Folks who have taken part in my Art of the Cocktail class are aware of my feelings about the Martini. In a word, my feelings borrow from the movie Highlander: “There can be only one!” Well, perhaps this is not entirely true. As a purest, I believe that the ONLY base spirit permitted in a Martini is GIN. Not Vodka, not Apple Schnapps, not anything but Gin. Given that, I will certainly entertain the multitude of variations that masquerade as Martinis, even if their name bears no reference or similarity to the original, welcome the Hoffman House, the Vesper and the Racquet Club Cocktail. However, the essential formula must contain elements of the original cocktail: Gin and Dry Vermouth. From there the palate is endless and can include additional spirits, different garnishes, a range of bitters and even neat versus on-the-rocks.
Before I get to the subject at hand, I must digress to another aspect of this much bastardized cocktail – the concept of the “dry” martini. In its original form, the balance between Gin and Vermouth was more evenly matched. Heck, the original drink was likely created with a version of Gin that possessed a sweeter, more aromatic profile – Old Tom Gin. To me the perfect cocktail is about BALANCE – that quality wherein the individual flavors and tastes of the various component parts marry into a blissful concoction of smoothness and pleasure. The bar tenders of old knew this and were largely forced to become masters of mixology primarily as a result of sub-standard base spirits. Old pros knew that to keep the crowds coming in for more libations, the drinks needed to be spirituous and alluring.
At some point the Martini took a turn towards manliness. Somehow, returning veterans from the last great conflict (that would be WWII for the very young among us) felt that slaking their thirst with glasses of chilled Gin was the most appropriate means to dull the painful memories of a war-weary nation. Vodka showed up with the Moscow Mule and the Screwdriver and it would seem that the concept of the balanced cocktail flew out the window forever. Adages like “pass the Vermouth over the Gin/Vodka,” or “turn towards France when you shake the Gin/Vodka with ice” became the hallmarks of a drinking nation.
Fortunately we are seeing the errors of our ways. The recent resurgence in classic cocktail drinking is bringing back the concept of balanced libations. A perfect example is the previously mentioned Racquet Club Cocktail. In this month’s Imbibe magazine, Mr. David Wonderich writes about this wonderful pre-Twentieth Century treat. What drew me to the cocktail was not the 2-to-1 ratio of Gin to Dry Vermouth, but instead the addition of Crème de Cacao to the recipe. I found that when I crafted the cocktail with Old Tom Gin and a healthy bar spoon of C-d-C, it was remarkably smooth with just a whisper of dark chocolate on the finish. Ice cold, the drink was near perfect for taking the edge off a long day. If you like the Vesper, I heartily recommend that you roll a Racquet Club Cocktail and compare.
The Racquet Club Cocktail
2 oz. Gin (I prefer Old Tom)
1 oz. Dry Vermouth (I prefer Dolin)
1 bar spoon of Crème de Cacao
3 dashes Orange Bitters
Mix all ingredients and shake vigorously with crushed ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist.