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  • Brian Tasch

Noilly Prat and the New Original Dry

Updated: Feb 19, 2021

Anyone who's ever had the (mis)fortune of hearing me ramble about vermouth has probably been forced to listen to me gush about my one true love: Noilly Prat Original Dry vermouth.

While Dolin Dry is considered the darling of the cocktail world, I've found Noilly Prat Original Dry's rich oxidized notes make it a more versatile ingredient. It can act as a vermouth or almost as an aromatized sherry. It also has a bit more sugar than most dry vermouths so it holds up exceptionally well to both high-proof spirits and dilution in cocktails. The above also means it will work better most than dry vermouths in shaken sours because it can stand up to fresh lemon juice.

Noilly Prat vermouths are heavily oxidized because they are barrel-aged outdoors on the highly salinic Étang de Thau lagoon in Marseillan. This imparts both a stemmy, woody flavor and an oxidized, sherry-esque note to their vermouths.


They macerate their botanicals directly in the already fortified wine rather than distilling or blending individual extractions. The vermouths are fortified with a distillate derived from lemon and raspberry.


At this point, I'd like to point out the Original Dry and the Extra Dry are two very different vermouths. The Noilly Prat Extra Dry formula was specifically designed for export to the US as a response to the waning popularity of vermouth and the waxing popularity of the bone dry Martini trend. I've always considered it a vermouth for people who don't like vermouth, inoffensive and forgettable. It is now available in Europe for the first time, but that's a tasting for another day.


The Original Dry has been incredibly difficult to find in the US for a number of reasons, the biggest probably being general confusion about the difference between the Original Dry and the Extra Dry. Even the trusty Astor Wines and Spirits in NYC listed the Original Dry but sold the Extra Dry interchangeably for years. Back in 2018, I called and/or visited nearly 60 liquor stores, wine shops, and specialty spirits shops across the country to find the Original Dry formula only to be met with the Extra Dry every time.

It wasn't until I formed a relationship with a local liquor store in Brooklyn, one of those shops where the entire inventory is behind bulletproof glass, that I was able to get my hands on the Original Dry. They ordered a case for me and the rest is history.

Then, last summer, the drinks writer Robert Simonson sent out the Bat-Signal. Turns out, the writer of The Martini Cocktail shares a similar affection for the Original Dry and was unable to procure a bottle anywhere in NYC. It was already difficult to find, but it seemed the well had run dry.

Around this time I happened to notice Noilly Prat changed the labels of their entire vermouth line. This isn't surprising, as producers update and change their packaging regularly. What was surprising were the numerous tweaks I spotted on the website:

  • The Original Dry went from 40 g/l of sugar to 35 g/l.

  • The Extra Dry went from 29 g/l of sugar to 35 g/l.

  • The Rouge went from 140 g/l of sugar to 150 g/l.

  • The number of botanicals used for the Rouge went from 25 to 29.

They also continue to advertise the Ambre expression with updated labeling, which was supposedly discontinued in the US nearly two years ago. I'm hoping they brought it back, but I haven't had any luck finding it in NYC. Francois Monti, Vermouth expert and author of El Gran Libro del Vermut, has reached out to Noilly Prat for clarification on the changes. Until then, we'll just have to use our trusty palates to see what's changed.


I revisited my former local shop, fully confident the last two bottles of Original Dry were safely collecting dust on the shelves. I was correct and I'm now sitting on what may well be the last two bottles of Noilly Prat Original Dry vermouth in Brooklyn. Thankfully, it wasn't nearly as difficult to find a bottle of the new Original Dry.

the former and current bottlings of noilly prat original dry vermouth poured into wine glasses for tasting.

The older, discontinued formula is on the left and the newer update is on the right. At first glance, there is some obvious change. The immediate aromas wafting from the glasses confirm as much. So they look different, they smell different, and less sugar in the new formula has changed the texture so they even feel different. If you listen closely, they do sound the same though: “Drink me! Drink me!”


So let's see how they taste!


Noilly Prat Original Dry

Origin: France

Producer: Noilly Prat, distributed by Bacardi Limited

ABV: 18%

Wine Base: Picpoul, Clairette

Known Botanicals: 20 total, wormwood, chamomile, nutmeg, bitter orange, gentian, raspberry, coriander, cardamom, elderflower, centaury, clove

Sugar: 40 g/l

Nose: tarragon, orange, chamomile, sherry, pear, millet, coriander, fig

Palate: orange, underripe pear, coriander, wormwood, tree bark, hay, nutmeg, butterscotch, gentian

Finish: tarragon, nutmeg, wormwood, lemon, chamomile, coriander, Sichuan peppercorn, hay

Additional Notes: Rich, golden straw-colored. Oily texture with a medium body. Fruity, savory, and spicy. Salinic. Lots of sherry-eqsue notes throughout.


