|The old/new again US-only formula is on the left; note how clear it is.|
The reintroduction this fall will come with a new name: Noilly Prat Extra Dry.
This may be somewhat confusing to US bartenders, but the Noilly Prat Original Dry that has been sold in the US since 2009 will still be sold under that name. This is the same style of dry vermouth that has been sold all over the world as Original Dry since its creation by Joseph Noilly in Lyon, France in 1813. (The company has been in Marseillan in south France since 1855.)
In fact, the formula for Noilly Prat Original Dry is still the same as in 1813, with 20 herbs and spices added to a base of oxidized, fortified white wine.
However, in 1979, the company, which had left the Prat family after 160 years of family ownership, introduced a different formula of dry vermouth only for the US market. The US version was completely clear and somewhat simpler.
The reason is that dry vermouth, in much of the world, is drunk chilled straight out of the bottle, or on ice, as an aperitif. That use never caught on in the US, where vermouth is used almost exclusively in cocktails. Dry vermouth in particular is strongly associated with the dry martini.
When Bacardi, which now owns Noilly Prat, changed the US formula in 2009 to the one used in the rest of the world, there was an outcry from dry martini fans, many of whom switched to Dolin Blanc. One of the biggest changes was the slight straw color, meaning dry martinis made with Noilly Prat were no longer clear.
Beyond that, the world formula is more assertive, as it was developed to be drunk on its own. A gin martini made with the world formula is a rounder, spicier and slightly more floral drink. With the US formula, the gin or vodka in a martini is much more dominant.
Part of the reason for the different character is that while the world version is made with 60% Picpoul and 40% Clairette, the US version was made with 100% Clairette, and it's just not as good a grape. Picpoul is often made unblended into still wine in south France; Clairette, lower in acid and more bitter, is almost always blended.
This reintroduction is news. But this is a blog, so I will add my opinion: the world formula, which will still be called Noilly Prat Original Dry in the US, is a far better spirit. In fact, it's delightful on the rocks and can take the place of white wine in food pairing, especially with oysters.
I believe the reason Americans drink so many dirty martinis and pomegranate martinis is that a dry martini made with what will now be called Noilly Prat Extra Dry just isn't as interesting -- especially if it's made with vodka. In the classic martini formula, the vermouth really makes the drink. Take away much of the character from the vermouth, and you have to look elsewhere for more flavor.
But Noilly Prat sales slumped in the US after Bacardi changed its formula in 2009, so the reintroduction is understandable.
"You have personal preferences, but at the end of the day, we serve the consumer," said brand ambassador Ludovic Miazga.