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 Liberal

the Liberal.The Liberal’s history goes back to before the turn of the 20th century, which means it’s probably dangerous to make any strong connections with modern day political affiliations, especially since this drink doesn’t have any particular story to go with it. When it comes to political labels, in any case, a lot of things have changed since 1895. That’s why modern day conservative writers feel like they can argue that they are the real liberals — as in libertarian — while today’s liberals are, in fact, fascists — a political affiliation that I’m pretty sure didn’t exist when the Liberal was first being mixed. Also, I think there’s maybe kind of a big difference between Benito Mussolini and Adlai Stevenson.

Still, as someone who has been a proud and very unapologetic actual bleeding heart liberal since the age of 12 or so, I can’t but be attracted to a drink with this name. If your politics are different than my own, however, I can reassure you that drinking the Liberal won’t impact your voting choices next year. Well, as long as you don’t drink five of them on election day, in which case you might find yourself voting for people who are dead, fictitious, or named “Huckabee.”

I can say that I like this version of the drink, which is primarily drawn from the recipe in cocktail historian Ted Haigh’s cocktail revival ur-volume, Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails. There is a stronger, larger, and less sweet version of this drink, but I don’t love it. Yes, this Liberal is open to charges of being subtly reactionary and stingy to boot. Nevertheless, our taste buds know no ideology and are immune to purity trolling. So, let’s get started.

The Liberal

3/4 ounce bourbon or rye
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
1/2 teaspoon Torani Amer
1-2 dashes orange bitters
1 cocktail cherry (very desirable garnish)

Combine the liquid ingredients in a mixing glass or a cocktail shaker. Add ice and stir vigorously. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, preferably a smaller one, and add the cocktail cherry of your choice.

As for your toast, I can’t tell you what to think or do, but you might consider the people who brought us the 8 hour day, the 40 hour work week, the minimum wage, child labor laws, and now accessible healthcare (guaranteed 100% death panel free). If you’d rather not have those things, you can still drink this, of course, but make sure you drink it from a clean glass and don’t get sick and lose your job, because then you’ll be on your own.

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In his book,Ted Haigh calls for using 100 proof Wild Turkey, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, and 3 dashes of Amer Picon, which brings up a few issues. For starters, there’s no such thing as 100 proof Wild Turkey these days, not precisely. Instead, we have Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon and Rye. I’m not sure which he meant, or whether the rye was even available when he first recreated the recipe. Since I had the 101 proof bourbon on hand already on hand left over from my pre-Derby Day post, that’s what I used first, along with the always excellent, if pricey, Carpano. Amer Picon is simply impossible to obtain, so I went with the most common substitute, Torani Amer, which is easily obtainable here in California, in any case. As for three dashes…how much is that and where I am supposed to find an amaro in a bottle with a dasher top?

Having made my adjustments, my first attempt at a Liberal was pretty excellent. Sweet, but not one bit cloying and complex enough for slow sipping, with a chocolatey undercurrent thanks to the Carpano. I followed it up with other versions, including ones with 1776 100 proof rye and my cheaper default sweet vermouth, Noilly Pratt. They were less rich in flavor, but still had plenty of complex, more floral, notes to keep your mouth good and busy.

One thing about this drink that surprised me, however, is that it really doesn’t seem to work shaken, which is my usual contrarian preference with the drink’s fairly close relative, the Manhattan. No, this one time the cocktail cognoscenti dogma about stirring over shaking drinks without juice in them proves to be correct. As usual, I could not care less about “clouding” drinks by shaking them. However, I do care a lot about flavor, and the Liberal simply tastes better that way. When I figure out how that reflects my political/philosophical leanings, I’ll let you know.

 

  

Drink of the Week: Nolet’s Negroni (modified)

Nolet's Negroni (Modified).Gin gets plenty of respect among cocktail aficionados — certainly more than vodka — but it’s still mainly thought of as a something best enjoyed in some kind of mixed drink, whether it’s as unvarnished as a very dry martini, a bit more gussied up as an Aviation, or in a gin and tonic, the arguable king of highballs. Unlike whiskey, brandy, tequila, and even poor, maligned vodka, almost no one drinks gin by the shot or the snifter and while premium gins abound, super-premium gins are rare birds indeed.

Still, with a price point of about $50.00 for a 750 ml bottle, Nolet’s Dry Gin is staking out a claim at the upper end of the mass gin market with a product that justifies its higher price with a flavor profile you won’t find anywhere else. I know this because I got a free bottle in the mail and I’ve been having a great deal of fun trying out this product in a number of classic drinks. Nolet’s has a fruity, spicy flavor that is noticeably light on juniper — the botanical that pretty much defines the taste and aroma of gin in the minds of most drinkers, whether they know it or not.

I’ve grown to like it in gin, but juniper has always been a fairly tough sell with me. (I still greatly prefer Irish or English Breakfast tea to juniper-heavy Earl Grey.) So, I think Nolet’s is a dandy change of pace, high price point notwithstanding. I’ve found it makes a fascinating martini (use a lemon twist) and a really terrific G&T (3 parts tonic to one part gin). Finally, they have a very nice variation on one of my very favorite gin cocktail classics created by New York bartender John McCarthy, even if I couldn’t resist tweaking it slightly.

