Uncertain origin (1870s)
Knickerbocker Hotel, New York City (1911)

This is The One Martini, if you ask me. Beyond the really annoying Chocotini, Appletini thing. I’m talking about more subtle variations – more vermouth, less vermouth, a dash of olive brine, a dash of Scotch, blah blah. With the right ingredients, this archetypal cocktail doesn’t need anything else. The Martini has even become iconic visual shorthand for “cocktail” – check warning labels and outdoor sign icons. Ignore James Bond’s assertion about shaking Martinis, he just wanted to sound like a tough guy.

It’s supposed to be quick and simple, but somehow it’s taken on this air of mystery and reverence. Seems everyone who likes Martinis gets really anal about exactly how they like theirs. Guess I’m in that crowd now. Old Tom gin rounds out the corners nicely, London Dry will be snappier, Plymouth will be citrusy – see what you prefer.

You’ll notice this recipe follows the exact template as the Manhattan, just swapping ingredients. It’s a winning combo worth tinkering with: two parts spirit, one part aperitif, two dashes of a complementary bitters. Try substituting one or more ingredients out and see what you come up with – after all, bartenders have been doing the same thing since 1870 or so!

The French (AKA dry or white) style of vermouth used here came into being about 100 years after the original Italian (AKA sweet or red) style. They’re both made with a white wine base, actually – the difference in Italian vermouth is the mix of botanicals and sugar – and the use of caramel color or (less commonly) barrel aging.

The exact origin of the Martini is a mystery that may never be solved. Some point to the East Bay, California town of Martinez (home of the similar Martinez cocktail), some suggest Italian bartenders named “Martini,” but the Occam’s Razor answer is simply this: Martini (later named Martini & Rossi) began importing their Italian vermouth to the US around 1870, with the dry French style making its stateside debut around 1900. Folks would ask for a “Martini cocktail” the same way they might ask for a “brandy cocktail” or “whiskey cocktail.” It’s possible the Martinez and Martini were the same cocktail at one time, evolving to distinguish themselves by choice of vermouth style and accent flavors. Even though more vermouth brands became available in the US over time (Cinzano, Noilly Prat, Dolin), the name Martini stuck. For a time in the 1990s, the name “Martini” came to denote any cocktail served up; Thankfully, we’re getting away from that. The venerable Martini deserves more respect than to be saddled with a reputation as frilly and foo-foo.

THE KIT

Hardware: Mixing glass, Jigger, Barspoon, Hawthorne strainer, Fine-mesh strainer, Cocktail pick
Ice: Ice cubes, Cracked ice
Glassware: Cocktail glass
Spirits: Old Tom gin (recommended: Hayman’s) or London Dry gin (recommended: Beefeater, Tanqueray) or Plymouth
Mixers & Liqueurs: French vermouth (recommended: Dolin, Noilly Prat)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Orange bitters (recommended: Regan’s), Pimento-stuffed olive (optional – recommended: Dirty Sue), Lemon twist

HOW TO

Chill a cocktail glass in the freezer at least ten minutes.

In a mixing glass, add:

2 oz gin
1 oz French vermouth
2 dashes orange bitters

Add a mix of ice cubes and cracked ice to cover well above the liquid level. Stir well to blend and chill, then double-strain (to catch small bits of ice)  into the chilled glass. Pinch a lemon twist over the drink to express oils onto its surface, then lightly brush the twist around the glass exterior. Discard the twist.

Optionally, garnish with an olive pierced on a cocktail pick.

Chicago (1914)

palmettoThere’s not much to say about the Palmetto. Except to say it’s delicious and mysteriously absent from most cocktail menus. If you ask for one from a bartender who returns a blank stare, just say “it’s a rum Manhattan” and their eyes will light up.

