Because so much of my vermouth research was based around what was available in different markets throughout the US, it seemed apt to dial that in further. A little Googling found that the top 5 most consumed and purchased gin brands in the US are Gordon's, Seagram's, Bombay Sapphire, Beefeater, and Tanqueray. No surprises there.
Now for the fun part.
Over two weeks, my partner and I stirred up 95 combinations of gin and vermouth, taking notes on each of them. They all followed the standardized contemporary, Marguerite-inspired recipe:
2 oz London dry gin
1 oz dry vermouth
2 dashes orange bitters
I aimed for consistency in all aspects, going as far as using a dropper to ensure uniform dashes of bitters. Each drink was stirred with the same amount of ice. All were garnished with a notched lemon twist on the rim for aromatics' sake, but not automatically expressed – I wanted to taste each Martini without the addition of lemon oil first.
Take these results with a grain of salt (literally; many of these Martinis benefit from a drop or two of saline solution).
This is not by any means designed to be a definitive guide. It is entirely reflective of the relatively neutral palate of two cocktail enthusiasts without bias toward any brand. We mostly aimed to see if the various pairings were harmonious or at odds. You may disagree that “X gin works better with Y vermouth than Z vermouth,” but we did our best to simply identify which pairings generally worked (or didn't work) and why.
It's worth noting that I used Beefeater's and Bombay Sapphire's punchy US market 47% ABV expressions, Tanqueray's 47.3% ABV expression, and Gordon's and Seagram's standard US 40% ABV juice.
Ranking vermouth and gin pairings
So without further ado, here is a chart showing how each vermouth and each gin pairing ranked. We awarded the best combination with a 1, and 5 signifies the least ideal combination. With that in mind, the lower the total "score," the more versatile the gin.
Looking at the raw data, this is how I would rank these gins' general mixability from most to least mixable:
4. Bombay Sapphire
And here are those vermouths, individually broken down in a simplified ranking by mixability from most mixable (1) to unmixable (5):
Yzaguirre Dry Reserve
Bordiga Extra Dry
Boissiere Extra Dry
Martini & Rossi Extra Dry
Noilly Prat Original Dry
Vya Extra Dry
Cinzano Extra Dry
Gancia Extra Dry
La Quintinye Extra Dry
Miro Extra Dry
Gallo Extra Dry
Noilly Prat Extra Dry
Vya Whisper Dry
Tribuno Extra Dry
Martini tasting notes
Next, I've listed each vermouth alphabetically and provided brief tasting notes of each gin/vermouth combination for that vermouth, ranked in order of preference.
A plus (+) denotes a favorable pairing while a minus (-) indicates a less than ideal pairing. Each vermouth is also assigned an overall mixability score out of 5.
Bordiga Extra Dry (3/5)
Generally makes for a bitter Martini.
1. Tanqueray – Spicy and citrusy. Perfectly balanced. (+)
2. Bombay Sapphire – Very gin-forward, big on the juniper. (+)
3. Gordon's – Mostly balanced, but slightly astringent. Batters the vermouth. (+)
4. Beefeater – Too citrusy, bitter, and astringent. Falls apart and gets flabby as it sits. (-)
5. Seagram's – Relatively harmonious. Very citrusy with an astringent finish. (-)
Boissiere Extra Dry (3/5)
Brings raspberry and white pepper into the mix.
1. Tanqueray – Perfectly balanced, makes for an excellent Martini. White pepper, coriander, raspberry. (+)
2. Beefeater – Bright and balanced. (+)
3. Seagram's – Bright and balanced, but less exciting than the Beefeater. Solid, nonetheless. (+)
4. Bombay Sapphire – Very floral, almost perfumey. (-)
5. Gordon's – Gin batters the vermouth into submission, masks all the berry notes. Good, but for a very dry Martini drinker. (-)
Carpano Dry (2/5)
Heavy on star anise, fennel, and licorice.
1. Beefeater – A little hot, but sits well. Has a good, full body. Anise-forward Martini. (+)
2. Seagram's – Bright and balanced. Oregano forward, citrusy mid-palate, woody finish. (+)
3. Tanqueray – Balanced, but spicy. The gin bullies the vermouth. Doesn't sit well. (-)
4. Bombay Sapphire – Starts pleasant, but has a slightly off-putting finish, ending up hot and astringent. Sits well. (-)
5. Gordon's – Bitter and astringent. Lavender on the finish. Sits well, but turns into an anise-bomb. (-)
Cinzano Extra Dry (2/5)
Thin, bitter, and savory. Can make citrusy gin come across as astringent.
