Drink of the Week: The Martinez

the Martinez.You’ve got relatives, I’ve got relatives. Everyone’s got relatives. The interesting thing about them is that they can have a great many of the same components that we do; at the same time, the final result can have you shaking your head and wondering how the #$@#$# it is that you share any chromosomes at all with these people.

I believe that it’s almost a given that last week’s drink, the Fin de Siècle, was one relative of the modern day Martini However, because of the similarity in its name, the Martinez may arguably be a more direct descendent, or at least the far better known relative. The naming of the Martinez itself, it’s generally believed, has something to do with the Bay Area suburb of Martinez, California. Oddly enough, however, while Northern Californians typically pronounce the city’s name as “Mar-TEEN-is,” the way most of us pronounce the very common Spanish surname, Robert Hess and others typically call the drink the “Martin-ez.”

At the exact same time, in terms of the actual flavor of the drinks, there’s next to no similarity, beyond containing gin. This is a sweet and actually very accessible drink that uses sweet vermouth (often referred to in cocktail books as Italian vermouth) instead of dry vermouth (aka French vermouth).

In any case, the version I’m presenting is significantly less sweet than many of the earlier versions for two reasons. Many variations — including a very decent one proffered by master bartender Robert Hess — actually include more sweet vermouth than gin, while mine is kinda sorta almost like a sweet version of the beverage now known as the Fitty-Fitty. Just as important, many versions of the Martinez including most of the older ones, call for Old Tom Gin — basically your standard London dry, rendered un-dry by some sugar water. As you might guess, that version is very, very sweet.

I rather like the iteration below, approachably sweet while still being nicely balanced and usually quite potent.

The Martinez

1 1/2 ounces dry gin
1 1/2 ounces sweet vermouth
1 smidgen Maraschino liqueur
1 dash orange bitters
1 lemon twist (borderline essential garnish)

Add the prescribed amount of dry gin and sweet vermouth to a mixing glass or cocktail shaker. Next, do what Robert Hess does and just barely tip the Maraschino bottle over and pour as little as you possibly can of the bittersweet cherry liqueur and also add a regular dash of orange bitters.

Stir vigorously, or shake if you prefer to maybe cut the sweetness a bit. (I lean towards stirring here.) Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and be sure to add your lemon twist in the proper manner, running the outside of the peel around the rim of the glass and then twisting it, shiny side down, over the drink to express the oils into your drink. It definitely helps to take the edge off the sweetness. Orange twists, which are sometimes called for, don’t work as well, I found.

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I know my picture above features Noilly Pratt — and the results with this drink were very good. Still, to really make your Martinez shine, I’ve got to once again speak up for Carpano Antica,which definitely takes the drink in a more mature and well-balanced direction. This time, also, for some reason I noticed a dramatic distinction between the two brands of gin I was using; the premium Bombay Dry was a distinct improvement over the very decent, but less notably less flavorful (and cheaper) Gordon’s Gin.

Now, returning to the question of whether the Martinez is the most direct descendent of the Martini…I personally don’t think so. Next week we’ll be concluding with a drink that actually might be the missing link between the Martinez and the Martini. Stay tuned.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Fin de Siècle

the Fin de Siècle.“Fin de siècle” is French for “end of the century, which means that we’ve all missed our opportunity by 15 years to have a  Fin de Siècle at the most appropriate point possible, assuming we were old enough to drink in 2000. Or, if you want to look at it the other way, we’ve all got 85 years to work on preparing the perfect Fin de Siècle in time for 2100.

The truth is, however, that the real roots of this post go back not to Y2K but to last week. My copy of Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails having been destroyed by a backed-up sink…yes, I leave cocktail books on the sink sometimes and, yes, I’m paying the price…I found myself seeing a number of somewhat similar cocktails in Robert Hess’s accurately named The Essential Cocktail Guide. Like last week’s drink, today’s drink contains sweet vermouth, orange bitters, and Torani Amer, substituting for Amer Picon — easily the most commonly called-for modern day cocktail ingredient that you can’t find anywhere in North America.

The main difference, aside from the proportions, is that our base spirit is changed out from whiskey to gin. The result is a bit lighter and drier, but no less tasty and sophisticated.

