• Weekly Cocktail #36: A Martini

    A Martini.

    Writers coin hundreds, perhaps thousands, of words each day to wax over the history and debate the composition of this week’s cocktail, the Martini. We can’t, and won’t, try to match any of it. What we will say is that the weather is getting nippy, we are cooking richer dishes and many holiday parties are on the horizon. Our tastes tend to shift with the season, and these days we start to crave the occasional Martini. Regardless of all the blather endless conversation, a good Martini is still a delight. Clean, cold and elegant, and with crisp, bracing flavors, a Martini is a good start to a special evening. (A few more can also be a very poor end to an evening, but we will leave that to Dorothy Parker).

    Ironically, for all the “best”, “only way”, or “classic” interpretations of the Martini, the recipe has been in flux throughout the Martini’s history. The only real constants are gin (yes, only gin) and vermouth. And that’s it, otherwise the variables are endless. Early recipes used Old Tom gin and sweet vermouth, some Plymouth gin and a mix of sweet and dry vermouth, later recipes London dry gin and dry vermouth. And the ratios are simply all over the place. Even the best cocktail books and writers simply don’t agree. Some recipes go 50/50 vermouth to dry gin (most recipes these days use dry gin) and some still use just the lightest hint of vermouth, others include a dash of bitters. And, of course, you have the preparation and garnish. The amount of back-and-forth over shaken vs. stirred and olive vs. a lemon twist already fill a few volumes. In fact, the one thing we can say with confidence is that if someone tells you they know the “best” or “only” way to make a Martini, they really don’t know what they are talking about. All they really know is how they like “their” Martini. If you like a good Martini, you need to try a number of variations and decide what you like. This is a good thing.

    And while you experiment, we do suggest you consider a few things. Firstly, vermouth isn’t an afterthought. There are many quality vermouths out there from the inexpensive (Noilly-Pratt) to the premium (Dolin). And if you keep them in the fridge they actually taste good. No need to skimp. Try recipes that use more vermouth, you may be surprised. Secondly, the world of gin is exploding with multiple flavor profiles. Good London dry gin and Plymouth are still heavy on juniper, but “new world” gins like Hendrick’s and Nolet’s focus on flavors like cucumber or rose petals (we tend to like the old standby of Tanqueray and the occasional dalliance with Hendrick’s, but that’s just us). Third, we suggest you play around on the edges, try a dash of orange bitters, experiment with olives and twists depending on the gin or vermouth you use.  Finally, it makes sense to keep your Martinis small so they don’t warm up, a cold Martini is a good martini. And feel free to shake or stir, just be sure to do it until the Martini is very, very cold.

    Right now, we enjoy Dolin dry vermouth and have it highlight our Martinis. We use a decent slug of vermouth with dry gin and we also enjoy an “old-school” variation and include some orange bitters. As for olives or a twist, it depends on our mood and if we need a quick appetizer, but we like the lemon oil from the twist. So our current recipe is 1 and 1/2 oz. dry gin, 3/4 oz. dry vermouth, a dash of Regan’s Orange Bitters #6 and a lemon twist. We have a cool mixing glass, so we stir. But do what you like. Enjoy yourself.

    And one last note. Few cocktails match the spare, timeless elegance of the martini. The shaker, the glass, the olive all look beautiful and harken back to the art-deco designs and speakeasies of the 1920’s. Having a Martini is a special event, a small step back in time, an escape. And we celebrate that. However you make it, take the time to make your Martini well. Pull out some of your best glasses and maybe even a silver tray. Pick out some good music to play. Maybe invite over a few good friends. Serve your Martini with style, it will pay you back handsomely.

    The Martini:

    Ingredients:

    • 1 and 1/2 oz. dry gin
    • 3/4 oz. good dry vermouth
    • 1 dash Regan’s Orange Bitters #6 (optional)
    • Lemon twist

    Assemble:

    1. Combine the gin, vermouth and bitters in a mixing glass with ice. Stir until very cold and strain into a chilled cocktail glass or coupé. Squeeze the twist over the drink and then place it in the glass. Serve.
  • Weekly Cocktail #18: The Upside-Down Martini

    Upside-down martini using vinho verde instead of vermouth.