1. Tanqueray – Relatively balanced, coriander-forward Martini. Nice palate, weird finish. Too spicy as it warms. (+)
2. Bombay Sapphire – A little too savory, but balances as it warms. Sits well. (+)
3. Seagram's – A little too citrusy. (-)
4. Gordon's – Highlights the vermouth. Notes of burdock and radish. A bit bitter and astringent as it warms. Makes for a clumsy martini. (-)
5. Beefeater – Good upfront, but an off-putting finish. (-)
Dolin Dry (4/5)
Dolin Dry is most bartenders' top choice for a reason. This works well with most gin.
1. Tanqueray – Excellent Martini. Quite spicy. (+)
1. Beefeater – Extremely bright, balanced Martini. (+)
3. Seagram's - Fruity (+)
4. Gordon's – Balanced and savory. A little much on the bitter herbs. (+)
5. Bombay Sapphire – Not a fan at all, didn't find the flavors to be harmonious. (-)
Gallo Extra Dry (1/5)
Works surprisingly well with spicier gins, less so with citrusy gins on account of its telltale brininess.
1. Tanqueray – Compliments the gin, but too thin. (+)
2. Bombay Sapphire – Light, but balanced. Peppery. Doesn't sit well. (-)
3. Gordon's – May as well be a vodka martini. A generic hint of dried herbs. Boring, but finishes nicely. (-)
4. Seagram's – Thin and dry, but inoffensive. Doesn't sit well. (-)
5. Beefeater – Imbalanced and aggressively citrusy, sits well though. (-)
Gancia Extra Dry (2/5)
Brings some funky apricot to the mix.
1. Bombay Sapphire – Balanced. Slightly astringent. (+)
2. Seagram's – Bright and pleasant. (+)
3. Beefeater – A little aggressive, too citrusy. (-)
4. Gordon's – Balanced, but unexciting. Savory and slightly astringent. (-)
5. Tanqueray – Gin throws the drink off balance, too spicy. (-)
La Quintinye Extra Dry (2/5)
Extremely pine-forward vermouth. Proceed with caution or rejigger.
1. Bombay Sapphire – Pleasant and balanced. (+)
2. Gordon's – Piney. The gin is lost, but the vermouth shines beautifully. (+)
3. Beefeater – A little too piney and citrusy. (-)
4. Seagram's – Citrusy and piney, but vermouth overpowers as the drink sits. (-)
5. Tanqueray – Too spicy, imbalanced. (-)
Lo-Fi Dry (3/5)
Makes for fun, non-traditional Martinis. Proceed with caution or rejigger.
1. Beefeater – Compliments the gin nicely. Anise and licorice on the finish. A little thin-bodied. (+)
2. Seagram's – Pleasant, the citrus plays with the spice nicely. Vermouth punches through on the finish. (+)
3. Tanqueray – No citrus to speak of, but awesome spice. Recommended for Manhattan drinkers. (+)
4. Gordon's – Sweet and tasty, but the non-traditional vermouth overpowers the mild gin and hardly makes for what one would expect of a Martini. (-)
5. Bombay Sapphire – Nicely balanced, but a little too much anise. Perceived sweetness on the finish is slightly off-putting for the average Martini drinker. Doesn't sit particularly well (-)
Martini & Rossi Extra Dry (3/5)
Overall makes for a very solid, if unexciting, Martini.
1. Tanqueray – Exemplary Martini. Brings the raspberry out of the vermouth and balances it perfectly. (+)
2. Seagram's – Overall very balanced, but a bit thin-bodied and quite citrusy. (+)
3. Gordon's – Straightforward and harmonious. Bright, fruity, and dry. (+)
4. Beefeater – Too bright, bitter, and citrusy. Flavors clash, but nice raspberry finish. (-)
5. Bombay Sapphire – Doesn't marry particularly well. A bit astringent with some white pepper. (-)
Maurin Dry (2/5)
Extremely flavorful vermouth which overpowers gentler gins.
1. Beefeater – Perfectly balanced. Baking spice of the vermouth is tempered by the gin's citrus. (+)
2. Tanqueray – A nice spice bomb. (+)
3. Seagram's – Bright, but vermouth overpowers. (-)
4. Gordon's – Essentially just lengthens the flavor of the vermouth. May as well be a vodka martini. (-)
5. Bombay Sapphire – Doesn't play well together. (-)
Miro Extra Dry (2/5)
A very mellow, salinic vermouth.
1. Tanqueray – Balanced, nicely spiced. (+)
2. Beefeater – Balanced, solid Martini. (+)
3. Seagram's – A little too dry and bitter. Very meh. (-)
4. Gordon's – Very light body, too thin. Nice brine. (-)
5. Bombay Sapphire – Vermouth is lost in the mix. Particularly salinic and oily, slightly funky. (-)
Noilly Prat Extra Dry (1/5)
Makes for a weak Martini which essentially waters down and lengthens the gin it's paired with. Clearly made for people who don't like vermouth.
