Cocktail Hour: The Martinez and the Martini

DSC_0472The Martini might be one of the most contentious drinks behind the bar.  When you order a Martini in a bar, generally what you get is gin, up, shaken (not stirred), with an olive or two.  If vermouth is used, it’s used incredibly sparingly.

I’m sorry, folks.  That’s not a Martini.  That’s gin, up.  Likewise if you do the same thing with vodka: it’s a vodka, up.  If that’s what you like?  That’s fine.  However, please– do yourself a favor and try one that actually involves vermouth.

So why do people not like vermouth in their martini?  For the same reason that people don’t like sweet vermouth: 9 times out of ten, bars have skunked vermouth.

Vermouth is a fortified wine.  Wine, as anyone who’s opened a bottle, recorked it, and then tried to drink it a few days later, goes bad– it oxidizes.  Everything you liked about the wine takes on acrid, sour, bad notes– it’s just no good anymore.  Most people– and even lots of bartenders– forget that vermouth is, at its heart, wine that goes bad.  Though it’s fortified, that really only extends its life by a week.  This is why vermouth is often sold in small bottles; you can buy what you need so you’re not wasting vermouth.  I like, for dry vermouth, Noilly Prat, which was the first dry (French-style) vermouth (and also happens to be made from one of my favorite grape varietals, Picpoul de Pinet).  It also comes in small (375 ml) bottles that run around $5.  There are two versions of Noilly Prat commercially available: one “original” and the American version. I haven’t found the original formulation in the area yet.

Okay, so let’s take a moment to talk about the cocktail that is considered the immediate predecessor to the Martini,the Martinez.  I tried it recently at a Party Source cocktail demonstration, Gin is In, which featured Jay Erisman talking about gin, and Josh Durr making cocktails with it.  One of the gin styles, Old Tom, is called for in the Martinez.  It’s a sweetened gin– not too sweet– but still different than the London dry style you and I are most accustomed to.  You wouldn’t want to make a dry Martini with this (as it’s not dry).  The Martinez appears in Jerry Thomas’ 1862 How to Mix Drinks, or the Bon Vivant’s Companion, about 40 years before we ever see a dry Martini:

1 dash Boker’s Bitters

2 dashes Maraschino

1 pony Old Tom Gin

1 wineglass Vermouth

2 small lumps of ice

When you deal with these old cocktail books, you have to be careful about measurements.  A wineglass?  A pony?  If you want some translations, there’s a handy list here.  Boker’s bitters? Bitter Truth makes the bitters that Jerry Thomas made, but they’re pretty hard to find.  Angostura or Peychaud’s would work fine.  A dash is about 1/4 of 1/4 oz (as every time you “dash” a bottle of bitters, the measurement is a little different).

Josh Durr’s recipe is a bit different, more gin than vermouth:

1.5 oz Hayman’s Old Tom Gin

1/2 oz Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth (if you can’t use a $30, 750 ml bottle of sweet vermouth, substitute Noilly Prat Sweet Vermouth)

2 dashes Luxardo Maraschino

1 dash Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas Bitters (or Angostura)

This drink should be stirred in a mixing glass with cracked ice. You do not shake Martinis (or Martinezes), despite James Bond’s instructions. You only shake if there’s citrus, sugar or eggs in a drink– not if it’s just alcohol.  So stir until it’s very chilled and serve in a cocktail glass.

By the turn of the century, the Martinez evolved into a drink with just gin and vermouth, and in 1906, following some clever marketing by Martini and Rossi’s dry vermouth, you have the martini.

Now, Martini proportions: use Vermouth.  Don’t spray it, don’t wash the glass with it, don’t wave the bottle in the same zip code as your cocktail– use it.  I’ve made Martinis for avowed anti-vermouth folks with fresh vermouth and they’ve loved it.  I swear.  The one in the picture is a “Perfect” Martini, that is, the proportion of vermouth to gin is equal.  Popular proportions of vermouth to gin are as low as 1:6 (why bother?), 1:4,  1:3, 1:2 and 1:1 (perfect).  The vermouth mellows the gin and makes it quite a delightful drink, not as abrasive or as hot as gin, up.

If you garnish it with a pearl onion, it’s a Gibson (named after the artist Charles Gibson, of Gibson Girl fame).  If you make what James Bond actually drank, it wasn’t a Martini, it was a Vesper (which is made with Lillet and vodka  instead of just gin and vermouth).

So figure out your proportions– and try a fresh bottle of vermouth.  You won’t be sorry.  The Martini is a refreshing drink (which I plan on imbibing often this summer).

11 thoughts on “Cocktail Hour: The Martinez and the Martini”

  • Your comments about Vermouth are right on Julie. Jay regularly stocks Hayman’s Old Tom Gin at the Party Source btw. If you don’t have any Old Tom on hand you can sweeten a measure of Plymouth Gin (which might be the world’s best gin) with a dash of simple syrup. It works in a pinch. Jay also sells the fabulous Dolin Vermouth de Chambéry, both Blanc & Rouge, and he has both in 375ml bottles! Dolin is produced in the capitol of France’s Savoie region in the Alps and is the only AOC for Vermouth in the nation. It’s well worth seeking out.

  • Julie,

    Some thoughts to add here.

    Noilly “Original” is readily available in both KY & OH and the only dry vermouth they use at Tonic. ( As I set it up that way ) . Dolin is good, but the best product they manufacture is also there original style for that Chambery region. The Blanc ( semisweet ).

    As far as the Martinez and the original JT recipe vs. the adaptation. When making this recipe at the class I wanted to make the most authentic recipe I could find. Beyond translating the pony from the wineglass etc.. ( I wish this information was available several years ago readily as it is now when I was trying to figure it out ).

    There is the adjustment of ingredient amounts, with my research of how the product was at that time. So Old Tom in 1862 was not Hayman’s as its sold today. This stuff was sweetened yes, but had plenty of kick to it that the Hayman’s does not. This was doctored gin to make is smoother. I know by my research that the vermouth they were using was the Carpano Antica style of sweet vermouth. As there was no dry/french in the country at the time.

    So what to do well..add more Gin. The Carpano still wants to take over. But there is the reasoning there in the adjustment, to create more of an authentic imbibe.

    As far as the Vesper. What most people don’t realize is that this cocktail only works with bitter vermouth. Lillet was reformulated stateside in 1987. It is less bitter and does not have the same attributes that the Lillet today has. The Vesper was intended to be made with Kina Lillet some say… which is a style of Lillet that was defunct in by the 1930’s.

    So the moral of the story is. Its never black and white when looking at these old recipes. You have to look at each ingredient with a historical microscope.

    But the one thing I do know is that a 2 ( Gin ):, 1( Noilly Original ):, Dash ( Fee Orange Bitters ) Martini with GIN is something you should try if you haven’t. This is the circa 1906 version…

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