Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Noilly Prat brings back US-only dry vermouth formula

The old/new again US-only formula is on the left; note how clear it is.
Bowing to the popularity of the dry martini, France's Noilly Prat will bring back the simpler formula of dry vermouth it sold in the US for 30 years.

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.

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Anonymous said...

Thanks for the heads up. I enjoy the occasional martini, and I do like it slightly dirty. I will now do a taste test, with the Euro (shall we call it?) version of Noilly.

Chuck said...

Oh thank you for this news! I have spent hours trying to find a replacement for the old Noilly Prat and none of them were any good. I would say that the Euro-replacement was disgusting, but I am so grateful to Noilly Prat I will instead say that for people who drink dry vermouth straight-up, it is fine.
But thank God for the return of the old-U.S. Noilly Prat recipe! I can finally enjoy a Martini again for the first time since 2010!

TTT said...

Is there any news on the release date of NP Extra Dry? This is the only site reporting a re-release of the US version.

W. Blake Gray said...

TTT: Actually it turned out I jumped the gun on the official press release. I'll ask the PR agency about the scheduling.

TTT said...

Has there been any news about the 'Extra Dry'?

Chuck said...

It is now 2013, and still no sign of Noilly Prat Extra Dry!

I've been counting the days since I saw the photo of the new label and the beautiful, clear Extra Dry.

Marines said...

What's up with the xtra dry? I asked our VA ABC store. No sign of any return as of Mar '13!

TTT said...

The 'extra dry' is out along side 'original dry'. I bought a bottle last night. The extra dry bottle cap is white.

Unknown said...

As pointed out, the Original Dry is more interesting and flavouful, drunk like any white wine, maybe with a splash of Crème de Cassis, or perhaps on ice with a twist of lemon. The Extra Dry is quite bland and will suit the tastes of Americans for whom a glass of ice cold gin passes for a cocktail.

Chuck said...

Where can the Extra Dry be purchased?

I am in Michigan; I cannot find anyone who has it.

W. Blake Gray said...

Can't answer for every state, but it's definitely on the market. Bother your local liquor shop.

But the Original Dry is better.

Chuck said...

Found it! Holiday Market (a truly great store) in Royal Oak MI.

My sincere thanks to you for getting on this news. I feel like it is Christmas in May. I am now preparing to make the first decent Martini I have had in more than three years.

I will toast the Gray Report!!!

kora said...

whats more annoying, is that the local liquor store did not know, that the 2 are different-I much prefer the original, yes I am European -even after over 50 years in the US and like to drink the original over an ice cube-the extra dry is however a good substitute for cooking, if you don't have a bottle of white wine handy

cjwiner said...

Can anyone still find the Original Dry? The "new" extra dry is so boring and missing in herbal notes. But all the local liquor stores only seem to be able to order the "new" version (and are clueless that it changed...)

W. Blake Gray said...

Try Wine-Searcher.com. It's all over the country, if not necessarily in your local stores.

And educate them.

Todd said...

I'm having the same problem. I'm told it's still available in the Midwest, but there's no local distributor for anything but the awful Extra Dry.