Photo courtesy of Sam Simpson
Where to begin with the Martinez – a drink about which so much has been written, so much conjectured and so little understood?
Of course many know the Martinez as the direct ancestor of the Martini (not least because of the name), but it is also cited as a sort of missing link – the crucial step between the brusque rye whiskey and cognac drinks of the mid/late 1800s and the fresher, lighter gin drinks of the early 20th century.
How much of a role as ancestor the drink can claim is uncertain – it appears to only be about five years older than its more famous relation. But given that the Martinez was introduced in print (by O.H. Byron in The Modern Bartenders’ Guide (1884) as “same as a Manhattan, only you substitute gin for whiskey” it can clearly claim to have helped drinking society to cross from dark spirit based drinks to light.
In truth, not much is known about the history of the Martinez, or the initial form it takes. In particular, Byron’s recipe was somewhat unhelpful as his book lists two recipes for the Manhattan and fails to specify which one the Martinez is based on.
As well as this, other bartenders from the 1800s have a claim to inventing the drink – Jerry Thomas may have been one (although the drink did not appear until the 1887 edition of his Bartender’s Guide), and some have traced the drink to Martinez. California and one Julio Richelieu who was said to have created it for a passing goldminer in 1874.
By now, your view of the Martinez may be a little clouded. It will only become more so. In fact it’s fair to say that today’s Martinez is more of a category of drink than a single recipe. Ingredient by ingredient the mystery grows. Should it be based on Genever instead of gin? Possibly, although the first printed record calls for gin. But which gin? Old Tom (a sweeter variety than the now ubiquitous Dry London) was certainly popular in the late 1800s, but does a drink which combines sweet vermouth and a sweet liqueur need any more sugar? Probably to the palate of a late-Victorian drinker.
Next, the vermouth. Byron listed both a sweet and dry Manhattan in his 1884 guide and there is no clue as to whether his Martinez used sweet or dry vermouth. Most recipes now call for sweet on the basis that during the late 19th century this was more common than dry, so where a recipe fails to specify it is safest to assume sweet vermouth is intended.
Finally, the ratios. As with the Martini, tastes have changed over time, and it is fair to say that most modern bartenders have turned the original two parts sweet vermouth to one part gin recipe precisely on its head. Of course as the drink evolves towards the modern Martini, the recipe was forced to get drier, so there is no shame in calling for a more modern version. Personally, I make mine as follows:
- Add a large measure of gin, a measure of sweet vermouth, a barspoon of Maraschino and three dashes of bitters to a mixing glass of ice.
- Stir for sixty seconds and strain into a chilled martini glass/coupe.
- Garnish with either a twist of lemon or a cherry.
Sophisticated, a little bit dry and a little bit sweet too, and probably still true to some halfway-house recipe that paved the way for the classic Martini. History in a glass.