Cocktails 101 | The Martinez
Want to make a bartender’s day? Order a Martinez cocktail. It’s a classic drink that died a sad, malingering death in the US during Prohibition, mostly because its primary component—Old Tom gin—ceased production in the early 20th century and never quite recovered. Amongst booze nerds, the Martinez is the delicious connection between that garnet-hued rye whiskey standard, the Manhattan, and the minimalist world epitomized by dry Martinis showing up at the dawn of the Gilded Age. With the current rage for pre-Prohibition era cocktails, distillers are stepping up their historical reproduction game to fill consumer and bartender demand for long lost libations like Old Tom gin, and by extension, kickass cocktails like the Martinez. We’re COLLECTIVELY thrilled to taste the results.
Like much of cocktail history, the tale of the Martinez is chock full of half-assed swagger and slurry hyperbole. Most booze historians agree the drink most likely had its roots in Western mining country, where a gold rush barkeep in Martinez, CA may or may not have legendarily made a gin-based twist on a Manhattan. In any case, “Martinez” cocktail recipes showed up in print by the mid-1880s and some version of it was served coast-to-coast until the 1930s or so. Cocktail historian Eric Felton notes that a Martinez-style Martini garnished with floating orange peel cut into the shape of a gold dollar makes it a Klondike Cocktail. ‘Twas the shit to order during the Alaska Gold Rush of the late 1890s.
So what’s the big deal about Old Tom gin, and if it was really all that great, why’d it go out of production? Well, just like with our good friend rye whiskey [which also declined during Prohibition but has made a stellar comeback, thankyoubabyJesus], we can blame the capricious mandates of the popular palate. Distilling history is a fickle bitch, my friends. Old Tom gins fell out of favor by the turn of the 20th century, and gin distillers switched production entirely to more popular, drier booze recipes. There are as many guesses about what Old Tom gin used to taste like as there are modern distillers making a go at reproducing it now to meet consumer demand. Some modern interpretations are sweet, and some drier and more herbal; some are clear, and some have an amber hue [barrel aged]. Fact remains, you’ll get wildly different results making a Martinez depending on your gin, and how you fuck around with the sweet-to-dry ratio of the drink via vermouth.
We recently spent an afternoon with one of Finca’s talented barmen, Jonny Bonner, rigorously testing Martinez recipes old and new with delicious results. As Jonny eloquently said, “that beautiful Martinez…a classic nestled in a chilled coupe and served with a late-night read” is about as good as it gets. You’ll note that as Martinez recipes evolved over time [see below], the drink became drier; not much of a stretch to see how subbing out a London dry gin instead of Old Tom will take you a half step away from a Martini. Take a gander at this bit of R & D, y’all, and mix up a Martinez or three on your own.
THE BOOZE: It’s not marketed as a “Old Tom” style gin, but it’s pretty fucking delicious: Beehive Distilling’s Barrel Reserve Jack Rabbit Gin, made right here in the 801. Ransom also makes a delightful Old Tom gin perfect for Martinez and other vintage cocktails. Having trouble finding those? Try making a dry Martinez variation with a traditional gin like Plymouth, or Beehive Distilling’s original Jack Rabbit Gin. Jonny’s favorite vermouths are Ransom, Punt e Mes and Martini [oh, and unless noted otherwise, we’re talking sweet vermouth].
THE BLUSH: Luxardo sets the standard for maraschino liqueur: this is an actual clear liqueur, people, not the toxic red stuff those Technicolor cherries float in.
THE BITTERS: Shmancy bitters are turning up all over town (hallelujah!), and this is the perfect opportunity to experiment with Boker’s, Peychaud’s, or some fruity varieties like those made by Fee Brothers, but good old Angostura will fit the bill just fine.
Alright…time to make the donuts.
The Martinez [from Jerry Thomas’s 1887 edition of "How to Mix Drinks or the Bon Vivant’s Companion”]: Shake 1 wineglass (2oz.) vermouth, 1 pony (1oz.) Old Tom gin, 2 dashes (1 tsp.) maraschino, and 1 dash bitters with ice. Strain into a large cocktail glass, and garnish with quarter lemon slice. Add two dashes gum syrup for some sweetness.
The Savoy Martinez [from Harry Craddock’s 1930 “The Savoy Cocktail Book,” recipe adapted here for one drink]: Shake 1.5 oz. gin, 1.5 oz. French vermouth, 1 dash orange bitters, and 2 dashes curaçao or maraschino with ice, and strain into a cocktail glass. Serve with a cherry and a piece of lemon zest.
Jonny’s Martinez [Barman Jonny Bonner’s Martinez of choice, and our group favorite of the day. “Gin forward, rich and woody via vermouth, and just enough sweet and citrus for roundness.”]: Start with 2 oz. Beehive Barrel Reserve Gin, 1 oz. Punt e Mes, a bar spoon of Luxardo maraschino, and 2 dashes Boker’s bitters. Stir with ice. Strain into chilled coupe, and twist lemon peel over cocktail [discard garnish].
Note: Jonny recommends these variations on the theme: “Try Beehive Jack Rabbit Gin and Ransom Sweet Vermouth for a more floral, lighter Martinez in the dog days of summer. Batch a Martinez, upping your ratio of choice, in a Beehive bottle before setting off to the woods, and share it around a campfire in tin mugs.”
We like how you think, Mr. Bonner.