Noilly Prat Original Dry (2020)

Origin: France

Producer: Noilly Prat, distributed by Bacardi Limited

ABV: 18%

Wine Base: Picpoul, Clairette

Known Botanicals: 20 total, wormwood, chamomile, nutmeg, bitter orange, gentian, raspberry, coriander, cardamom, elderflower, centaury, clove

Sugar: 35 g/l

Nose: peach, white pepper, tarragon, coriander, chamomile, lemon, cinnamon, raspberry, elderflower

Palate: elderflower, chamomile, orange, cinnamon, wormwood, lemon, raspberry

Finish: orange, peach, chamomile, elderflower, coriander, tarragon, wormwood, gentian

Additional Notes: Straw yellow color. Oily texture with a medium-light body. Fruity and spiced. Tons of elderflower and chamomile. Salinic.


They're both delicious, albeit quite different on their own, so let's see how they mix!


Martini


Right off the bat, I was relieved to find both formulas make for absolutely delicious Martinis (2:1 with Broker's London Dry Gin and a dash of Reagan's Orange Bitters). They're different drinks with different flavor profiles. The new Original Dry makes a drier, spicier, more floral cocktail that plays support to the gin like a champ. The old version is richer, deeper, fruitier, and more assertive in the overall profile of the drink. I prefer the old version because it sits exceptionally well. In fact, it's the only Martini I've ever had that actually gets better as it warms.


Scofflaw


The older Original Dry is the hands-down winner in this contest. The extra sugar along with the richer sherry notes make for a more harmonious cocktail. The flavors are all complimentary. It sits well. Meanwhile, the new Original Dry makes for a more disjointed cocktail, with the vermouth suddenly out of place in the mid-palate where all of its more unctuous, savory flavors are on full display. It's a jarring shift from the fruit and spice.

two scofflaw cocktails each made using different noilly prat original dry vermouth bottlings.

Original or New Original?


The old Original Dry is rounder, spicier, and more savory while the new Original Dry is brighter, fruitier, and seemingly less bitter. I'm a little disappointed that all of the low end is now gone from the palate - no more of those rich sherry notes. Don't get me wrong, there's still some salinity, but it went from a palo cortado to a fino.


The updated bottling is bright, fruity, and herbaceous. It makes for a delicious Martini, almost to the point I have to wonder if it was reformulated for this purpose. In addition to the brighter profile, it seems both less bitter and less sweet (which it technically is) and more acidic.

What you do get is plenty of tart raspberry and acidic lemon. The new Original Dry reminds me of an Italian dry vermouth now, specifically Martini & Rossi. This isn't surprising - Bacardi owns both brands. My understanding is at some point in the production process, Noilly Prat vermouths are sent to the Martini & Rossi facility for fortification and finishing. Martini & Rossi also happen to fortify their vermouths with a distillate derived from lemon and raspberry.


I'll be getting my hands on a bottle to compare and contrast. I'll be sure to update this post with my findings and opinions as I drink and mix my way through the bottles over the next week or so.

I'm sure the Noilly Prat Original Dry recipe has changed a dozen times in the past 200 years. Unfortunately, I can't help but feel that I've lost my favorite vermouth. This isn't like my Old Overholt comparison from last summer - the two Original Dry expressions are nearly incomparable.

Brian Tasch cradling his last bottle of the discontinued Noilly Prat Original Dry vermouth.

I'm just happy to have been able to drink through a case of the good stuff before it was too late. I'll be saving this last bottle for a special occasion.


Vermouth Guides

Check the individual regional Vermouth guides for more detailed information on regional styles and recommended bottles:


Dry Vermouth


French Dry Vermouth

Italian Dry Vermouth

Spanish Dry Vermouth

American Dry Vermouth

The Complete Guide to Dry Vermouth


Sweet White Vermouth


French Sweet White Vermouth

Italian Sweet White Vermouth

Spanish Sweet White Vermouth

American Sweet White Vermouth

The Complete Guide to Sweet White Vermouth


Sweet Red Vermouth


Italian Sweet Red Vermouth

French Sweet Red Vermouth

Spanish Sweet Red Vermouth

American Sweet Red Vermouth

The Complete Guide to Sweet Red Vermouth

Quinquina and Americano


The Complete Guide to Quinquina and Americano


Please send any updates or corrections to brian@corpserevived.com.

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