Vermouth 101: The Old Hickory
Well now that you have an appetite inducing “qualifying round” under the belt, time to move to the first course. When it comes to vermouth cocktails, the next logical step in expanding ones appreciation of what the spirit can do is to go back to the beginning. In the time line of modern cocktail history, there are only a few that showcase vermouth’s qualities and still deliver a high proof kick. Cocktails such as the Turf Club (equal parts sweet vermouth and gin with bitters) or the El Presidente (equal parts dry vermouth and white rum, with curacao, grenadine, and bitters) only give vermouth equal billing. Meet the cocktail that puts vermouth in the front of the room and happens to be the Grand Daddy of the modern Martini: The Martinez Cocktail.
The Martinez is a predecessor to the Martini that is allegedly attributed to Jerry “The Professor” Thomas as its creator. It is important to note that the drink does not appear in Thomas’ original 1862 printing of How to Mix Drinks or the Bon Vivant’s Companion but then it appears in the 1887 edition, which has led to speculation as to its true origins. It is not clear who “Martinez” was or whether he existed at all. Like any good bar tale or creation myth, there are plenty of theories of who invented the libation. One thing we do know, the Martinez fell off the radar of bartenders once dry vermouth became plentiful around turn of the century and the dry Martini became king.
Since the fin-de-siecle, the Martinez cocktail has been relegated to the history books but is making a legitimate comeback thanks to the recent cocktail revival. This dark period is understandable, since the caliber of vermouths available in the last few decades has not been conducive to making the Martinez palatable. As I mentioned in the previous posting on the Vermouth Cocktail , the quality of the vermouth is critical when mixing a cocktail where vermouth plays the base spirit.
The Martinez’s construction is rather simple with only four ingredients: Italian vermouth, Old Tom gin, maraschino liqueur, and aromatic bitters--stirred, and served up a citrus peel. In an attempt to get the historical taste profile spot on, I recommend using the following spirits when mixing the drink:
First, use a sweet or “Italian” vermouth that follows the original vermouth formulas of the nineteenth century. Brands such as Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth or the newly released Vermouth di Torino by Cocchi not only bring a robust flavor profile to the Martinez, they are similar in composition to the vermouths used by the likes of Jerry Thomas the sporting bartenders during the cocktail’s heyday. I actually prepared a Martinez using one of the mass produced brands in my research for this article--take it from me, there is no comparison to the Carpano or Cocchi products.
Second, use artisan Old Tom gin such as a version produced by Ransom distillers of Sheridan, Oregon. Ransom Old Tom gin is a historically accurate replica of mid-1800s recipes developed with the guidance of cocktail historian David Wondrich. It is produced in small batches, alembic pot distilled, 88 proof (44% alcohol by volume), and has a distinct malt flavor that blends well with vermouths. Old Tom is a variety of gin that is a sweetened that predates the now ubiquitous London Dry gin.
Maraschino liqueur: Luxardo is a premium brand maraschino liqueur made from marasca cherries of the Dalmatian coast in Croatia. The liqueur which has an ancient pedigree has origins in the Dominican monastaries of the region. The award-winning Luxardo recipe dates from 1821 and is produced in Torregue, outside Padova in Italy.
Bitters: Try to get your hands on Dr. Adam Elmigirab’s Boker’s Bitters, a revival of the original Boker’s company recipe dating from 1853 is the authentic choice. If Boker’s is out of reach, I suggest the Bitter Truth’s Jerry Thomas’ Own Decanted Bitters or Angostura aromatic bitters.
2 oz Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth
1 oz Ransom Old Tom Gin
1 Tsp of Luxardo maraschino
Dash of Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas’ Own Decanted bitters
Tools: bar glass, bar spoon, Swiss peeler, strainer, and coupe glass
Method: Combine ingredients in mixing glass, add cracked ice, stir rigorously until proper dilution achieved, and strain into chilled cocktail glass, then release the citrus oils from an lemon peel and discard.
Insider’s Tip: Substitute a thicker bodied gin of the Holland Gin variety such as Bols Genever Barrel Aged for a unique update on this classic. Typically, Holland gin does not mix well with sweet vermouth, however, the Barrel Aged Genever picks up many notes which exist in whiskey, and thus make for a better partnership.
*Photograph by Vanessa Bahmani
**Got a cocktail question? Reach Fredo on twitter @loungerati, email me at fredo(at)loungerati(dot)com, or simply drop me a comment below!
***Fredo Ceraso is the editor-at-large of the lounge lifestyle blog Loungerati.com. He is head cocktailian and a co-producer of The Salon parties. Fredo is a member of the USBG New York chapter and rolls drinks at many Lounge, Swing, Jazz Age, & Burlesque events in New York City.