The Mother of all Martinis?
The Martini is the most iconic of cocktails. But it hasn’t always been the crisp, almost austere drink we know today.
Back in the 19th century, when the drink was growing up, it was much sweeter. And it probably was made with sweet vermouth (the red stuff). Which just happens to be a key component of the Martinez Cocktail – from which the Martini may have developed.
The Martinez has an old-fashioned vermouth-forward flavor that fits well with today’s craft cocktail scene. Although definitely sweeter than a Martini, it’s not cloying, so it works as a pre-dinner drink.
So mix up a true ancestral tipple. And tell your dinner party guests that you’re researching cocktail genealogy.
Recipe: The Martinez Cocktail
For an authentic Martinez, you’ll need Old Tom gin. That isn’t a brand name – it’s a style of gin (just as “London dry” is a style). Old Tom is less floral than the gin you’re probably familiar with, and a bit sweet.
Old Tom was very popular in the 19th century, but later fell from favor. A good liquor store will probably carry at least one brand of Old Tom – just ask them. But if you don’t want to spring for a whole bottle, we’ll discuss alternatives in the Notes.
The original recipe for the Martinez calls for twice as much sweet vermouth as Old Tom gin. The result is a drink that tastes more whiskey-like than gin-like. In fact, it reminds us quite a bit of a Manhattan. We include a recipe for the original Martinez in the Notes, but we recommend a more contemporary version of the drink.
We like a recipe we saw in the New York Times, one that was developed by Frank Caiafa, manager of the Waldorf Astoria’s Peacock Alley bar. Caiafa has recently revised the Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book. He reworked some of the classic recipes in the book (including the Martinez) to better reflect contemporary tastes.
This recipe takes about 5 minutes to prepare, and serves 1.
- 2 ounces Old Tom gin (see Notes)
- 1 ounce sweet vermouth (red Italian vermouth; we like Martini & Rossi, but any name brand will work)
- ¾ ounce dry vermouth (white French vermouth; we like Noilly Prat, but again, any name brand will work)
- ¼ ounce Maraschino liqueur (see Notes; Luxardo is the most commonly available brand)
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
- 1 dash orange bitters
- lemon twist for garnish (optional; see Notes for how to cut and shape a lemon twist)
- Add all ingredients (except garnish) to a mixing glass half-filled with ice. Stir with a long-handled spoon until the contents are well chilled (20 seconds or so).
- Strain into a cocktail glass, preferably one that has been chilled. Garnish with a lemon twist, if you wish, and serve.
- Why stir rather than shake this drink? Because all the ingredients are clear. Shaking introduces small bubbles, which can make a clear drink cloudy. (If some ingredients are opaque – citrus juice, for example – you can shake because the drink will be cloudy anyway).
- A quick lesson on making lemon twists: It’s easiest to cut twists if you have a channel knife, which is specifically designed for this task (you can see one in the picture that appears above the Notes; we use the Oxo brand, but there are other good ones available). Cut the twist to the length you desire. Then take a thin round cylindrical rod of some sort – a round spoon handle, or even a straw – and wrap the twist tightly around it. Press both ends of the twist slightly inward, towards the center. This helps set the shape. Release the twist from the cylindrical rod/spoon handle/straw/whatever, and add the garnish to the glass.
- BTW, as you cut the lemon twist, hold it over the drink you’re about to serve. Cutting releases some citrus oils, which will fall into the glass and add extra aroma.
- The original recipe for the Martinez Cocktail calls for 1 ounce Old Tom gin, 2 ounces sweet vermouth, a teaspoon of Maraschino liqueur, and 1 dash of bitters (Boker’s was the brand used back then, but Angostura works as a substitute). As noted above, this recipe yields a drink that reminds us very much of a Manhattan.
- Maraschino liqueur is made from Marasca cherries, including the crushed cherry pits. It’s a clear liquid with a taste that’s the polar opposite of the sweet, brightly colored “maraschino” cherries you might put on an ice cream float. This liqueur was developed at a Dominican monastery in Venetian Dalmatia during the 17th century. It wasn’t named “Maraschino” until about 200 years later, when industrial production began.
- Old Tom gin was particularly popular in England during the 18th and 19th centuries. In the US, rum and later whiskey (usually rye or bourbon) were the spirits of choice until the mid-19th century. If you don’t want to buy a bottle of Old Tom to make a Martinez, we suggest using a fairly mild gin like Plymouth or maybe Boodles.
- If you want a more traditional drink, use 1 ounce gin, 2 ounces sweet vermouth, 1 dash orange bitters, and ¼ ounce Maraschino liqueur. If you want a more modern flavor, try 2 ounces gin, 1 ounce sweet vermouth, ¼ ounce Maraschino liqueur, and a dash or two of orange or Angostura bitters. If you prefer a drier drink, try 1½ ounces gin, 1½ ounces dry vermouth, 2 dashes Angostura bitters, and ¼ ounce Maraschino liqueur.
- We’ve mentioned several brand names in this post. Our usual disclaimer: We’re completely noncommercial and we don’t get compensated for mentioning brands. We buy our own booze, and recommend only what we buy and like.
- Some history about the Martinez (and the Martini): By the 19th century, whiskey had become a popular spirit in the US. Bartenders often mixed it with bitters and maybe some sugar. They also discovered that whiskey had a real affinity for sweet vermouth, so they started mixing the two together. They liked the result so much that they soon began mixing vermouth with brandy, and probably most other spirits. Except for gin, which hadn’t yet gained popularity in America.
- Eventually gin caught on here, though, and someone decided to see how it tasted with (sweet) vermouth. Who first had the idea? There are several theories.
- One story says that legendary mixologist Jerry Thomas was the first to combine the two when he worked in San Francisco during the 1860s. Supposedly a visitor to his bar, who was en route to the town of Martinez, asked Thomas to create a drink for him. Thomas mixed up a cocktail he dubbed “the Martinez,” in honor of the traveler’s destination – and made cocktail history. The name eventually morphed into “Martini.” Years later, the sweet vermouth that Thomas used was replaced with dry, and the modern Martini evolved.
- Another story says that Julio Richelieu, who tended bar in Martinez during the 1870s, mixed the first version of the drink.
- Other legends say that gin and vermouth first came together in New York City. According to one story, a judge named Martine invented the mix at New York’s Manhattan Club. A competing story says the gin-and-vermouth combo was first mixed at New York’s Turf Club.
- Which of these stories (if any) is true? Who knows? The idea of combining gin and vermouth seems so obvious that we suspect numerous bartenders came up with the idea. FWIW, we tend to think that Jerry Thomas invented the original Martinez Cocktail, while one of the New York entities – probably the Turf Club – invented what we know as the modern Martini.
- Today, the Martini Cocktail is so well known that its name has become synonymous with the stemmed v-shaped cocktail glass. Indeed, some people call any drink served in this glass a “martini.”
- In any case, the Martinez and the Martini (as it eventually evolved) are quite different drinks. We’re just glad to have both of them.
You Say Martinez, I Say . . . .
“So, how is this pronounced again?” asked Mrs. Kitchen Riffs.
“Well, some say it’s Martin-EZ,” I said. “Emphasis on the last syllable.”
“Though I would have guessed Mar-TEE-nez,” said Mrs K R.
“I think a lot of people say it that way,” I said “Especially since that sounds more like Martini.”
“Of course, after a couple of these, your pronunciation might be a little off anyway,” said Mrs K R.
“Truth,” I said. “Particularly if you belt them down.”
“So let’s just keep it simple,” said Mrs K R, handing me her empty glass. “Another one of these, barkeep.”
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