What does ‘dry’ mean in alcohol


I’ve never understood what dry gin (Gordon’s), dry vermouth, or extra dry beer (Toohey’s) etc means..
Seems very counter-intuitive to me.

In: Chemistry

In a very simplified way it refers to how sweet or, in this case, not sweet a drink is. A dry drink is not going to have much sugary (or fruity – another term used) taste in the mouth.

So a fruity drink is sweet while a dry drink is not sweet to the taste.

Fully dry (“brut”) means the yeast have converted all available sugar to alcohol, leaving little/no residual sugar. A brut beer still has some residual sugar, and this is because yeast can’t eat maltose (malt sugar). In contrast, the sugar in fruit alcohol (cider, wine, champagne, etc) is fully digestible to the yeast, so a brut wine will have no residual sugar.

*EDIT – other redditors have made right what I got wrong in the comments below. Here’s a fresh take at the point I was attempting to make: It is a challenge to produce a fully dry maltose-based alcohol (e.g. beer) because the yeast will naturally cease activity before all sugar is consumed. Conversely, it is a challenge to produce a sweet or semi-sweet fructose-based alcohol (e.g. cider) because the yeast will generally be active until all sugar is consumed.

As the other commenter said, it’s essentially the opposite of sweet. Dryness refers to how much of the sugar has been converted to alcohol. The drier it is, the less sugar left after the fermentation.

Wow, this was a rabbit hole – but I did some research.

First, the meaning is pretty easy (and covered) – dry alcohol means not sweet. (London Dry Gin is a different story I’m not going into). So, if you see a wine or beer or alcohol listed as dry, there is usually a sweeter counterpart.

But, why “dry” to describe “not sweet.” The best answer I’ve been able to find is that we can trace the term centuries back – to the extent you need to look at french text from the 1200s for the first recorded references to “vin sec” (dry wine). When terms are that old, you usually loose the etymology – so all that is left is our best guesses.

One very good thought is that wine used to not be aged the way it is now. We lost the art of tightly sealing jars (perfected by Greeks and Romans) in the dark ages, so if you let wine age too long it would go bad. Aging is one way we can breakdown the chemicals that make a wine astringent. If you drink a very astringent wine, you will notice your mouth feels dry. Sweet wines (wines with more sugars in them) mask the astringency and would not have a dry mouth feel. As different ways of making wines and alcohols evolved in the ensuing centuries, we were able to make not-sweet alcohols that don’t have this effect, but the term “dry” stuck.

For more extensive reading with lots of links: [http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=709617](http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=709617)

As everyone said, dry = not sweet.

With vermouth, dry vermouth is a whole different product than sweet vermouth. Sweet vermouth is normally dark, and dry is normally a white vermouth.

Or, if you’re talking martini, dry means less vermouth. In this sense you’re thinking of “dry” vs “wet.”

Source: bartender

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In terms of actual chemistry, dry ethanol is ethanol with very little water. As both molecules are polar, they mix very readily. Removing water from ethanol can be done via distillation, followed by adding Magnesium Sulfate. It may be needed to dry ethanol if left open for a while when you need a pure ethanol solvent. This is not the same term as ‘dry’ when referring to an alcoholic beverage however – I believe in that context it refers to the flavour of the beverage.

Dry means no residual sugar.

Alcohol is made by yeast consuming sugars and producing alcohol plus carbon dioxide. A “dry” product is one where the yeasts were allowed to consume all sugar. Semi-dry, semi-sweet or sweet are the other options, all based on the remaining sugar content. Yeasts will continue to consume sugars as long as they exist so to make a semi sweet product for example you have to either kill the yeast (arrested fermentation) or allow it to ferment to dry then remove the yeasts and then back sweeten with sugar or fruit juices.

(I work at a cidery)

In chemistry, “dry” means “anhydrous”. Anhydrous alcohol contains 100% ethanol and no water. This is accomplished by distillation followed by drying over 3Å molecular sieves. Similarly, anhydrous acetone contains no water, and must be distilled and dried with MgSO4.

Drying solvents is a common and necessary procedure in the lab to keep solvents suitable for use.

In this case, however, “dry” gin doesn’t really mean “dry” ethanol

Bartender here, just wanted to add a few things to the glorious comment from our resident som and spirits expert.

As far as London dry gin goes, that’s the title of one of five different types of gin. London dry is the most regulated and has very specific parameters it must conform to in order to be labeled as London dry. The other gin types are old Tom, genever, contemporary, and plymouth. You can think of these in terms of whiskey if that helps. For example, both bourbon and scotch are whiskeys, but they have very different requirements to be labeled as such.

Similarly, dry vermouth is a type of vermouth, or fortified wine. There are other types of fortified wine which may or may not be called vermouth, such as cocchi americano or blanc vermouth. The other most popular vermouth is sweet vermouth, which gets its name from the burnt sugar present in most sweet vermouths. You’ll find dry vermouth, the straw colored stuff, in a martini, and you’ll find sweet vermouth, the brown stuff, in a Manhattan.


Edit: it’s also very popular to order a “dry” martini. In that context, what the guest usually means is that they want a martini made with less dry vermouth. It’s frustrating and extremely counter intuitive, but that’s the typical nomenclature used by the average consumer.