I have a question about Noilly Prat Original French Dry. My understanding is–and I’ve been told by many in the industry–that it is unavailable in the U.S. ever since Noilly Prat brought back the less flavorful Extra Dry to the American market in 2012. Yet, while I can never find French Dry in NYC, I can often find the French Dry for sale in New Jersey. Is the French Dry just available in certain U.S. markets? Or am I just finding old “dusties” in NJ liquor stores?
It’s a real problem that liquor stores still don’t seem to understand that Original Dry and Extra Dry are different products. Even Astor still uses an old photo of Original Dry for the 1L entry on their web site, but of course, they have none to sell—it’s actually Extra Dry they’re selling. Drizly lists both Original Dry and Extra Dry as available, but if you do any diligence on the liquor stores that supposedly stock Original Dry (in NYC) it’s the same story again.
I’m sure that that is a problem online. But I have the bottles. I’ve bought the French version in Jersey. No mistake. (I have two 1 liter bottles right now.)
A couple summers ago, a neighborhood liquor store in Bushwick (Broadway Liquor at 1487 Broadway) was kind enough to order a case of the Original Dry 1L for me. I slowly drank through most of that case, but I can all but guarantee the last two bottles are still gathering dust on a shelf there. Other than that, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it on store shelves in NYC, and I have SCOURED.
I did the Vermouth101 seminar at Tales last year with the NP Original Dry in the line-up. I was told by more than a few people I’d end up with the Extra as the OD was not available Stateside. Jacob Briars told me it actually is – both references are available, although the OD is the less common one. And we did receive the OD for the tasting.
Interesting. Maybe it’s just available in certain markets. Anyway, I much prefer it to the Extra, which I find almost useless. I won’t buy it.
This was a problem for me when I was writing my book. I wanted to include the Original French Dry as the standard (unless otherwise noted) but it was becoming increasingly harder to purchase. At one point they may have stopped importing it, forcing the newer Extra Dry into the pipeline. Since my book was also geared for civilians, I didn’t want one of the most used ingredients in the book to be hard to source so I ultimately buckled and used the extra dry in the Noilly Prat slot (I didn’t want to exclude the brand entirely). Although I use many other vermouths throughout, at some point in there I rant about not marrying one brand anyway (as most of our parents did - ha!).
My understanding is that the only Noilly Prat dry vermouth available in the United States from roughly 1945 until approximately 2007/2008 was the Extra Dry formula. (The latter approximation pertains to the vagaries of distribution.) This Extra Dry formula is what that NP developed exclusively for the American market in order to better compete against lighter, paler vermouth styles that were then taking over the US vermouth market, and this was the formula NP was known for in this country during those subsequent five decades.
Around 2008, Noilly Prat attempted to summarily discontinue the Extra Dry formula and replace it with the Original Dry formula, which is what they sold in pretty much all other markets. They made no attempt to choreograph or re-introduce the Original Dry. The switcheroo was a catastrophe: American Martini drinkers did not like the different Original Dry formula and wanted the Extra Dry formula they were used to. Eric Seed was right there with Dolin Dry Vermouth to gobble whatever was left of NP’s market share, and the rest is history. Noilly Prat eventually realized their mistake and put their Extra Dry back into production, returning it to the American market around 2011/2012, but the damage was already done. Meanwhile, they’ve done little to address the confusion.
Personally, I want to like NP Original Dry, but I just don’t; and I sure tried when it showed up, convinced that the European formula must be better by default. I’d rather use Extra Dry. Actually, I’ll stick with Dolin. (That said, NP Original Dry is certainly what I’d choose for cooking, not that I cook Marseilles cuisine much.)
Thanks for the timeline Martin. I was speaking to the general confusion of the brand and its marketing, what may have been in old stocks/warehouses and for how long, etc. In any case, I think this is a good example of what not to do when launching a brand.