It’s possible this drink goes back to the 1870s vermouth craze in New York City, but the first documented recipe I’ve found is in Jacques Straub’s 1914 pocket-book Drinks. Straub was the son of a Swiss distiller, and worked as a wine steward at Louisville’s famed Pendennis Club before relocating to Chicago’s Blackstone Hotel. But, as David Wondrich notes in his foreword to the book, Straub was a tee-totaler. No wine, no booze. So what we have in Straub is a simple curator, a collector and distributor of data. His catalog of recipes must’ve been cribbed from the various bartenders he knew in Kentucky and Illinois – and for the most part, those recipes are still solid 100 years later.

Having said that, an adjustment to his spec of equal parts rum and Italian vermouth (1.5 oz each) to a 2:1 ratio prevents this from veering off balance. After all, the rum brings its own sweetness to the party – vermouth can take a small step back.

In the book, Straub calls for St. Croix rum; Cruzan Aged Dark Rum would be the closest widely-available version. But a tour of the Caribbean suggests even better options: try Appleton Estate V/X from Jamaica, El Dorado 8 from Guyana, or the fantastic Mount Gay Black Barrel from Barbados, which brings delicious cinnamon and vanilla notes to the drink.

THE KIT

Hardware: Mixing glass, Jigger, Barspoon, Cocktail pick, Hawthorne strainer, Fine-mesh strainer
Ice: Ice cubes, Cracked ice
Glassware: Cocktail glass
Spirits: Aged rum (recommended: Appleton Estate V/X, El Dorado 8, Mount Gay Black Barrel)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Italian vermouth (recommended: Dolin, Noilly Prat, Martini & Rossi, Carpano Antica)
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Orange bitters (recommended: Regan’s), orange twist

HOW TO

Chill a cocktail glass in the freezer at least ten minutes.

In a mixing glass, add:

2 1/4 oz aged rum
3/4 oz Italian vermouth
2 dashes orange bitters

Add a mix of ice cubes and cracked ice to cover well above the liquid level. Stir well to blend and chill, then double-strain (to catch small bits of ice) into the prepared, chilled glass. Pinch an orange twist over the drink to express oils onto its surface, then lightly brush the twist around the glass exterior. Garnish with the twist.

New York City, 1880s

They say this drink is named for three beautiful jewels (“bijous” in French): diamond (gin), ruby (vermouth), and emerald (Chartreuse). Of course, “Bijou” was also a popular name for Broadway theatres, and this makes more sense to me: if The Last Word is the refined-but-eccentric type who comes in late for the show wearing tennis whites, the Bijou is his weird cousin who lives in the weed-choked field behind the theatre. Many contemporary versions of this recipe tame down the vermouth and Chartreuse, but the first-documented instance (in Harry Johnson’s 1882 “Bartender’s Manual”) specified equal parts, like a proto-Negroni. Yes, a whole ounce of 110-proof, ass-kicking green Charteuse: the intensely herbal liqueur made by French Carthusian monks since the mid-18th century. Legend says it contains 130 different botanicals and each half of the secret recipe is known by only two monks at a time, who’ve taken a vow of silence. And not just about the liqueur. So goes the legend, anyway. A great drink is made even better by a great story – and drinks tend to lead to stories, you know.

Odds are, because of the date, this would’ve originally been made with Old Tom gin. But if you don’t mind an extra herbal kick, try it with a London Dry gin. Either style works great here.

THE KIT

Hardware: Mixing glass, Jigger, Barspoon
Ice: Ice cubes
Glassware: Cocktail glass
Spirits: Old Tom gin (recommended: Hayman’s) or London Dry gin (recommended: Beefeater, Tanqueray)
Mixers & Liqueurs: Italian vermouth (recommended: Carpano Antica, Noilly Prat), green Chartreuse
Juices, Accents, & Garnishes: Orange bitters (recommended: Regan’s Orange Bitters #6)

HOW TO

Chill a cocktail glass in the freezer at least ten minutes.

In a mixing glass about a third-full with ice cubes, add:

1 oz Old Tom gin or London Dry gin
1 oz Italian vermouth
1 oz green Chartreuse
1 
dash orange bitters 

Stir well to blend and chill, then strain into the chilled glass. No garnish.