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In the time-honored tradition of mothers everywhere, whenever my mom comes over to visit, she starts cleaning and reorganizing. I'd be offended if it weren't so utterly obvious that I really (really) do need help.
The other day, in her furor of tidying, my mother peered into our refrigerator and exclaimed, “Your fridge needs to be cleaned! There's no room for anything in here because it's full of bottles! Do these really all need to be in here?” I assured her they did. “Then you need to get another refrigerator for vermouth,” she retorted.
This is probably true. I have a lot of vermouth in my fridge (what can I say, I like to try all the different brands). But, it’s not just vermouth—there are a variety of different alcohols that do best in the fridge. The rule I use is: If it’s under 15% alcohol or if the base is wine, it goes in the fridge once it’s open.
Spirits like whiskey, rum, gin, vodka, etc. don’t need to be refrigerated because the high alcohol content preserves their integrity. And most liqueurs also have a satisfactorily high alcohol content, as well as sugar that also helps to keep the flavors preserved.
So what does need to be refrigerated?
- Vermouth, i.e. the predominant contents of my fridge! Whether sweet, dry, or blanc, vermouth is made from a base of wine, infused with wormwood and other herbs, and fortified with a little hit of high-proof alcohol. Because vermouth is higher alcohol than wine, it won’t oxidize as quickly as wine, but it still will oxidize over time, resulting in off flavors. So unless you’re having frequent group martini hours and can go through a bottle of vermouth in a couple of days, put your open bottle in the fridge to slow oxidation. And even stored in the fridge, vermouth shouldn’t be kept too much longer than a month because of the flavors will change.
Other Aromatized Wines: A whole world of spiced fortified wines that are less well-known than vermouth exists. They aren’t called "vermouth" because their bitterness does not come from wormwood (instead, they rely on other roots like gentian, or barks like cinchona), but they are similar. And because of the wine base, the same rules apply. This category includes: Punt E Mes, Lillet, Quinquinas, Gentians, and Americanos (like Cocchi Americano).
Fortified Wines: This includes sherry and port, Madeira, and Marsala. Once again, the higher proof keeps these wines good longer, but not indefinitely. Storing them in the fridge will keep the flavor better for longer—up to about a couple months, with sweeter varieties lasting longer than dry varieties.
Low-Proof Liqueurs and Aperitivi: Most liqueurs and aperitivi (a sub-category of red-hued, bittersweet Italian liqueurs) are high enough proof that between the alcohol and the sugar, they’ll last a long time at room temperature if they’re well sealed. However, some fruit liqueurs and a couple of aperitivi—notably including the popular Aperol—are below 15% alcohol by volume, which means they have the potential to spoil more easily at room temperature (though they’re still likely to last quite a while).
Wine: Whether or not you have one of those air remover thingies, tests have shown that one of the best ways to keep your open bottle of wine from turning sour is to stick it in the fridge, whether it’s red, white, or pink (just let red wine return to slightly below room temp before serving). Of course, it will still only last a few days, but if you haven’t finished it by then, it can’t have been that good of a wine to begin with!
- Beer: Okay, this probably goes without saying, but beer goes in the fridge. What I didn’t know before talking to several friends of mine who own a large brewery is that, according to beer professionals, beer should be kept refrigerated always. That is to say, it should leave the brewery in a chilled vehicle, be kept in a refrigerated space at a liquor store, and go straight into your fridge at home. Otherwise, it can lose its integrity and develop off flavors. My brewer friends are intense about this, but it’s their job to be intense, and most of the time I’ve never worried about leaving unopened beer out of the fridge for a couple of days—of course, there’s not space for beer in my fridge anyway because of the vermouth, Byrrh, and sherry…
What's taking up the most room in your fridge? Tell us in the comments below!