Yeah, The Embury Theory. I’ve got an inkling the change takes place a decade later, when Browne Vintners takes over US distribution and convinces Noilly to produce the rouge. Most formula changes are driven by importers. Browne launched the sweet red in 1955-56 and I’ve always thought that it’d make sense if they had changed the dry at the same time. But there’s a distinct lack of evidence.
The Noilly Prat archive is currently (or was?) being worked on at Bénédictine. I was trying to organize a visit before… well, before. Hopefully, the answer lies somewhere in there.
Just in case anyone is wondering, I can confirm that Astor does in fact carry the 1L bottles of the Original Dry! They now only carry 375ml of Extra Dry. This doesn’t appear to be reflected online, but it’s what they’ve got on the shelves.
It’s also worth noting the new packaging and potential recipe changes to the product line. I noticed a few months ago the sugar content of the Original Dry dropped from 40 g/l to 35 g/l, the number of botanicals in the Rouge went from 25 to 29 and the sugar went from 140 g/l to 150 g/l, and apparently the Extra Dry went from 29 g/l to 35 g/l (though I wonder if that’s just a typo on the website as 35 g/l would move it from the extra dry to dry category by EU law, right?).
Bacardi finally updated the nutrition facts on their website, but the math shows the Rouge still sits at 140 g/l while the Extra Dry and Original Dry now have the same amount of sugar? I’m currently rounding up a set of new and old bottlings to see if I can discern a difference. Obviously this is very important work.
I was talking with a rep from Noilly last week and she confirmed that Original French Dry is on the U.S. Market. It just seems to be difficult to find, in my experience. Most stores carry the Extra Dry and nothing else.
Hmm, when I first visited NP in 2014, I did so with the man who was in charge of production then and it was not a corporate tour – it was arranged by a common friend. I got pretty detailed info back then and the rouge was ‘between 140 and 150 g/l’, which is in line with the info they have online now. The same applied to the OD ‘around 30 g of sugar’ was what I was told back then. I’m not sure what’s going on with the changing info on the website but I’m not sure it means actual changes in production…
As for the Extra Dry, 35 g/l wouldn’t matter in the US as the Extra Dry regulation only applies to vermouth sold in the EU. This being said, Extra Dry is now listed on the French website too, which might mean it’s now and for the first time sold in Europe too. This would really put the sugar figures on the website in doubt.
I have reached out to sources close to the NP plant to see if they could share anything. The increase in botanicals for the rouge is indeed surprising.
Thanks for the heads up, I’ll let you know if hear anything else!
Just to follow up a bit here, I got my hands on both the newly reformulated Original Dry and the now discontinued Original Dry.
There have clearly been some changes. In short, they’re both tasty, but almost incomparable. A little copy/paste from my full write-up:
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 with a ton of chamomile and elderflower. 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. It makes for a pretty bad Scofflaw, with the vermouth suddenly out of place in the mid-palate where all of its more unctuous, savory notes come out. It’s a jarring shift from the fruit and spice.
I’m working my way through both bottles, but here are my personal tasting notes:
Original Dry (discontinued)
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
Original Dry (current bottling)
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
Interesting. I will try and find the old bottle in some shop here, which shouldn’t be too difficult and do the same.
FWIW I tasted the new bottle last week and I also found the oxidative notes and the salinity way down. I didn’t do a side-by-side, though, BUT I did notice this before the bottle change last year too. Or think I did.
(I’m yet to hear from my sources at NP. I’ll chase them. If I don’t hear back, I imagine we can all guess what the answer would be…)
Little update I received yesterday, @newratcity!
The people I get my info from at the plant are not working in production but should be – theoretically – made aware of any changes. They haven’t heard anything about sugar levels or an increase in the number of botanicals in the rouge. They will ask their colleagues in production, or so I’m told.
As for the Original Dry: apparently, there were changes in the wine blend. Those changes were made over a year ago and are unrelated to the bottle / label change.
I have found an old bottle of NP OD (from early 2020) and will do a side-by-side and report. I also found an old Rouge and will do the same if I get the chance.