The Fin de Siècle

1 1/2 ounces gin
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
1/4 ounce Torani Amer (or Amer Picon, if live in Europe or own a time machine)
1 dash orange bitters

Combined all ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass with plenty of ice. Stir vigorously — or shake, gently, if you’re feeling rebellious — and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Toast anything that has come to conclusion or shortly will, including your tasty Fin de Siècle. Nothing lasts forever, after all, least of all a good cocktail.

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I saw a few recipes online for this that mentioned Plymouth Gin, but most people seem to use your more garden variety London Dry style gin. I used premium (but I guess not super premium) Bombay Dry Gin and good ol’ value-priced Gordon’s Gin, both with results that were more than satisfactory.

I actually found that,much more than with the gin, my choice of sweet vermouth made a far more dramatic difference in the flavor. I was very happy with my Fin de Siècle when I used Noilly Pratt — my personal default sweet vermouth in slight preference to Martini or Cinzano. Still, there was no topping the slightly bitter, almost chocolate-like undercurrents of Carpano Antica; sometimes you just can’t argue with the cocktail snobs. If you want a sweeter drink that’s nevertheless not too offensive, I had decent luck replacing Torani Amer with Amaro CioCiara, suggested by some as another Amer Picon substitute.

Finally, yes, you can shake this drink but that’s not my preference this time around. For starters, this is second cousin to a gin martini. (We’ll be getting to it’s first cousin very soon). I really do think there may be something to the idea that shaking can “bruise” gin, i.e., add a slightly unpleasant bitterness. Mainly, though, I don’t think the additional water/ice crystals that shaking generates really flatters the Fin de Siècle. I think this may be a drink that wants to be cool, but not ice cold.

Now, have a great Memorial Day weekend. Maybe it’s a good time to remember what life could be, if only we were all nice enough and smart enough.

  

Drink of the Week: The Reign of Terror (TCM Fest Salute #4)

The Reign of Terror.If there’s something that unites film geeks and cocktail enthusiasts, it’s an interest in the aged and the obscure. Yes, a lot of lost old movies and cocktails were lost for a good reason — not everything can last beyond its time. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of buried gems and few things in life are more fun for any kind of enthusiast than unearthing one of them.

So it is with the final film in my set of cocktails inspired directly by movies I saw at this year’s Turner Classic Movies festival. Newly restored and salvaged from footnote status, 1949’s “The Reign of Terror” is also known as “The Black Book.” The latter title describes the film’s McGuffin, a book of men marked for death which will bring about the destruction of a powerful criminal mastermind, if only it can be found. The fact that the perp in question is named Maximilien Robespierre and the setting is not postwar L.A. or NYC but 18th century Paris might give you a clue about how unusual this directorial effort from cinephile favorite Anthony Mann (“T-Men,” “Winchester ‘73”) really is.

At this point, Mann was chiefly making low budget film noirs. However, the Walter Wanger production company had a bunch of period sets left over from the big budget “Joan of Arc” starring Ingrid Bergman. In the interest of thrift, they decided that it made sense to capitalize on the vogue for darkly themed and lit expressionistic crime films by making a  cloak and dagger noir drama that just happens to be set during the most murderous portions of the French Revolution.

“Reign of  Terror” stars the usually affable Robert Cummings as a hardened operative of anti-terror forces and Arlene Dahl as the woman he doesn’t really trust to help him in his efforts to prevent Robespierre from appointing himself dictator of France. Very wisely, no French accents are attempted and noir super-cinematographer John Alton transforms 15th century sets into 18th century ones by using black and white cinema’s most powerful weapon: darkness. It’s a dandy drama that anyone who digs expressionistic cinema must check out when they can.

Oh, you wanted a cocktail, not a film review? I get it. So, here we go with a drink that was kindly whipped up for me by Ian, ace bartender at Tonga Hut, my neighborhood hang and one of L.A.’s oldest surviving tiki bars. Ian elaborated on my idea that the Reign of Terror cocktail should contain some Fernet Branca, arguably the most terrifyingly bitter and astringent of cocktail makings, and made me a dandy drink. I spent the rest of the week getting the proportions down and making one doubtful improvement. Here is the result.

