Martinis and Manhattans have been experiencing something of a shakeup lately. Recent changes in the availability of two iconic brands of bar staples are affecting the way we mix our drinks.
Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth
For many years, Noilly Prat made two separate versions of its dry vermouth: one for the European market and one for the North American one.
The European version was made according to the original 1813 formula. Sweeter and more herbaceous, it was marketed as an aperitif.
The North American version, on the other hand, was designed to be used in a more typically American way: in cocktails. Drier in taste and nearly colorless in appearance, it was to many Martini lovers (myself included) the perfect companion to gin. But no more.
Last year, Noilly Prat discontinued the U.S. version of its dry vermouth. Instead, it's now offering American drinkers a re-packaged take on its original 1813 European formulation. (You can see the new-style contoured and partially pebbled bottle in the pic above.) And although the switch was made over a year ago, there's been a bit of lag time on some liquor store shelves. I didn't mix my first new-formula Martini until quite recently when my neighborhood wine store started stocking the new stuff. The first sip was a bit of a shock.
My personal preference is for a 3:1 ratio of gin to vermouth, but with the new (well, old European) formula, I found this tried-and-true recipe suddenly produced an unappealing drink. The taste of the vermouth was quite forward, and instead of mellowing the gin, I found it gave my Martini an oddly bitter taste (not to mention a yellow-ish tinge). I'm still tinkering with recipes and experimenting with different brands of dry vermouth. I'll share my findings in a later post. In the meantime, I'd love to hear suggestions from readers.
Since last November, when the venerable Trinidad-based liquor producer, House of Angostura, temporarily suspended production of its bitters, rumors have been flying - and bottles of the stuff have been reportedly increasingly difficult to obtain. While this hasn't really affected your average home mixologist, who uses just a few drops at a time, professional bartenders, who go through bitters by the case, are feeling the pinch as distributors have begun rationing supplies. Relief should be on its way, though. According to an article in Wednesday's Washington Post (see link below), production is expected to be back in full swing next month.
- "Don't Shoot the Messenger: Bad News For Martini Drinkers," Wall Street Journal
- "Bitters Pill to Take!," The Guardian
- "The Angostura Shortage Calls for Creativity," The Washington Post
Nora Maynard is a longtime home mixologist and an occasional instructor at NYC's Astor Center. She is a contributor to The Business of Food: Encyclopedia of the Food and Drink Industries and is the recipient of the American Egg Board Fellowship in culinary writing at the Writers' Colony at Dairy Hollow. She previously covered food and drink in film at The Kitchn in her weekly column, The Celluloid Pantry.
(Image: Nora Maynard)