Was it just last year at this time that I wrote about that frisson that comes with the first sip of a cocktail enjoyed while flying home for the holidays?
This year has been about staying put and staying close, making do with ingredients at hand and improvising as necessary. Is it frivolous to think of cocktails now, amidst so much bad news, and when the scope of our social lives is so reduced?
I don’t think so. A well-crafted drink can be a balm.
In a bit of accidental nostalgia, I have discovered a drink believed by many authorities to be the precursor of the martini. I think it offers just the right combination of comfort and novelty for this holiday season.
What I was casting about for, first of all, was a cold weather cocktail. But I wanted one that would be an alternative to two cocktails I love but have grown tired of, temporarily, I’m sure: the sometimes syrupy Manhattan and the sometimes medicinal Negroni.
My new choice is a very old drink called the Martinez. There are various origin stories for the Martinez, but, as with so many cocktails, it appears that a New York hotel bartender is responsible for marrying London Dry-style gin and dry vermouth for the first time. With a dash of orange bitters for zip.
From those beginnings at the Knickerbocker Hotel at the turn of the 20th century, to the drink’s appearance in The Savoy Cocktail Book published in London a few decades later, the Martinez morphed a bit with the addition of maraschino liqueur (I promise it bears no resemblance to the sweet red jarred cherries you see in the supermarket) and the use of Old Tom-style gin.
Old Tom differs from London Dry in that it may be aged in wood barrels. It’s a bit sweeter, perhaps softer, than London Dry. Although Old Tom (named after the tom cat signs popular outside London taverns in the 1700s) fell from favor after Prohibition, it was revived by the craft cocktail movement of this century.
A new version of the Martinez became a highlight of the cocktail list at the posh Peacock Alley Bar at New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel before the hotel closed for renovations in 2017.
The Peacock Alley Martinez is a product of tinkering and improvisation similar to that which has been so helpful to us all these last few months. In this incarnation, it is made “perfect” by the use of both dry (French) and sweet (Italian) vermouths.
The gin called for is the Old Tom, but feel free to use what you have at hand. I have settled on a mix of dry gin (such as Tanqueray, Bombay, or Beefeater) and Tom Cat Gin (aged in oak whiskey barrels and distilled by Barr Hill in Northern Vermont). Using just a dry gin is fine, though, and a bit more cost effective.
The result is a delightful, slightly lighter alternative to a Manhattan or a Negroni. It is a drink that has some history but has benefitted from tinkering. And it’s more bracing than eggnog. In all, it’s just the thing for this year’s stay-at-home toast to new beginnings and renewal.
The Peacock Alley Martinez
Makes one cocktail
2 oz. gin (London Dry, Old Tom or a combination)
1 oz. sweet vermouth (preferably Carpano Antica)
¾ oz. dry vermouth (Dolin or Noilly Prat)
¼ oz. maraschino liqueur (Luxardo is really good)
Dash Angostura or Peychaud’s bitters
Dash orange bitters
Add everything but the lemon peel to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake for at least 15 seconds or until shaker is almost painfully cold to the touch.
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and twist the lemon peel over the glass to express the lemon oils, then drop peel into the glass.