The Reign of Terror

3/4 ounce brandy
3/4 ounce gin
1/2 ounce Fernet Branca
1/2 ounce Benedictine
1/2 egg white
1/2 teaspoon absinthe (very optional rinse)
1-2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
1 lemon twist (important garnish)

Combine all the liquid ingredients, except the absinthe, in a cocktail shaker. Since this drink has some egg white, you’ll want to dry shake (shake without ice cubes) first…though that may not be 100 percent necessary if, like me, you’re using prepackaged pasteurized egg white. Next, add plenty of ice cubes, shake again, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass which, if you want, may have been rinsed with absinthe as you would with a Sazarac. (Extra fancy coupes like the one pictured may be especially appropriate for this beverage.) Add the lemon twist. Sip and toast anyone who can figure out why it’s not nice to decapitate people just because they disagree with you.

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The goal with the ingredients was to be a little bit terrifying and a little bit French. I’m not quite sure I quite made it on the latter point. For starters, it’s just occurring to me right now that Fernet Branca is actually Italian in origin. As for the brandies we used, Ian chose a cognac, which is always from the Cognac region of France, but then I went with the Hartley brandy I had on hand at home, which turns out to be from Italy also. I later opted for Reynal, my value-priced default brandy, which is bills itself as “rare old French brandy.” Gin is usually from England, of course; I used Tanqueray, Gordon’s, and Nolet’s, which sounds French but is actually Dutch. Peychaud’s bitters is more Creole than French. In other words, my cocktail is not so French as I might like, but then the movie “Reign of Terror” is about as français as a French dip sandwich.

I will say, however, that the drink has perhaps a slight hint of terror but also enough sweet smoothness to be very drinkable thanks to the Benedictine (which is French) and the egg white. On the down side, I’ve grown increasingly negative on the one big change I made to Ian’s recipe, which was the absinthe rinse. More and more, I think it just gets in the way of the almost chocolatey flavor of the Reign of Terror. Maybe give it a try both ways — assuming you’ve got the absinthe on hand in the first place — and see what you think.

Getting back to that half an egg white, I can see where that would be pretty terrifying for would-be bartenders since no one sells half-eggs. The solution is to either make two cocktails at once and double up on all your ingredients, or to use 1 1/2 tablespoons of packaged egg white. Not so terrifying, really.

  

Drink of the Week: The Gin Rickey

The Gin Rickey.It’s probably somewhat criminal that it’s taken me so long to get to a drink that’s as simple and classic as the Gin Rickey. Like the Martini, this is a drink that not everyone will cotton to immediately. Indeed, to be very honest I’m still working on acquiring a taste for it myself as it’s more than a little on the tart side for me. No surprise as it contains lime juice and zero sweetener.

Still, this is a drink with a little history and it certainly won’t be bad on a warm day. And, yes, I know it’s January. However, I live in North Hollywood, California and high temps on this side of the L.A. hill are in the eighties this week, so nyah, nyah, nyah East Coasters with your snow and frequently superior public transportation.

The Gin Rickey is named for one Colonel Joe Rickey, a Confederate soldier turned 19th century Democratic Party lobbyist, back when the Democrats were the party of Andrew Jackson instead of Franklin Roosevelt and the Republicans were the party of Abraham Lincoln instead of Ronald Reagan. Anyhow, it seems that Colonel Rickey was the kind of drinker who frequently needed a morning “eye-opener” to get him over the hangover hump, and somewhere along the way a helpful bartender named George A. Williamson helped him create a drink made with bourbon, seltzer water and a bit of lime juice. Over the years, however, the gin version became far more popular, with its lighter, easier to take flavor, and that’s what we’ve got here.

The Gin Rickey

1 1/2-2 ounces gin
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
2-5 ounces carbonated water
1 lime wedge or one spent lime shell (garnish)

Build over ice in Tom Collins or highball glass. partly depending on what you’ve got on hand and how much soda water and gin you’d like to use. (Highball glasses are often a bit larger.) Stir. Garnish either with a spent lime shell or, my preference, a lime wedge. Toast carbonated water, for it contains water but also air. That’s two out of four elements!

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I tried this drink a number of different ways and what we’ve got here is, basically, something like a martini. What I mean by that is that it’s a drink that requires a bit of getting used to. It may not be as boozy, but it’s somewhat tart without being at all sweet. I also mean that it seems to work fairly well when you mess around with the proportions, much as both dry and very un-dry martinis can both be perfectly great. On the upside, it is refreshing and about as low-cal as a mixed drink gets.

I tried my Gin Rickey with four different gins. I found I got the best results with both my most expensive gin on hand, Nolet’s and my least expensive, good old Gordon’s. Both added a nice herbal tang to the affair. Tanqueray, somewhere in the middle price wise but a classic product for a reason, was fine but a bit more in your face.

I also read that Old Tom Gin, which is sweetened, could also be used with a Rickey. Oddly enough, however, the little bit of sugar in Hayman’s Old Tom Gin merely set off and thereby emphasized the tartness. Not really an improvement.

The one thing I haven’t tried yet, partly because I ran out of fizzy water and kept forgetting to replace it, is the original Bourbon Ricky. Don’t worry, I’ll give that a whirl some day.

  

Drink of the Week: The Safer Dayquil (do not combine with actual Dayquil!)

Dayquil..do not take with Tylenol!.Sometimes funny things happen in the land of drinks that make you think funny. In this case it was a very offhand Facebook remark in which I, in a fit of hubris, implied that I would come up with a proper cocktail which would for some reason be called “Dayquil.”

My remark — respectively addressing and encouraged by two of the most legendary names in all of cinephile blogdem, i.e., Dennis Cozzalio and Odie “Odienator” Henderson — at first seemed amusing but ill-considered. For one thing, I personally strongly discourage the use of actual Dayquil for people who drink with any regularity or who happen to be drinking the day of. This is because, like many modern OTC pharmaceuticals, it contains acetaminophen (Tylenol), a much too ubiquitous pain reliever associated with literally thousands of deaths because of its toxicity to the liver under a number of circumstances, including shockingly small overdoses and especially when taken in combination with alcohol or by heavy drinkers. (Note: This is NOT a particularly controversial statement, as shocking as it is. It is absolutely for real. Here’s the scoop. It was also covered on a 2013 episode of This American Life.)

That aside, I also had no idea what would be in my non-Dayquil Dayquil.

Fate stepped in when I found a recipe for a classic cocktail, the Gin Daisy, in Robert Hess’s The Essential Bartender’s Guide. I didn’t read it closely, so I missed some details regarding the preparation of the beverage. I also hadn’t realized that Hess’s Daisy is actually a greatly simplified version of a very old school mixed drink dating back to the mid-19th century.

Then, a funny thing happened. I found I liked my severely mutated Daisy, and I definitely liked it better than Hess’s already vastly simplified version. I also realized that the combination of gin, fresh lemon juice, and grenadine looked just reddish enough to remind us of that daytime cold medicine I just suggested you avoid. Also, it would give me the opportunity to trick you into reading the public service announcement above.

Mission accomplished. Now, here’s the drink…

The Safer Dayquil (use only as directed!)

2.5 ounces gin
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
1/2 ounce grenadine
1 lemon twist (important garnish)

Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with lots of ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with the lemon twist. Be sure to do the classic cocktail thing and run the shiny side of the lemon peel around the rim of the glass before tossing it in, it seems to help this one kind of a lot. Sip and give a small toast to your liver; it needs all the support it can get, and as little acetaminophen as possible.

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Given the large amount of gin, and the fact that many gins are over 90 proof, this is a pretty potent drink that will give your liver a real run for its money all on it’s own. It’s nevertheless a drink that nicely balances boozy, sweet, and tart tastes.

I had the greatest success using that free bottle of super-high-end Nolet’s Dry Gin featured here last week. The fruitier, low-juniper flavor complements the lemon and grenadine of the Safer Dayquil very nicely. Tanqueray worked almost as well. If you want a less ultra-potent drink, I can also recommend 80 proof and value-priced Gordon’s Gin for this one. Just lay off the real Dayquil.

  

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