Truly French French vermouth

Metropole cocktail

Ever since I discovered I’d been making Martinezes the wrong way a few months ago, dry vermouth has been playing a bit part at my home bar. I always keep a bottle on hand but it’s put into service far less often than the sweet vermouth that finds its way into frequent Martinezes, Manhattans, and whatever the plural of Vieux CarrĂ© is. (Have I mentioned that French was not my best class in college?)

That’s changing. A few weeks ago Noilly Prat sent me a bottle of their newly imported dry vermouth. Noilly Prat has been making vermouth in France for nearly 200 years, but the bottles they’ve imported to the US have been a dumbed-down version of what they sell in Europe. Thankfully that’s no longer true. They’re finally replacing the old American export with the original European bottling, giving us access to the superior, traditional product.

I got to taste the new bottling at Tales of the Cocktail last summer, but this is the first time I’ve been able to taste it side-by-side with the previous export. The difference is immediately apparent. The old version is very light. The French version a is a deeper gold. It has a much spicier aroma and a more substantial mouthfeel. While the old export was one-dimensional, the new one is flavorful and very well-balanced, with hints of orange and maybe cardamom or cloves. It’s a richer vermouth all around and very nice to drink. Noilly Prat says the better character comes from spending a full year aging outdoors in oak barrels. Whatever the reason, it makes one wonder why it took them so long to ship us the real stuff.

In fairness to Noilly Prat, the US hasn’t been a great market for vermouth in a long time. It’s all but disappeared from the Martini and it’s rarely enjoyed here as an aperitif as it is in France. If you order vermouth at an American bar you’re likely to get an oxidized shot from a bottle that’s been open and unrefrigerated for months. It’s a dodgy proposition.

If your vermouth is good, however, it can be delightful on its own. Chill it in your refrigerator and serve in a wine glass with a few ice cubes and a twist of lemon peel cut over the surface. It’s simple and very refreshing.

It’s good as a mixing ingredient too. At this moment I’m enjoying it in a dry Martinez. Pictured above is the Metropole; that’s the cocktail I’d planned on featuring in this post, but after playing with the recipe, photographing the drink, and preparing to write, I remembered that Imbibe had run a brief article this month about this new dry vermouth as well. I thought I should check that before writing and, what do you know, they highlighted the very same cocktail. You’ve got to start drinking pretty early in the morning to beat those guys.

So in the interest of not being a total ripoff of Imbibe, I’m posting two cocktails here: the Metropole and a variation on the Ideal. First the Metropole:

2 oz cognac
1 oz dry vermouth
.5 tsp rich syrup (2:1 sugar:water)
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
1 dash orange bitters

Stir over ice and strain into a cocktail glass. That’s essentially the Paul Lowe version as reported in Dave Wondrich’s Imbibe (the book, not the magazine). Wondrich also notes that George Kappeler garnished the drink “with the more elegant twist of lemon peel rather than the cherry, but what chorus girl would want to nibble on that?” Alas, there’ve been no chorus girls around this home bar for months, so the lemon peel it is.

The next drink is the Ideal. I don’t know the history of this mixture, but I came across it in David Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. Here I’ve replaced the simple syrup with maraschino liqueur (which appears to be a common substitution in this cocktail) and added a dash of orange bitters for depth:

1.5 oz gin
.66 oz dry vermouth
.66 oz fresh grapefruit juice
.25 oz maraschino
1 dash orange bitters

Shake over ice and strain. It’s good, it’s crisp, it’s easy. And fresh means fresh: one grapefruit yields a lot of juice, so there’s no excuse for using pre-bottled here.

Noilly Prat dry vermouth retails for about $9 for 750 ml, at which price it’s definitely worth checking out. Look for the textured bottle to make sure you’re getting the new export.


6 thoughts on “Truly French French vermouth”

  1. Oh, thanks for this first-hand report!

    I drink dry vermouth, a splash of gin, and bitters nearly every day and have been wanting to taste the new Noilly Prat. (Not, mind you, that I’ll be able to afford to drink it daily, sad to say.)

  2. What? Am I just reading that wrong?

    Maureen, if you can’t afford a $9 bottle, you shouldn’t be drinking anything… at all.

  3. Jacob-
    Hoping you might be able to tell me which distributor in Pdx got dibs on Dolin. My store is in Baker City (the lost land of no wine lizard salesforce- which on most days is a great thing ‘cept when you’re searching for something that’s changed houses.)
    Many thanks-
    Bev Calder

  4. I have been searching, in vain, for more than two years to find a suitable replacement for the original Noilly Prat. The “new” Noilly Prat, introduced in America in 2009 utilizing what had been the European recipe, has been an insult to many martini drinkers. The first bottle of “new” Noilly Prat that I bought, without realizing the recipe change, was one that I truly thought had gone bad, with its darker color and off-putting taste.

    So I have been looking, in vain, for something close to the old Noilly Prat, which was inexplicably discontinued. I have tried Martini & Rossi (close, but inferior), Dolin (a fine vermouth bout much closer to the new Noilly Prat than the old), and Lillet (ditto Dolin).

    To me, the (new) Noilly Prat “Original” is like New Coke; a disaster of historic significance.

    If anyone has a suggestion for something that is really like the old Noilly Prat, I’d really like to know.

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