We didn’t believe our ears when we first heard it being ordered, either.
“Don’t you mean a Martini?”
The answer was unequivocal. No, the speaker emphasized quite clearly. “I meant a Martinez.”
Even our server—a man who’s served no small share of classically obscure (and obscurely classic) concoctions—seemed momentarily stunned.
“You’ll have to forgive but… In all my years behind this bar, I have never heard of a Martinez.”
The speaker let out a shrewd grin as she described the ingredients and process; and it was clear that she relished every second of being privy to some deeply esoteric knowledge; so esoteric, it was beyond the ken of even the most devoted cocktail connoisseur.
That was a little over ten years ago; long before the current trend of classic libations were in vogue. But there’s no doubt about it. The Martinez is back.
But what exactly is it?
Therein lies the rub. One of the chief difficulties is that there’s no general consensus on what constitutes a Martinez. Sure, there are standard ingredients—sweet vermouth, gin, maraschino liqueur—but there’s als regional differences. Historical precedence. Personalized touches. And an origin that may be lost to the gin-kissed sands of time for good.
What we do know about the Martinez, however, is the first printed mention of it: O.H. Byron’s Modern Bartender’s Guide, originally published in 1884. But that recipe calls for Curaçao liqueur, not the more commonly known maraschino the Martinez has come to be associated with. But you’d still have to travel back to the nineteenth century to find that recipe: in Jerry Thomas’ 1887 classic Bartender’s Guide (an inexpensive yet indispensable guide for the budding classic mixologist.)
So just why was the Martinez lost for so many decades?
One was the popularity of its successor—the more refined and much drier classic gin Martini. While the Martinez was developed, in part, as a sweeter alternative to the Manhattan, tastes during the 1920s gradually turned even more drier; sparked in no small part by Prohibition. Unlike the somewhat robust taste of American gin, European gins are noted for their distinct aridity. With bartenders having to look overseas to help replenish their stock, their mixing styles took on the same hue of European tastes; and subsequently, so did the palates of many Americans.
But times have changed since both the 19th century—and the 1920s. Today, bartenders are preparing their own novel twists on the classic Martinez cocktail. While the debate still rages as to what style of gin should be used—Old Tom gin (a noticeably sweeter style of gin) or the more aromatic Dutch style jenever—it’s not uncommon to see once exotic ingredients, such as a dash of Ancho Reyes liqueur or Aguardiente, tossed liberally into the mix; a sign of respect to the Martinez cocktails’ historical legacy as it is to inventiveness and adaptability.
But please don’t forget the vermouth. The sweeter, the better.
You don’t have to pomade your handlebar moustache or wear a flapper dress to get an authentic Martinez experience (please don’t.) There’s plenty of ways to savor the classic cocktail in the luxury of your own home bar. Here’s some of our favorite recipes:
Combine the ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Stir until chilled. Strain into a chilled highball glass. Add garnish and serve.
Add gin and vermouth to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled Martini glass. Add bitters and Curaçao. Stir. Add garnish and serve.
Add all ingredients save for the orange zest in a mixing glass filled with ice. Stir until chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass. Add orange zest and serve.
Add all ingredients save for the lime twist in a mixing glass filled with ice. Stir until chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass. Add lime twist and serve.
Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously until chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and serve.