Saturday, December 10, 2011

XXQC - The Martini

As mentioned in the past, cocktails have a tendency to evolve over time.  Whether the result of altered tastes, an introduction to a new culture/demographic, the availability of novel products, or the disappearance of others from the market (ie. Kina Lillet), recipes change.  Some are improved, some take a step back, and still others are altered to represent more of a parallel shift...seemingly no better or worse, just different.  With the resurgence of the craft cocktail movement over the last 10-15 years, many are experiencing for the first time the original and proper preparation of the classics.  In top cocktail bars across the country, the Old Fashioned now shines without the addition of muddled orange, a neon cherry, and dilution of soda water; the Daiquiri and its variations can have a solid presence absent the frozen blend with ice and a swimming pool; and perhaps most significantly, a classic Martini can be mixed up to display the sublime harmony of gin and dry vermouth rather than the random clash of vodkas, sweeteners, and/or the hodgepodge of other liqueurs often slapped up as (blank)-tinis.  If ever there was a cocktail that was so neglected, only to have worked its way back alongside fellow iconic classics, the Martini may in fact stand alone...and is absolutely one of the XXQC.

Among the most widely adopted version as to the Martini's origin is its ties to a cocktail which pre-dated it by perhaps 40-50 years, the Martinez.  Unsurprisingly, the accuracy as to the origination of the Martinez itself is subject to debate, but it is commonly accepted to have been first developed by a bartender either in the city of Martinez, California, or at the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco.  The debate as to its creation aside, the Martinez cocktail was one of the earliest to combine a gin and vermouth, albeit with the earlier, slightly sweeter style of Old Tom gin popularized in the 19th century and the Italian (sweet) variety of vermouth 

1 oz Old Tom gin
2 oz sweet vermouth
2 dashes maraschino liqueur
1 dash orange bitters 

Stir all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with lemon twist.

Possessing a light brown tinge and hint of additional sweetness with integration of Old Tom gin, maraschino liqueur, and orange bitters, the Martinez, with its inverse proportions of gin and vermouth, at first appears anything but the drink that may have spawned one of the most renowned cocktails to date.  Unbeknownst to many, however, the original iteration of the Martini was actually constructed with equal parts of Old Tom gin and sweet vermouth. 

Martini (original)
1 1/2 oz Old Tom gin
1 1/2 oz sweet vermouth
2 dashes simple syrup
1 dash orange curacao
1 dash Boker's bitters 

Stir all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with lemon twist.

Apparently conceived in the late 1880s, this earliest version of the Martini is certainly a much different animal than many today would have anticipated.  Yet with its 1:1 ratio filling the void between the disparate 1:2 and 2:1 gin/vermouth ratios of the Martinez and more popularized version of the sweet Martini in the late 1890s (below), this first representation of the classic is considered by some to be the missing link.

Martini (sweet)
2 oz gin
1 oz sweet vermouth
1 dash orange bitters 

Stir all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with lemon twist. 

It was not until the more widespread introduction and availability of the French dry vermouths around the turn of the century that we first find dry Martinis being served.  Indeed, it is noteworthy that a straight up call for a Martini during these times would lead to the more common sweet version being mixed up...if a 'dry' Martini was the preference, patrons would need to specify accordingly.

Martini (dry)
2 oz gin
1 oz dry vermouth
1 dash orange bitters 

Stir all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with lemon twist. 

Fast-forward to the post-Prohibition era and the dry Martini took a significant step back.  Be it the trendy adoption of James Bond's iconic 'shaken not stirred' rhetoric, the increasingly smaller amounts of vermouth being used in its preparation, and/or the rising popularity of vodka and its subsequent displacement of gin in a number of drinks, the Martini lost its balance and identity.  In its conception, the cocktail represented a harmonious blend of juniper-forward gin, the subtle botanical notes of dry vermouth, and the herbal depth of orange bitters to pull it all together. Yet during the 1950s-80s, otherwise known as the 'Dark Ages of Mixology', a properly balanced and prepared cocktail appeared few and far between.  Replaced by the likes of flavorless vodka martinis with little or no vermouth, often garnished with olives, at times shaken and cloudy...or worse yet, a poorly executed dirty vodka martini laden with brine, each a far cry from the elegance with which the Martini was created.  The flavor?  The balance?  The bitters?   The presentation?  The regard?  Gone.

Thankfully, the respect for classic pre-Prohibition cocktails has come full swing in these modern days of mixology.  Vermouth is once again an ingredient in the Martini, rather than a rinse to prep the ice or the glass.  And thanks to the efforts of those in the industry and the quality demands of bartenders, patrons, and fellow enthusiasts, gin has regained its position as the go-to spirit with which bring the delicate flavors of vermouth and orange bitters along for the ride.  That being said, just as with any other cocktail (and perhaps more so here with the Martini), different brands and styles of gin, vermouth, and/or bitters can all introduce their own subtle nuances.  Inasmuch as this being case, I highly recommend that you trial different components over time to discover which combination best suits your palate.  A great starting point can be found at Vermouth 101, a terrific reference and introduction to the different brands and styles of vermouths, quinquinas, and americanos as compiled by Martin Doudoroff and his colleagues.  My recent preferences lie with a 3:1 ratio, using either Beefeater or Leopold's gin, Dolin dry vermouth, and Regan's No. 6 orange bitters.  Other favorites and substitutions include Plymouth or Citadelle gin, Noilly Prat vermouth, Cocchi Americano, and Angostura or Bittercube orange bitters.   


3 oz Leopold's gin
1 oz Dolin dry vermouth
1 dash Regan's orange No. 6 

Stir all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with lemon twist. 

While personal taste should always drive your preference in cocktails, if you have yet to try the classic Martini with a notable proportion of dry vermouth and garnished with a lemon twist, do yourself a favor and either mix or order one may have no idea what you're missing.  

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