Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Gateway Cocktail

I like to think of the Martini as the steak of cocktails. Extremely simple in nature with countless ways to make one and everyone has their preference. You take gin, dry vermouth and perhaps some bitters, stir it all on ice, strain into a cocktail glass and add your garnish of choice. Which gin and how much vermouth distinguishes each martini and the people who make them. There are those who prefer a one-to-one ratio of gin to vermouth and others who use barely any at all and everything in between. And then there are those like Winston Churchill who when once asked how much vermouth he would like in his martini is quoted as saying "I would like to observe the vermouth from across the room while I drink my martini." Though everyone will tell you their martini is the best and most authentic, you might as well argue over which cut of beef and technique makes the best steak.

"Sorry about that."

Though there is no right way to make a martini, over the past 50 years or so some serious delinquencies have evolved affecting martini culture. In my opinion, this was helped in some part by Hollywood's favorite secret agent. As much as I envy and secretly wish to be James Bond, his martini preference may have opened the door to the cocktail loosing its way on a bizarre walkabout. You see, in developing his character Bond needed to come across as a super bad ass, one so cool that he went against convention in all respects. Thus, the shaken vodka martini. This version laughed in the face of those craggy old gin drinkers with their tediously stirred martinis.* Over the decades the trend spread like wildfire almost to the point that the stirred gin martini was forgotten. What's more, martini became a "style," devoid of any link to its root with almost no limit to its definition with countless fill-in-the-blank "tinis" found on menus like the candy-sweet Appletini. Don't get me started on variations using flavored vodka. A Gummy Bear Martini, really!?

Then there's one of the biggest offenders, the Dirty Martini. I think this cocktail was solely concocted to sell cheap vodka, gin and vermouth, all so vile they had to be masked with the addition of cocktail olive brine. When I hear it ordered I cringe. Call me a cocktail snob, but seriously, you're drinking a spiked pickling solution from God knows where. And even with the opening of more and more bars with menus offering classic and innovative cocktails crafted from the finest ingredients, prepared with great technique, with selections to satisfy anyone's taste, orders of the Dirty Martini endure.

So in an effort to stop some of the madness and bring a more orthodox martini approach and appreciation to Dirty Martini drinkers I would like to offer an anti-dirty martini of sorts, something to satisfy your taste but open your eyes and guide you in a direction of what a martini should be. I bring you the Gateway Cocktail**:

Gateway Cocktail

2 oz. Gin
1 oz. Dry Vermouth
1-2 dashes of Celery Bitters (to taste)

Add ingredients to a mixing glass or a pint glass or any tall, wide glass you have. Add a couple scoops of ice and stir for about 15-20 seconds until icy cold. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with an olive.

This is essentially a martini, but as I don't want be accused of perpetuating a confused martini culture, I'm calling it a cocktail as it veers slightly off the traditional recipe with the addition of celery bitters. The bitters add a wonderful vegetal tone while the olive garnish adds a slight brininess. I love how both play with the botanicals of the gin and the minerality of the vermouth but don't overpower them. I prefer using a London dry-style of gin as gins with more botanical flare, like newer American-style gins, can be a bit too much, confusing the taste buds and making the cocktail taste off. Enjoy.

*As the ingredients of a Martini are all alcohol-based, tradition calls for it to be stirred (same for cocktails like the Manhattan or Old Fashioned). Many swear by this for a couple reasons. One, stirring, as opposed to shaking, will result in a much clearer cocktail. Shaking introduces air bubbles and shards of ice, clouding a cocktail. Stirring will also dilute your cocktail less, which apparently has been scientifically proven. Shaking intensifies the melting process. When you introduce ingredients like juices, mixers, shrubs, etc. that is when shaking is called for in order to thoroughly incorporate such ingredients.

**Disclosure: The addition of celery bitters to a somewhat standard martini recipe is not an original idea. I know bartenders who recommend it to customers or add it by request and some makers of celery bitters have suggested it on their websites. I have to give credit where credit is due.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

In a Glass of Their Own

Click to enlarge.

I know this is a cocktail blog but I probably drink just as much suds as I do the stirred or shaken stuff. By the way, my preference is a cold, crispy pilsner with a pleasant bitter bite but not overly hopped and a clean finish. So this brings me to my point: why do most bars in the US continue to serve all their beer in the ubiquitous pint glass? Go to most bars or restaurants and they have distinguishing glasses for different types of wine and cocktails. Order a cognac and it will likely come in a snifter. Order a whiskey or scotch and it will come in a rocks glass. Order some bubbly and it will show up in a flute. You'll even find different cups for coffee, espresso and cappuccinos.

I'm as excited as the next guy about the booming craft beer industry in the US, as well as our appreciation for well-made international beers. So why are we giving them all the same treatment? Why is my pilsner being served in the same glass as a bock, stout or hefeweizen? And I'm not talking about glasses made for certain beers as a marketing ploy so everyone sees what brand you're drinking. I'm talking about glasses applied to a genre of beer.

My days bartending were spent in Germany in the mid 1990s. Regardless of what you drank there was a different glass for each beer. It didn't matter if you were at a hole in the wall or the Ritz. When looking around a bar in Germany you can distinguish who is drinking a lager, pilsner, stout, kölsch or hefeweizen based on their glass. If a beer comes in the wrong glass it will be sent back. If it wasn't poured right it will be sent back, but that's a whole other blog post.

I understand from a financial and logistical standpoint that pint glasses are more durable than say a hefeweizen or tulip glass (used often for Belgian beers) and easier to store, but if we're showing the world that America is coming of age with its beer lets give our suds the respect they deserve.

The right glass helps a particular beer breathe better, present well and hit your palette in a way that accentuates its flavors and preserves its integrity. Why is a pilsner served in a flute? Because, like sparkling wine, it's quite fizzy and a flute can help maintain a nice frothy head for presentation. A tulip glass helps for many of the same reasons but has a pear-like base to help the beer stay cold and a blooming rim that helps promote the aroma of the many complex beers that come in them.

If brewers in the US and around the world are creating exceptional and complex beers in a class of their own, the last thing we want to do is dumb them down. Lets give them a glass of their own.