Noilly Ambre is a rather rare apéritif made by the same folks that produce the famous Noilly Prat dry vermouth. Like all Noilly Prat vermouth it is produced in Marseillan, France, using wines made from Clairette and Picpoul de Pinet grapes.
The initial process is the same for all vermouths, be it sweet, dry or ambre. The wines are first put in to large oak barrels and allowed to mature in the store room. After eight months, they transfer the wine to small barrels and age it for a further year outside, where the heat of the warm Marseillan climate helps the process of maturing the wine.
Following this a blend of herbs and spices is added which gives the vermouth its distintive flavour. The exact mix Noilly Prat uses is a closely guarded secret, but it includes camomile, bitter orange peel, nutmeg, centaury, coriander and cloves. To produce the sweet version, they add an additional 30 flavourings which provide the red colour and the sweeter taste. I imagine the Noilly Ambre receives some of these flavourings, but not all, to produce its flavour.
Noilly Ambre is unusual in that it is neither a sweet vermouth nor a dry vermouth – it sits somewhere in the middle. It is only usually available from the Noilly Prat cellars in Marseillan, which are open to the public all year around. However, it can be found in a few shops around the world, and I was lucky enough to find it in one of those shops today. Having never even heard of it before I was most intrigued, so I just had to give it a try…
Noilly Ambre leads with a sweet, honey like taste. It also has a definite vanilla undertone, and ends with a nice dry, spicey taste that reminds me of regular dry vermouth, though much less bitter. It is by far the nicest vermouth I’ve ever tried straight, combining the warmth of sweet vermouth and the bitterness of dry vermouth wonderfully.
I’ve been enjoying it over ice today, but I can’t wait to find some cocktails to try it in. I have read it works well, in combination with orange bitters, in place of Lillet Blanc, so I will be giving it a try in the Hoop La! soon. Any other suggestions would be most welcome.
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