    One of the cool things about the cocktail renaissance is that inspiration comes from pretty much anywhere. And while there are always a few mixologists, enthusiasts and bartenders with “attitude”, cocktails tend to live in a welcoming, open and happy place. After all, it is just fun with booze and friends. Why mess with it? If somethings sounds good, give it a try.

    And we bring this up because rather than try and hide it, we will ‘fess up and admit this cocktail comes directly from Martha Stewart (or at least her magazine). Martha probably doesn’t rate very cool in urban cocktail circles, but we are in the sticks country out here and will take whatever inspiration we can get ;-). To be fair, the upside-down martini has been around for quite a while. Basically a martini that is 3-1 vermouth-to-gin vs. 3-1 gin to vermouth, the upside-down martini is an attempt to lighten what is a very boozy, but excellent, drink. But even with a good dry vermouth like Dolin, the upside-down martini can sometimes be a bit cloying and lack character. However, Martha (or her drinks editor) adapted the traditional recipe to include white vinho verde, rather than dry vermouth, and suddenly you get a very good summer cocktail.

    So what is vinho verde? Vinho verde is light, young Portugese wine that translates into “green wine”. And that is a very good description. Vino verde is usually less than one year old, overtly tart with citrus notes, slightly fizzy, low-alcohol (usually 8%-10%) and cheap (less than $10 per bottle). Vino verde is a very tasty summer wine by itself, but when combined with a touch of gin and a few olives, you get something altogether different, and better.

    The trick with this cocktail is that you get a very light drink that still tastes like a martini. The vinho verde’s “green” flavors go well with the juniper of the gin and the briny notes of the olives, but the overall body of drink is very light from the low-alcohol and slight fizz of the wine. And if you are a martini drinker, this is a very good thing. Martinis rock, but as Dorothy Parker says…”two at the very most”. Summer is about long, lovely days- but regular dry martinis can make for short, blotto tipsy nights. The upside-down martini with vino verde is a great way to turn a martini into a light, “long”, refreshing drink. If you are not a fan of typical “fruity” summer drinks, this version of the upside-down martini may be for you. And if you are a gin-and-tonic fan, the upside-down martini is a fun diversion.

    Upside-down martini and ingredients.

    As for the recipe, we suggest a 3-1 ratio of vinho verde to London dry gin. Even if you don’t normally like the juniper in gin, we bet you will find it is a good foil for the citrus and tang of the vinho verde. We also suggest including olives or some other briny garnish. The touch of brine melds well with the drink, it will lack an extra dimension if you omit the olives (we also tried cornichons, and they worked quite well). We tried the recipe with just a lemon twist, but most vinho verde has overt lemony flavors and the twist gets lost. The olives do make a difference in this cocktail.

    So if you, or a friend, prefer traditional or classic cocktails more than the normal citrus-and-sugar drinks of summer, then the upside-down martini is worth a look. And if you just want a light summer cocktail, that also looks pretty cool,  then the upside-down martini with vinho verde certainly fits the bill. Thanks Martha!

    The Upside-Down Martini:

    (Adapted from Martha Stewart

    Ingredients:

    • 3 oz. vinho verde (we like Casal Garcia- tasty and cheap)
    • 1 oz. dry gin
    • Olives, caper berries or cornichons, for garnish

    Assemble:

    1. In a medium lowball (or highball, if you like) glass add the gin and vinho verde. Add ice to fill glass, stir until well-chilled. Add olives, stir a bit more and serve.
  • Bonus Cocktail: The Tuxedo

    Dress up, drink, repeat.

    We are working on some new recipes for this week, including a kick-ass version of Cioppino and some homemade Philadelphia-style ice cream. Asparagus is also in season, and we may have a good dish coming there as well. But the recipes are not quite ready for prime time (or photography) just yet.

    We did mange to stumble upon another good cocktail however, and I could not resist posting it now (for all of you Monday cocktail drinkers…;-). The drink is called the Tuxedo. We found it while researching drinks that use Maraschino liqueur. As you may recall, last week’s cocktail was the Rum Crusta, a lemon-based, “tropical”, rum cocktail that uses Maraschino with great impact. The Tuxedo may use a similar ingredient with the Maraschino, but it a very different animal. If the Rum Crusta is an escape to a beach in the Caribbean, the Tuxedo is a night on the town in New York. Continue reading