Nolet’s Negroni

1 1/2 ounces Nolet’s Dry Gin Silver
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce sweet vermouth (Carpano Antica or Noilly Pratt or…?)
1 dash grapefruit bitters
1-2 ounces soda water (optional addition, see below)
1 orange slice (highly desirable garnish)

Mr. McCarthy’s original recipe calls for simply building this drink in a rocks glass with ice and an orange slice garnish. With plenty of stirring, this is a decent drink, though on the heavy side for my taste. On the other hand, I found myself liking this drink immensely simply by making one of two small adjustments.

First, you can serve it up — i.e., shaken with ice and strained into a cocktail glass — as I suggested was best with the original Negroni cocktail some time ago. You can also go crazy and simply follow McCarthy’s original recipe augmented with an additional bit of soda water for a boozier Negroni/Americano hybrid. You might want to use a double rocks glass to prevent overflow.

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The main difference between Nolet’s Negroni and the original is the inclusion of grapefruit bitters. Usually, the inclusion of Campari in any drink is considered bitters enough. Moreover, McCarthy’s original recipe specifies Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, which has a chocolatey, bitter undercurrent. Nevertheless, I think adding the bitters works just fine in a beveridge that can still come off a bit syrupy.

At the same time, I found I actually rather enjoyed my modified versions of this drink even more when I substituted Noilly Pratt sweet vermouth with its simpler, sweeter flavor that actually needs those grapefruit bitters to keep things grown-up. It’s entirely possible Martini or Cinzano would work well, too. Go with your mood, I say.

 

  

Drink of the Week: The Ideal Cocktail

Image ALT text goes here.A long time ago, a boss of mine was discussing an upcoming project and said something to the effect that “in an ideal world, we’d complete this task in two or three days.” I said, something like, “No, in an ideal world we wouldn’t have to work at all; we’d be romping with bunnies wearing nothing but flowers and praising the Lord.”

In other words, of course, the ideal cocktail doesn’t exist. Thanks to the miracle of proper names, however, the Ideal Cocktail does exist. It’s not ideal but it’s definitely not bad. It did, though, require a bit of futzing with the proportions based on the somewhat vague instructions in the most reliable source for this early 20th century tipple, The Savoy Cocktail Book. I’m very okay with the rather stiff beverage I came up with based on Harry Craddock’s prohibition-era recipe, with just a little bit of bloggy help.

The Ideal Cocktail

2 ounces London dry gin
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 tablespoon fresh grapefruit juice
1 teaspoon maraschino liqueur
1 grapefruit twist (desirable garnish)

Combine the gin, vermouth, juice, and bittersweet cherry liqueur in a cocktail shaker and shake. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Toast the reality that, in all likelihood, there’ll never be an ideal anything. After all, if we all knew how to make the perfect cocktail, cook the perfect steak, make the perfect movie, or find the perfect love, life would either get really dull, or we’d all explode or something.

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Harry Craddock’s recipe is a bit vague by modern standards as it calls for 1 part vermouth to two parts gin, but specifically tells us to add a tablespoon of grapefruit juice regardless of how big our “parts” are. It also calls for an incredibly frustrating three dashes of maraschino, which can be anything.

When first trying this drink out, I took my cue from Erik Ellestad’s 2009 post on his Savoy Stomp blog. He interpreted 3 dashes of maraschino to equal a teaspoon of the bittersweet cherry liqueur. He also — reasonably enough — called for 1 1/2 ounces of gin and 3/4 ounce of sweet vermouth, with him using the pricey (and admittedly fantastic) Carpano Antica. I liked his orthodox take on the drink which differs from the very few other versions of this you’ll find online.

I chose my fall-back sweet vermouth, Noilly Pratt and started with Mr. Ellestad’s proportions, using a bottle of Tanqueray I’ve been itching to work with. I dismissed his suggestion to stir, not shake, the drink out of hand, however. Though I tend to be generally highly skeptical of the booze snob ban on stirring many cocktails for fear or spoiling the beauty and booziness of the drink, in this case most c-snobs actually have my back; conventional wisdom supports shaking any drink with citrus juice in it. I think it’s a necessity here.

In fact, even vigorously shaken, the Ideal Cocktail came out a bit cloying to my tastebuds at those proportions. After experimenting with both Maraska and Luxardo brands maraschino, I decided that, this time, Luxardo was definitely the better choice, justifying it’s higher price tag. More importantly, I finally settled on upping the amounts of the Tanqueray and Noilly Pratt I was using. The results were bracing and just sweet enough, though I admit that it’s a pretty stiff drink.

In an effort to make it a hair less stiff, I switched from the 94.6 proof Tanqueray  to value price, 80 proof, Gordon’s. Not bad, if less than ideal.

 

 

  

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