Sun 4 Feb 2007
Readers familiar with BiggerThanYourHead know that I am — damn my eyes! — a purist through and through, a position that isn’t always fun because it lets one in for a great deal of disappointment.
But in reading the new “Platinum Edition” of Mr. Boston (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., $19.95), the bartender’s guide that’s been around in many editions since 1935, I was struck by this assertion by Anthony Giglio, who revised the book for this recent printing. He is recounting recipes for martinis as they existed a century ago and includes a recipe for what he indicates is a more authentic version of the martini than we consume so avidly today, that is too say, the dry martini, for among all other matters to which the 20th Century can lay claim, one, of certainty, is that the martini became progressively drier.
Giglio’s recipe is this: 1 oz. gin. 1 oz. dry vermouth. 1 dash orange bitters. Stir with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Giglio says: “Another difference you’ll see is what appears to be a massive amount of vermouth being used. The result is a drink that bears little resemblance to today’s Martini. Push your prejudices aside and instead focus simply on the overall taste of the drink itself, and you’ll find the vermouth is not only enjoyable but in perfect balance with the gin.”
Wow, I thought, this guy is as much a purist as I am!
So I did that. A couple of days ago I made LL and me each a martini following Giglio’s recipe. The result: Gack!
Sorry, I’m just a four (or 3.5) parts gin to one part vermouth person and there’s no getting over it. Is anything else in the world as clean as this nun of a cocktail, as pure, as chastening? We do use the lemon twist. I agree with Giglio, that “the olive brine affects the delicate balance of the drink.” Longtime devotees of Tanqueray, we also like the Scottish gin Hendricks, though some criticize it as too floral, and Junipero, from Anchor Distillery in San Francisco.
And it’s strange that Giglio, along with every other writer on cocktails and their history and preparing, insists that a martini be stirred, not shaken. Shaking is for fruity cocktails, all the experts agree; stirring is for cocktails that combine spirits. Yet go into any bar between the shining seas and order a martini and the bartender will put the gin and vermouth in a shaker with ice and shake the holy crap out of it, breaking up the ice, so that the moment the martini is poured into your glass it’s already diluted. You don’t have to be Werner von Braun to understand that this procedure is counter-productive.
When you ask bartenders why they do this, they inevitably reply, “So the martini will be cold.” No, the way for the martini to be cold is to do what I do at home: keep the gin in the freezer and the vermouth in the refrigerator. And it is, of course, of utmost importance that the martini be achingly, bone-chilling cold, because if it isn’t, in five minutes you just have a cute little glass filled with warm alcohol. Yum.
As to all the seemingly hundreds of variations on the “martini” that adorn “martini lists” through out the land, the less said of them the better. Vermouth exists for a higher purpose in life than to give an echo of character to vodka.
By the way, my favorite recent cocktail books are Cocktail: The Drinks Bible for the 21st Century by Paul Harrington and Laura Moorhead (Viking, 1998) and New Classic Cocktails by Gary Regan and Mardee Haiden Regan (Macmillan, 1997), each in its way a model of history, lore, wisdom and imagination.