Is “dry” by any other name still as sweet? That all depends on your definition of dry

 There is a saying that suggests that New Year’s Resolutions are merely a To-Do list for the first week of January. And if there has been a January to agree with that, this one might be it. But dry January is a thing. But when it comes to alcohol and the word “dry,” things are not always what they seem.

In its most basic understanding “dry” is the opposite of sweet. Dry white wine is less sweet than non-dry white wine, “dry” mixers are less sweet than regular mixers, and so on. Those seem pretty obvious. But things get pretty obscure pretty quickly. For instance, triple sec is a French liqueur that is the backbone of many cocktails: margaritas, cosmopolitans, sidecars etc. “Sec” means “dry” in French, however triple sec is actually one of the sweetest of all liqueurs. The word “sec” is also used in champagne to denote a sweet rather than a dry wine. “Brut” is the American standby word for “dry” (invented by and then borrowed from, the French) but the French word “brut” actually means “brute” as in “brutishly acidic” and was coined as a backhanded slap at American taste sensibilities. Sauvage came along later and means what it sounds like; “savage.” Boy those French can be mean.

We also hear a lot about “dry” martinis, which utilized “dry” vermouth which is in fact less sweet than “sweet” vermouth, but the dry martini probably takes its name from dry gin as opposed to dry vermouth. Otherwise, an extra, extra, dry martini would have more dry vermouth and not less, right? We forget that gin (originally British) was once sweetened for the American market (Dutch gin, however, can be a big syrupy mouthful), but that old style and very “sweet” Old Tom gin (an original ingredient in the martini’s forerunner, the Martinez) has so far resisted every attempt at reintroduction. It would appear that while many Americans like things sweet, two things they don’t like sweet are gin and sparkling wine. Go figure.

Then there’s the dry Manhattan. Which is not a Manhattan with less vermouth, it is a Manhattan with a completely different type of vermouth. Which then further begs the question: what is an extra dry Manhattan? Less vermouth? Different vermouth? No vermouth?

So, with all that information stirred about I have taken the liberty of offering up three “dry” versions of your favorite cocktails for the end of your dry January in order to better clarify things, all localized, of course, for your consumption. The French didn’t invent the phrase “double entendre” for nothing.

Dry Manhattan

2 ½ ounces Barber Lee Spirits Single Malt Rye whiskey

1 ounce Lo-Fi Aperitifs “dry” vermouth

1 lemon twist

Combine vermouth and whiskey in a mixing glass with ice and stir until ice cold. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with the olive or the lemon twist.

Dry vermouth is not white vermouth (Bianco). White vermouth tastes very similar to sweet vermouth, not surprising because they are pretty close to the same product, both made from white wine, both originated in Italy, both have similar flavor profiles, just that red vermouth gets the addition of “caramel” which adds both color and additional flavor. Dry vermouth (or French vermouth) is quite different and has a very pronounced mouth puckering “dry” quality, similar to quinine tonics. Dry vermouth is also often oxidized (sometimes on purpose). Lo-Fi creates a dry vermouth that is not oxidized, and it lends a unique fresh “dry” flavor to this classic drink. A green olive is the classic garnish, but for the life of me I can’t bring myself to put one in my whiskey.

Dry Raspberry Royale

4 ounces Domaine Carneros Ultra Brut

¾ ounce Falcon Spirits “dry” raspberry liqueur

1 fresh red raspberry (or 1 hard sour raspberry candy)

Add raspberry liqueur to the bottom of a champagne flute. Slowly add sparkling wine creating a subtle layered effect. Run a cocktail pick through the fresh raspberry and suspend over rim or drop candy into the bottom (dropping the fresh raspberry in will cause the drink to foam up and over).

A take on the classic Kir Royale, this drink is both drier and more refreshing as a result of both the higher alcohol dryness of the raspberry liqueur (60 proof) and the bone dry “ultra” brut, which is one notch above traditional brut, but still a notch below the driest of all sparkling designations: brut natural.

“Perfect” Medium Dry Martini

2 ounces Alamere Spirits London “dry’ gin

¾ ounce Quady Winery Vya “whisper” dry vermouth

¾ ounce Quady Winery Vya  “sweet” vermouth

1 lemon zest

Combine liquid ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir until ice cold. Strain into a chilled coupe glass and garnish with the lemon twist.

This isn’t you parents James Bond martini. Well, actually it sort of is, if they drank gin, and because the clear one we’ve been led to believe was Mr. Bond’s would have been impossible once you added the sweet vermouth. The 1950’s book reading public knew that, but the 1960’s movie producers made an executive decision that tough guy Sean Connery sipping a pink drink was more than the movie going public could handle. Now, Roger Moore on the other hand…

We’ve taken the liberty of replacing Bond’s vodka with a dry London gin made by the French former owners of Le Garage (because why not?), and if we further substituted whiskey for the gin, it would be known as a “perfect” Manhattan. Ain’t cocktails fun?