I recently had the opportunity to try both the old, at least as I define it, meaning the standard American dry Noilly Prat and the new, but some would say traditional, dry Noilly Prat. Most Americans however, would refer to the new Noilly Prat as new despite the fact it is the European version which has been available for decades in Europe. They would do this because there was a uniquely American product also called Noilly Prat Dry but an entirely different product from its European cousin.
This American version, as I will call it, has only been available since about 1970 at least according to some sources, others place it slightly earlier. Whatever the case may be, it is now being phased out in favor of the European dry version much to the consternation of many martini drinkers.
Eric Felten of the Wall Street Journal and author of "How's Your Drink?", summed it up very nicely in a column about three weeks ago ( which can be found on WSJ.com). In short form it can be summed up as the coming of the martini apocalypse. As Eric accurately pointed out, martini drinkers are very conservative group by nature, and will by and large probably hate the new version.
Is the new European version as bad as this? Is it dramatically different? No and yes actually, no it's not bad, but yes it is dramatically different. While it has its charms, it is not the old Noilly Prat.
Again as Eric suggested in his column, you need to use about half of the amount of Noilly Prat you would use if you were using the American version. Even then it's not the same, the color is slightly different, the new formulation and the wood notes are striking ( but not necessarily unpleasant), and there is even a different mouthfeel to the martini itself.
We will shortly be posting reviews on both the American and European versions on our website Spirits Review.com with impressions of each. In the interim we wish to express our mystification as to the motives of Noilly Prat and why they would choose to abandon a iconic classic and alienate its market share to pursue a new crowd in the hopes of selling their new version or European version as an Apertif. If you wish to make a more or less traditional martini using the new European version, you need to use about half the vermouth you normally would this of course means that people will be using half the vermouth they normally use to mix their martinis. This effectively cuts their consumption by half, and that that is only the people who choose to stay with Noilly Prat, as opposed to those who may be forced to choose other vermouths altogether. So the logic of alienating all of their faithful drinkers in the hopes of chasing new ones, and even if they retain their faithful ones makes no sense to us whatsoever. Adding the new or European version is a line extension however, would make sense, and possibly spur additional sales for people looking for something new. One would hope the Noilly Prat would look to Coca-Cola and the new Coke as an object lesson. While the new version may have its charms and certainly does, abandoning their faithful customers does not to us seem a wise move. Offering these customers more choice, however, certainly seems more diplomatic and positive. We can only hope that the executives of Noilly Prat have a moment of clarity and decide to add the European version, possibly with a slightly different name such as Noilly Prat Amer to their current offerings to offer more, rather than less choice.