The Martinez

Author: Marco Negro

Through an itinerary full of cultural insights and historical hints, we will talk about the most famous cocktails, the distillates used and some of the techniques of ‘mixed drinking’.

Whether ordering a cocktail at the lounge bar of a Grand Hotel or entering a hidden and mysterious speakeasy bar, the experience is always full of fascination. The most famous cocktails in the world have a very specific place and date of birth. Just to name a few: the Manhattan was born in 1874 in a New York club, the Negroni in 1920 in the Florentine Caffè Casoni, and the Mimosa at the Ritz in Paris in 1925. Speaking of history: the first bartender to make his profession a codified art was Jerry Thomas. With him, mixing became spectacle and entertainment, always filling up his premises in late 19th-century Manhattan. Known as ‘The Professor’, he was the first to feel the need to write down recipes and pass them on, publishing the first guide for bartenders in 1862. He inaugurated an innovative publishing trend, which is still flourishing today with several European and North American editions.

They are the professionals of cocktails, from historical ones to revivals. In their small cocktail bars they always manage to establish a courteous and empathetic personal relationship with their customers. They pay great attention to the quality of ingredients and presentation.

It is said that it was Jerry Thomas himself who combined vermouth with gin in an early recipe. These were the origins of the myth: the Martinez cocktail. Several reworkings and transitions followed, until the final recipe was published in 1930 by Harry Craddock, the bartender of the legendary American Bar at London’s Savoy Hotel. From those elegant and glamorous atmospheres of 1930s high society to the age of social networking, the Martinez cocktail has remained the same:

– 4.5 cl of Old Tom Gin

– 4.5 cl of Red Vermouth

– 1 teaspoon of Maraschino

– 2 drops of Angostura

This is an ‘after dinner’. This is the name given to cocktails in which the distillates and botanical components used can have a digestive function. They are blends that keep the different spirits in balance with absolute elegance. The harmony and smoothness of this cocktail make it preferable for evening, after-dinner consumption. A cocktail such as this is equivalent in anhydrous alcohol (the measure of absolute alcohol) to two glasses of a modest red wine.

A glass of Martinez cocktail on a table

In the cup, it can be amber-coloured, or more caramel, depending on the hue and intensity of the colour of the red vermouth used. The taste of the Martinez cocktail is very fascinating, the different components revealing themselves little by little. The first sip reveals the dry and pronounced taste of the gin, the second warms with the warmth of the alcoholic sensations, mitigated by a hint of sweet softness. Other small sips reveal the characteristic botanicals of vermouth and Angostura bitter. At the end comes the discovery of how persistent is the ethereal aftertaste of the maraschino liqueur. So much complexity, although kept in perfect balance, is due to the liqueurs and distillates used.

Speak-easy bar
They are the heirs of the illegal bars that originated during Prohibition in the 1920s. Still today in secluded corners, discovered by word of mouth, they offer relaxing vintage atmospheres and the chance to learn about the world of mixing.

The most alcoholic part of Martinez comes from the gin, which must obviously be of the highest quality. It is obtained from the distillation of a fermented grain, in which juniper pamper and many other botanicals are macerated. The scent and aftertaste of this spontaneous conifer are most noticeable in handcrafted gins. For the Martinez cocktail, ‘Old Tom Gin’, a Victorian-style distillation recipe, is used, characterized by a greater smoothness than ‘London Dry Gin’.

Juniper berries to make gin

Another co-star of the Martinez is red vermouth; Craddock literally specified ‘Italian vermouth’. The Piedmontese history of this aromatized wine was enriched in 2017 by the protection of the geographical indication: Vermouth di Torino IGP. In vermouth, the real stars are the two varieties of Artemisia, which must be infused together with local botanicals and imported spices. These include, just to name the most widely used: marjoram, oregano, star anise, bitter orange peel, rhubarb, and nutmeg.

A bottle of Vermouth Rosso Bèrto and a glass full of it, on a table.

The technique for making the Martinez cocktail involves stirring the ingredients with a long metal spoon, called a stirrer. This is a gesture of care towards the delicate fragrances of the vermouth, which must not be diluted, as would be the case if a shaker were used.

Finally, two ingredients of which there are only a few drops. The distinctive Angostura bottle belongs to the bitter category; it is ‘the bitter’ par excellence, being present on every bartender’s counter. It comes from the alcoholic infusion of woods and spices. The final balance of the Martinez is also based on these few bitter and tannic notes. Maraschino liqueur, on the other hand, is obtained by a complex technique of refining the juice of Marache cherries, its subsequent distillation and an ageing of the distillate in wood.

The latter makes an important contribution to the velvety, enveloping sensations found in this cocktail and is also responsible for the lingering aftertaste after the last sip.

A few centiliters of spirits, when produced with quality herbs and fine spirits, manage to blend history and culture with good taste. The impression is that of experiencing the timeless charm of the 1930s.

A glass of Martinez cocktail, with a stirrer and a jigger.

31st March 2022,

Marco Negro

“originale in Italiano pubblicato su Barolo&Co nr I-2022”- “per concessione di Barolo&Co – traduzione a cura di Barbara Fassio”

Picture of Marco Negro
Marco Negro
Expert of communication of Italian wine. He has a knack for connecting people.
Picture of Marco Negro
Marco Negro
Expert of communication of Italian wine. He has a knack for connecting people.

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