Drink of the Week: The Vodka Martini

vodka martiniSo, this all started when, through the kindness of a smart and generous publicist working for Diageo, two bottles of very good vodka found their way to my door. Ketel One is the solid and very popular brand of premium liquor you probably all know, with its bright, clean taste. With a bit more complexity and bite than we usually associate with what was once marketed as “white whisky,” certified organic Moon Mountain Vodka, a small batch liquor, also came my way. Both are superior vodkas which, I’m certain, would do very well in any good vodka cocktail from a Bloody Mary to a Moscow Mule. Still, I decided to first enjoy them in probably their purest cocktail form, the vodka martini.

Now, careful readers with long memories may recall that we covered the martini — both gin and vodka — in the first ever edition of DOTW. Nevertheless, we didn’t really give the vodka variation its proper attention as a sturdy cocktail in its own right. (Many will insist it’s not the same drink and they’re not half wrong.) Today, we correct that oversight with, really, the first cocktail that ever became “my” drink and only partially because I grew up with James Bond on the brain. You’ll note that we’re using significantly less vermouth this time around.

The Vodka Martini

3 ounces vodka
1 teaspoon to 1/2 ounce dry vermouth
1 dash of orange bitters (optional)
Lemon twist or olive garnish

Combine vodka and a tiny, or teeny-tiny, amount of vermouth in a cocktail shaker. Also consider throwing in a very small amount of orange bitters. This may be heretical in some quarters, but we like our vodka martinis seriously cloudy with ice crystals, especially since we’re keeping the vermouth to a minimum this time, so all of these liquids should be poured over crushed ice, if you can manage it. Then shake like crazy for as long as you can stand to. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass with olives or a twist of lemon, though we prefer olives. Sip slowly, this is essentially two drinks in one. (Use 100 proof vodka only at your own risk.)

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I have to admit to some small consternation when trying this at home that I never quite reached the level of smooth perfection that my very longstanding and extremely good friend, hostess par excellance Dr. R., achieves regularly with her vodka martinis. Apparently, however, her secret involves using just a smidge of olive brine, which technically makes her drink a dirty martini.

I love dirty martinis and I’m sure I’ll cover them at some point later on, but that doesn’t mean you have to wait. Apparently, her trick is to just use a drop of vermouth, and a touch of brine and lots and lots of crushed ice — and no bitters. I like my version but, I have to admit, her’s is pretty damn perfect.

As for which brand of vodka worked better…that depends. The Moon Mountain is better for those who really like to know they’re imbibing alcohol while being kind to the environment, while the Ketel One is slightly preferable for those who’d like to pretend they’re drinking an intoxicating iceberg.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Moscow Mule

Moscow MuleSummertime weather has kicked into high gear much earlier than usual in the greater Los Angeles area and it’s hot as we write these words at Drink of the Week Central. So, it’s as good a time as any to celebrate an appropriately cold and refreshing, and actually perfectly delightful, semi-classic cocktail that was invented in New York but popularized in what is now incorporated West Hollywood. Moreover, while the name of this drink might have once hinted at anti-capitalist subversion, this is one beverage with a history that any U.S. captain of industry or Russian oligarch can appreciate.

The Moscow Mule was developed by East-coast based Smirnoff manufacturer Heublein in the 1940s to help popularize vodka, then a poor seller in the U.S. market. The new drink hit it big, however, with the movie-star heavy clientele at the Cock ‘n Bull pub on the Sunset Strip. The pub’s owner, it turns out, also was the president of Cock ‘n Bull Products, which manufactured the drink’s other main ingredient, ginger beer. Since cocktails made with ginger beer or ginger ale were commonly called “bucks” or “mules” and Smirnoff was a Russian-derived vodka, the name must have been easy enough to invent.

Here’s the recipe:

The Moscow Mule

2 ounces vodka
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
1 spent lime wedge (garnish)
1 teaspoon superfine sugar
Approx. 3 ounces ginger beer
1 dash Angostura bitters

Dissolve sugar in lime juice, bitters, and vodka. Add plentiful ice to Tom Collins glass or large metal mug. Top off with ginger beer. Throw in one of the lime wedges you used to produce the lime juice. Stir with a bar spoon or swizzle stick and toast the Cock ‘n Bull, which tragically closed down forever in 1987. (It’s now a car dealership.)

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The above recipe is actually our distillation of a number of recipes we found online. So, be aware that it’s entirely okay to use an entire ounce of lime juice or up to three or four dashes of bitters, though that will add perhaps more piquancy than some might be prepared for while giving it the same pinkish hue as the picture we’re using this week. (If you’re big into bitters, Moscow mules have also been made with Fee Brothers’ Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters.) You can also use the minimum amount of lime juice and dispense with the sugar and bitters entirely. Still, when all was said and done, the version above produced a really well-balanced beverage that a drinking newbie can easily love and cocktail connoisseur can, at the very least, respect.

Ginger beer, by the way, is fairly similar to ginger ale, just a little bit, or a lot, heavier on the ginger, depending on the brand. We haven’t tried it, but real cheapskates may consider experimenting with plain old Vernors or Canada Dry. Ginger beer can be more expensive than some brands of actual beer.

  

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