25 September 2009

Noilly Prat, Before and After

Back in January I read a terrifying article in the Wall Street Journal: the formulation of my beloved Noilly Prat dry white vermouth was changing. I socked away a few bottles and ignored the new stuff for a while, putting off the inevitable switch as long as possible. As has been discussed many times here and elsewhere, martini drinkers are stubborn creatures and a change to the most delicious, widely-available white vermouth struck fear in many hearts.

Eventually it was time for a new bottle, and I figured that I should give the new and old formulas a fair taste test. It couldn't really be blind--one is obviously sweeter and darker than the other. But I sought to evaluate them fairly.

Things may get a bit confusing here, as the "new" vermouth (pictured on the left) is actually the original European version that has been made on the other side of the Atlantic for 200 years. The "old", brighter, drier version (on the right) was a separate product developed for the American market around the 1940s and sold until this year. I'll just use the terms European and American to avoid confusion.

I tried both straight (if your vermouth tastes bad on its own, you're using cheap, nasty, or stale vermouth) as well as in a 4:1 ungarnished martini made with New Amsterdam gin.

American Version
Tasted on its own, it is light and tangy, like a Bordeaux Blanc made mostly from Sauvignon Blanc (although it's actually made from southern French grapes, mostly Picpoul de Pinet and Clairette). Crisp and herbal. In a martini... well, this is the house martini here at Casa de Benito and I've had it too often to be objective. But it provides a dry, bracing flavor to the cocktail.

European Version
Just like the new 2 liter Coke bottles, curves were apparently necessary. The WSJ is correct in that the flavor is closer to Lillet Blanc, though nowhere near as sweet. It is easier drinking as a strait apéritif where it has lower acidity. Made into a martini, it smooths out the gin considerably for what I felt was a great drink. If you want the additional acidity, a twist of lemon or a dash of lemon bitters will take care of that quickly.

Neither version is really superior to the other, but they are different. I will still be on the lookout for another, purely dry white vermouth, but for the meantime I'm happy to have this in the bar. I think the WSJ assessment (and my own initial reaction to the news) was unfair, and I would highly recommend trying out this European version if you get the chance.


Samantha Dugan said...

My 2 cents, I like the old Noilly and I love the new header for the blog.

fredric koeppel said...

thanks for the comparison. we too use Noilly in our martinis at home in about the same ration you do. a terrific vermouth is Boissiere, which has only been spottily available in the Bluff City. I used to buy it occasionally in New York and bring it back.

Benito said...


I will miss the old Noilly Prat as well, but I look at it as a good opportunity to sample other white Vermouths. Speaking of which...


I'll be on the lookout for Boissiere. I'm also desperate to try Vya from Quady, but I've never seen it with my own eyes. Frankly it's hard to find anything other than Tribuno or Martini & Rossi in this town.


Anonymous said...

I've had it with this "new" old NP.Can you suggest an alternative vermouth that would be closer to the American NP?