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The Martini may be the iconic American cocktail, but its history is rather complicated (as many alcoholic concoctions’ origins are). And although we are a bit late to National Martini Day (which was on June 19th), who says we can’t celebrate all summer long?
Cocktail historians have multiple theories as to where this potent and delicious mixture of gin (yes, gin – vodka only gained popularity as the main ingredient for the drink in the 1960s) and vermouth, with one of the most widely agreed-upon stories tracing the precursor to the Martini back to Martinez, California during the Gold Rush. Apparently a miner struck gold and needed a special drink to celebrate, so the bartender utilized what he had available (vermouth, gin, and a few other ingredients) and voila! Named after the town, it didn’t take long for word of the Martinez to spread. It was officially immortalized in the groundbreaking 1880s book, Harry Johnson’s Bartenders’ Manual, which contained the first published recipe for the Martinez. Over the years, bartenders put their twist on the drink and it evolved into the Martini we all know and love today. But that is just one theory.
Another story traces the drink back to bartenders at the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco in the 1860s, where many people would have an early evening cocktail before boarding a ferry to the nearby town of Martinez (hence the name). Yet another links the origins of the Martini to the Knickerbocker Hotel in New York in the early 1900s. Then, of course, there is the less exciting, but equally plausible, theory of an Italian vermouth maker who began marketing their product as Martini in 1863 (Martini & Rossi is still a very popular brand today). Imbibers would ask for a Martini cocktail simply because it was made wi mth that product. Whatever theory you choose, there’s no doubt that the Martini is an excellent cocktail.
The Martini maintained its following throughout the Roaring Twenties and Prohibition, and was associated with the coolest of the cool during the 1950s and 1960s (James Bond, anyone?). By the 1980s it was considered old-fashioned and fell off the radar for most cocktail drinkers. The arrival of new products and flavors into the spirits market in the 1990s changed this, and a resurgence in the Martini’s popularity introduced the world to such drinks as the appletini, espresso Martini, or just about anything that could be served in a Martini glass. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but I like the original recipe.
Below are three combinations of gin and vermouth that I am drinking this summer, fall, winter, and beyond. Please remember to stir your Martinis until well-chilled, don’t shake them. Even though James Bond was really cool, he didn’t know anything about cocktails. (By the way, the proper name for a shaken Martini is a Bradford.)
Ford’s Gin and Miro Vermouth:
This would be my go-to classic Martini. I like it in this ratio: 5 parts (2.5oz) Ford’s Gin, 2 parts (1oz) Miro Vermouth. Miro has a bright, briny character that I think balances the gin nicely, so I prefer it a bit wetter than some. It’s also incredibly tasty in the original Martini ratio of 1:1 (2.5oz gin to 2.5oz vermouth). Garnish with olive.
Cotswolds Gin and Tempus Fugit Vermouth Bianco:
Cotswolds is a dry gin, but with added fresh citrus peels that give it lift and it pairs nicely with the Tempus Fugit Vermouth Bianco, which is bursting with fruit and botanical character. Bonus: the gin is un-chillfiltered so it will appear delightfully cloudy once poured. Ratio: 6 parts (3oz) Cotswolds Gin, 1 part (.5oz) Tempus Fugit Vermouth. Garnish with lemon peel.
BCN Gin and La Quintinye Vermouth:
Both the gin and vermouth for this recipe are wild, aromatic, and complex, so I feel that they work well together. Because of this, I prefer to reduce the gin a bit to ensure that they both shine. Ratio: 4 parts (2oz) BCN Gin, 3 parts (1.5oz) La Quintinye Vermouth. Honestly, this doesn’t need a garnish.
Serve neat in a Martini glass and enjoy! Tim Gagnon
From the famed vermouth-producing city of Reus, just southwest of Barcelona, Miro is just what I’ve been looking for to make the ultimate Martini. Made from a base wine of Airen and Macabeo with herbs and wormwood sourced from the Pyrenees Mountains, it is exceptionally dry (no sugar added!) and exhibits all of the piquant, herbal, and briny notes of olives. This is no doubt the reason it works so well in a Martini, but there are compelling wormwood-forward notes along with a touch of spice, bracing acidity, and minerality that make it a perfect aperitif. Seriously delicious! Tim Gagnon
A recent arrival to the US market! Named for the rural area outside of London in where the distillery is located, Cotswolds Gin went into production in 2014. Nine botanicals undergo 18-hour maceration in a base distillate of wheat and these include juniper, coriander, bay, fresh citrus peel, and black pepper, among others. It is beautifully aromatic – juniper heavy, with cool overtones of balsam, mint, rosemary, cucumber, and lime – but maintains a classic, dry profile on the palate with added lift seemingly from the fresh citrus peel. Green herbs and black pepper creep in on the finish. Very balanced and long, this makes a killer Martini, and it is also un-chillfiltered so it clouds up when cold! Tim Gagnon
A delicious vermouth with a base of select white wines from the Southwestern France, Pineau des Charentes Blanc, and 27 different botanicals. A beautiful golden color, it is heady, floral, and intensely aromatic with underlying currents of licorice and anise. It is incredibly dry, but maintains a balance on the palate and it is here that its Pineau des Charentes roots show. This is perfect for sipping or in a more adventurous Martini. Tim Gagnon
Ford’s Gin is a collaboration between Simon Ford of the 86 Co. (a company founded in 2012 working with different distilleries to create bartender-friendly, well-made, workhorse spirits) and 8th generation Master Distiller Charles Maxwell of Thames Distillers in London. It was intended to be a big step up from the other “well” spirits available on the market but offer a fantastic value. Their recipe uses 9 botanicals starting with the classic base of coriander seed and juniper with bitter orange, lemon, and grapefruit peel balanced by jasmine flower, orris root, angelica root, and cassia root. These are steeped in the base spirit for 15 hours before being distilled ensuring a captivating, aromatic finished spirit. This gin is a wonderful play of exotic and spicy aromas mingling with open floral notes on the nose. The palate is full-bodied and dry with citrus oil and a tantalizing spice. This would be perfect for the home mixologist as it could be the base for numerous cocktails. Tim Gagnon
A great homage to the “Vino di Moda” of turn-of-the-20th-century Italy! Although this vermouth does have a hint of sweetness to it, it is tempered by bitter orange, fresh green herbs, and a saline edge. There is also a hint of warm spice, honeysuckle, and pretty tropical fruits that build on a refreshingly crisp finish. This is outstanding in a wide variety of classic cocktails, and also on its own with a splash of seltzer and a lemon twist. Tim Gagnon
This is truly a distinctive gin, and it is one that mirrors the distillery’s locale in the mountainous Priorat region of Spain. It is distilled from the lees of Garnacha and Cariñena grapes that are sourced from producers in the surrounding area. Also sourced locally are the botanicals: juniper berries, rosemary, fennel, pine shoots, lemon peel, and figs, resulting in a decidedly Mediterranean spirit. Quinine, lime, cinnamon, garrigue, and sour cherry rise from the glass. Elegant on the palate, with fresh fig, melon, and a bright, salty acidity giving the impression of weightlessness as it finishes very dry and perfumed with hints of dark berry fruits, sage, and smoke. Tim Gagnon