1. Tanqueray – Pretty good. Stretches and mellows the flavor of the gin. (+)
2. Beefeater – Vermouth mostly lost in the mix, more or less just dilutes the gin. (-)
3. Gordon's – Kind of nothing. A little too gin-forward. (-)
4. Seagram's – Thin and disappointing. (-)
5. Bombay Sapphire – Weird and stupid. (-)
Noilly Prat Original Dry (3/5)
The extra sugar content and stemmy bark notes can be tricky with mellower gins.
1. Beefeater – Excellent Martini, citrusy, and woody. (+)
2. Tanqueray – Excellent Martini, spicy, and woody. (+)
3. Bombay Sapphire – Nice and balanced with good spice. A little sharp, then a little too mellow. (+)
4. Gordon's – Fine, but doesn't marry particularly well. Vermouth overpowers the gin. (-)
5. Seagram's – Too citrusy and astringent. Tastes faintly of an Arnold Palmer? (-)
Routin Dry (3/5)
Brings the juniper out of the gin and adds nice salinity.
1. Beefeater – Excellent balance of savory fruit and spice. (+)
2. Seagram's – Good, heavy on juniper and citrus. (+)
3. Gordon's – Solid. Big rosemary and juniper notes. (+)
4. Bombay Sapphire – Bitter and astringent, too much dusty gentian. (-)
5. Tanqueray – Not quite balanced, too much spice. Heavy. (-)
Tribuno Extra Dry (0/5)
It was truly painful to waste any gin on this horrid vermouth. In fact, it was sometimes difficult to take large enough sips to do the tasting. This should be illegal.
1. Beefeater – Acetone, nail polish on the nose. Decent palate thanks to a brief tease of Beefeater struggling through. Rotten dairy on the finish. (-)
2. Bombay Sapphire – Horrible nose, fine enough on the palate, bad finish. (-)
3. Tanqueray – Least offensive nose. Stale palate, funky finish. (-)
4. Seagram's – Truly awful nose. Beefs the gin up in the worst way. (-)
5. Gordon's – Sour milk and skunked beer. The gin can't hide how horrible the vermouth is even for a second. (-)
Vya Extra Dry (3/5)
Does a lot of heavy lifting behind the scenes, but never takes front and center.
1. Tanqueray – Works incredibly well. Mellows and balances the gin. (+)
2. Seagram's – Balanced, bright, and pleasant. Juniper and spicy citrus. (+)
3. Bombay Sapphire – Vermouth brings the best out of the gin, but is otherwise lost. Makes a great Martini for vermouth haters. (+)
4. Beefeater – A little astringent, gin overpowers the vermouth. (-)
5. Gordon's – Flat, boring, and wholly uninteresting. (-)
Vya Whisper Dry (1/5)
With very little sugar, this provides no body and in most cases simply acts like water in the mixing glass. Clearly designed for vodka, it is mostly pointless to pair it with gin.
1. Bombay Sapphire – Lengthens the gin nicely, but brings little else to the table. (+)
2. Gordon's – Makes the mellow gin slightly more interesting. (-)
3. Seagram's – Not the worst. (-)
4. Beefeater – Pointless. (-)
5. Tanqueray – Pointless. (-)
Yzaguirre Dry Reserve (4/5)
A great Martini vermouth that plays well with most gins.
1. Tanqueray – A bit salty and astringent. Very briny, practically begs for both an olive and a twist. (+)
2. Beefeater – Straightforward and solid. Bright and briny. (+)
3. Seagram's – Clean and bright with a woody finish. Sits well. (+)
4. Gordon's – Quite pleasant and balanced, if not a bit clumsy. Gets heavy as it sits. (+)
5. Bombay Sapphire – Bitter and funky. A little too oily. (-)
I'd say we learned quite a bit about preconceptions and personal preferences. No single vermouth worked across the board with every gin and vice versa.
Beyond that, while 2:1 Martinis are the current standard, that template (like most templates) should be considered the starting point with room for adjustment. Bartenders must adjust a cocktail recipe on the fly when considering their guest's palate as well as their spirit and vermouth options. Rejiggering for proof, acidity, sugar, and dilution are important factors when building any cocktail.
For the record, my ideal Martini is a 50/50 split with navy strength gin (preferably New York Distilling Company's Perry's Tot), Dolin Dry Vermouth, 2 dashes of orange bitters, and 3-5 drops of saline solution. That combination always brings me back to Sunday afternoons at Grand Army, sipping Martinis and slurping oysters.
And as a side note, no, I did not consume 95 whole Martinis – though I did drink enough of them to steer clear of gin for a couple of months. Hopefully, this helps some folks out there!