Drink of the Week: The Olivette

Image ALT text goes here.I’ve slipped up again in the holiday boozing department as there’s nothing particularly Father’s Day appropriate about today’s drink. Of course, there’s also nothing particularly un-fatherly about it. If dad likes gin, olives, and isn’t averse to a tiny bit of  anisette/licorice flavor, he might just dig this very sophisticated, very boozy classic martini alternative as much as I do if you serve it up to him this Sunday.

And I do kind of dig it. I wrote last week of my moody martini disenchantment and I’ve found this drink perhaps the perhaps the perfect antidote. It features my favorite part of the martini, the olive, but it’s balanced out by tiny proportions of sugar water and the alcoholic punch in the face we call absinthe. It does come from “The Savoy Cocktail Book,” definitely one of the big daddies of the field. I’ve modified it ever so slightly to better suit my personal taste buds. More about that after today’s recipe.

The Olivette

1 1/2 ounces Plymouth Gin
1/2 teaspoon simple syrup
1/4-1/2 teaspoon absinthe
2 dashes orange bitters
1 olive (mandatory garnish)
1 lemon peel (semi-mandatory garnish)

Combine the liquid ingredients and shake the contents. (You can also stir this drink if you like…but you’d be wrong.) Strain into a chilled, smallish cocktail glass or coupe over an olive. Mr. Craddock said  you should squeeze the lemon peel on top, and I’m inclined to agree. Toast the olive, for it is green, pimento stuffed, and full of life…or, you can toast your dad if you’re so inclined.

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I find the Olivette as wonderfully sophisticated as the best traditional dry martini, yet with far more flavor going for it. While the simple syrup might seem a counterintuitive touch for a drink with an olive in it, it creates a very pleasing balance with the orange bitters (Reagan’s for me, as usual) and the very strong anisette flavor of  absinthe.

I’ve altered the Olivette from Harry Craddock’s recipe. Instead of my half and quarter teaspoons, the original calls for two dashes of simple syrup and three dashes of absinthe. I remain eternally befuddled by how I’m supposed to include a dash of something that doesn’t come from a dash bottle and too lazy/cheap to buy one just for the purpose of duplicating Mr. Craddock’s recipes. I prefer being a bit more precise anyway.

Even so, when I tried approximating the original drink with 1/4 teaspoon simple syrup and 1/2 teaspoon absinthe, I found the latter ingredient somewhat overpowered the drink. If you’re a bigger fan of licorice than me, however, you might like it this way. I liked the drink a whole lot better when I reversed the proportions and used 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and just 1/4 teaspoon absinthe — for me the ultimate example of a “little goes a long way” ingredient.

Of course, the primary and most important ingredient of the Olivette is gin, and not just any gin. Plymouth Gin is called for in, we are told by whomever felt like taking the time to count, 23 of the cocktails in “The Savoy Cocktail Book.” It is, as I wrote last year, both a style and a brand of gin. That’s because there’s only one brand of it available, so we’ve essentially got a monopoly on our hands. In this case, the monopoly works very nicely.

The ever-so-slightly less dry, fruitier flavor of gin from the English town that produced our nation’s ultra-abstemious founding Puritans really does seem to be the ideal gin for this lost classic of a drink. I say this with some authority because I also tried the Olivette with a perfectly good brand of regular London dry gin. It kind of tasted like a Dow Chemical spill.

  

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Drink of the Week: The Martini

It wouldn’t be right to kick off our new “Drink of the Week” feature with any less of a beverage than this most durable but paradoxically most intimidating of cocktails. It’s the strong but perfect before dinner drink.

A million things have been written about martinis, but the first thing you need to realize is that it’s a specific cocktail and not just any liquid poured into a martini glass. We love a good chocolate martini, because it’s chocolate, but it’s no more a martini than a chocolate bunny is a rabbit. A cosmopolitan is also not a martini; it’s a freaking cosmopolitan.

Here’s our starter recipe:

2 ounces gin or vodka
1 ounce vermouth
1-2 dashes of Regan’s Orange Bitters (optional, but especially recommended with gin)
Olive(s) or twist of lemon garnish

the Martini. Pour gin/vodka and vermouth over ice into cocktail shaker, along with a dash or two of orange bitters if you’ve got them. Shake or stir very vigorously and strain into chilled martini glass or, for smaller portions, a wide-mouthed champagne glass, add olive(s) or lemon twist. Always serve up — i.e., without ice. (We know people who drink martinis on the rocks, but we’ve tried them that way and think they’re wrong. Very, very wrong.)

Now, note that this is a starter recipe. You’ve doubtless heard of the dry martini. It’s possible that the term once simply referred to dry vermouth, but in common usage this is one with very little vermouth. From the “M.A.S.H.” TV series, to “Auntie Mame,” to Luis Buñuel’s surrealist comedy classic, “The Discrete Charm of the Bourgeoisie,” the extremely dry martini has been lionized and joked about endlessly in low, middle, and high culture. Feel free to experiment in the direction of less vermouth, reducing the amount as much as you dare.

It’s even legitimate to make your martini a la Mame Dennis (Rosalind Russell, in the movie) and pour a small amount of vermouth into a glass and then simply discard it, filling it with extremely cold strained gin or vodka afterward. This can work particularly well with vodka. We’re pretty sure, however, that Luis Buñuel was kidding in his autobiography when he suggested merely having a ray of sunlight pass through a vermouth bottle on its way to a gin bottle.

Importantly, don’t be afraid to go in the opposite, not-so-dry, direction. Many would call our recipe, which is in fact similar to what you’ll find on the back of vermouth bottles, a bit overly “wet,” particularly for vodka. Nevertheless, it’s good to use a significant amount of a good brand of vermouth. (Señor Buñuel’s choice of Noilly-Pratt is our default.) The martini is, after all, a cocktail not just a gussied up shot. We’ve even been experimenting with a drink called, “the fitty-fitty” which is, as you would expect, 50 percent gin and 50 percent vermouth. Done right, it’s an extremely smooth martini and highly recommended.

Moving on, our take on the shaken vs. stirred debate is that shaking works really well for vodka martinis, which is what James Bond is mostly ordering in the movies, and we’re still making our mind up about how it works with gin. We’ve had good and less good gin martinis made both ways.

We hope to return to the shaken/stirred and dry/not dry dichotomies at some date in the not-so-immediate future as we continue to explore classic cocktails. For now, just remember that martinis are very much a case of trial and error with your taste buds, but even the errors should be fun.

  

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