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Shaken not Stirred

Since I am rolling with the 10-Bottle Bar stuff - I may as well post a bit about the Martini. Yes - the mixologist's most hated cocktail does have a place here. Oh sure - it's easy for mixologists to hate on the martini.  After all - America's taste in liquor has now reduced this drink down to nothing more than a glass of chilled vodka (a little cold, unflavored spirit, anyone???). Alas, if only the industry had stopped there in destroying this fine old cocktail - but cotton candy martinis? Perish the thought.  

So yes, there is still a place at The Ace for a well-crafted martini. But I will focus only on versions that I find to be more interesting and that I would serve in my home (which luckily for me also happens to be my bar).  I will assume that everyone reading this already knows how to chill the hell out of gin or vodka and pour it into an up glass - so I will focus on some more interesting, old-school versions of this classic cocktail.  Here goes nothing..

Dry Martini
Adapted from Savoy Cocktail Book (1930) by Harry Craddock

2 oz. gin (Old Tom is historically appropriate here if you have it)
1 oz. dry (french) vermouth
1-2 dashes orange bitters

Place an up glass in the freezer to chill. Pour ingredients into a shaker with lots of ice and shake well for at least 30 seconds until the drink is well-chilled.  Strain into the chilled up glass and serve with a long strip of lemon peel (be sure to express the oils from the skin into the drink before placing into the glass).  

So its worth mentioning here that the Martini had evolved substantially by the time that Craddock included it in his seminal Savoy Cocktail Book in 1930. The drink started out in Jerry Thomas' era as a 1:1 ratio of Old Tom gin and sweet vermouth with a little orange bitters thrown in for good measure. This makes sense given that it is generally accepted that the Martini descended from the Martinez cocktail (see below). The use of sweet vermouth had fallen out of fashion by the 1930s (dry cocktails were "in" and sweet ones were gauche by then). But I kept the Old Tom gin (also out of fashion by this time) and the orange bitters in this version because I wanted to capture a slightly older-school version of this cocktail and because I like bitters.  

This was actually a damned fine cocktail.  Nothing like the bare-bones cold vodka or gin special - the vermouth took the edge off the gin and added a pleasant smoothness to the drink. This is historically accurate - as vermouth was originally mixed with gin cocktails to mask the questionable character of the bathtub gins of the era.  If I were to get picky, I guess that I could complain that the high ratio of vermouth robbed this drink of its boozey nature and left it just a tad on the bland side for my personal palette.  But compared to a chilled vodka in a glass this drink has character to spare!

Next let's hop into the way-back machine and try the cocktail that spawned the Martini from way back in the 1800s.  

Martinez No. 1
From Imbibe! (2007) by David Wondrich

1 oz. dry gin (Plymouth)
2 oz. Sweet Vermouth (Carpano D'Antica)
1 tsp Luxardo Maraschino
1 dash orange bitters

Place an up glass in the freezer to chill. Pour ingredients into a shaker with lots of ice and shake well for at least 30 seconds until the drink is well-chilled.  Strain into the chilled up glass and serve with a long strip of lemon peel (be sure to express the oils from the skin into the drink before placing into the glass).

So as much as I wanted to like this, one of the oldest of old-school cocktails, I just could not.  The high concentration of sweet vermouth makes this drink taste overwhelmingly sweet, or "raisiny" as Mrs. The Ace put it. There's not much more to say about this one. Let's keep trying...



Next I decided to turn to my The Art of the Bar (2006) book by Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz. Mr. Hollinger runs Comstock Saloon in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood, where he serves my favorite old-school cocktails with a smile (and sometimes with a handlebar mustache). Mssrs. Hollinger's and Schwartz's Martinez cocktail recipe is as follows:

Martinez Cocktail No. 2
From The Art of the Bar (2006) by Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz

2 oz. Plymouth gin
1 oz. Dolin dry vermouth
Splash of maraschino liqueur
1-2 dashes orange bitters
Lemon twist for garnish
Olive for garnish

Combine all liquid ingredients in an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Stir gently for 20-30 seconds, until, cold, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with the lemon twist and olive.   

This is a nice improvement on the original Martinez cocktail, recognizing the change in American tastes toward drier spirits alongside their white spirits like gin. Note that this cocktail ends up being pretty similar to the Martini cocktail above - with the addition of maraschino liqueur and a more modern gin like Plymouth to the mix.  But similar to the Martini cocktail above, in my opinion this cocktail is still missing that little something special to take it over the top. 

I tried changing up the drink by substituting the dry vermouth in this Martinez with a mix of 1/2 ounce dry vermouth and 1/2 ounce of Bonal Gentiane-Quina.  Winner winner chicken dinner!

Martinez No. 3

2 oz. No. 209 gin (could also be Plymouth)
1/2 oz. dry vermouth (I used Sutton Cellars Brown Label but Dolin is just fine too)
1/2 oz Bonal Gentiane-Quina 
Splash of maraschino liqueur
1-2 dashes orange bitters
Lemon twist for garnish 

Place an up glass in the freezer to chill. Pour ingredients into a shaker with lots of ice and shake well for at least 30 seconds until the drink is well-chilled.  Strain into the chilled up glass and serve with a long strip of lemon peel (be sure to express the oils from the skin into the drink before placing into the glass).

I really liked this version of the cocktail. The Bonal adds a little bit of extra dryness and a little bitter to the mix of flavors in the drink.  The drink is transformed into a complex little drink with lots of things going on  in there. This is no Manhattan - but it does have enough character and charm to be approachable but still be interesting to modern cocktail drinkers.  

But no discourse in martinis would be complete without a crack at the Vesper - popularized by James Bond in the novels of the 50s and the movies since then. What could be cooler than ordering a martini "shaken not stirred"? Well, actually lots of things, but that's beside the point.  James Bond's martini is very alluring to lots of drinkers - so much so that it has been shamelessly stolen by vodka makers as their own. In reality, vodka is the stepchild to gin in James' drink.  Here is how Ian Fleming's introduced us to Bond's favorite quaff in his 1953 novel Casino Royale.  

"A dry martini," [Bond] said. "One. In a deep champagne goblet."
"Oui, monsieur."
"Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?"
"Certainly, monsieur." The barman seemed pleased with the idea.
"Gosh, that's certainly a drink," said Leiter.

Seems pretty simple, eh?  So let's try it.  

Vesper Martini
Adapted from James 

2 oz. No. 209 gin (or Plymouth)
1/2 oz. vodka (I cut down Bond's proportions so as not to interfere with the gin)
1/2 oz. Cocchi Americano

Place an up glass in the freezer to chill. Pour ingredients into a shaker with lots of ice and shake well for at least 30 seconds until the drink is well-chilled.  Strain into the chilled up glass and serve with a long strip of lemon peel (be sure to express the oils from the skin into the drink before placing into the glass). 

A nice drink here. Simple and clean, this drink most resembles the Don Draper martini. But the addition of the Cocchi Americano gives this drink the little zip that Bond called for when he asked for the Kina Lillet. As you can read here, Cocchi Americano is a new spirit imported from Italy by Haus Alpenz that nicely impersonates what Lillet used to taste like before the quinine was stripped from the recipe in the 80s.  

For those raised on modern martinis (I mean ones without Midori or apple sour mix) this is likely to be your favorite cocktail in this post.  If this is you, then use this drink as your gateway drink toward the Corpse Reviver No. 2 and the Aviation


Three for Brunch Please

So I am headed off tomorrow morning for a little New Year's brunch at some friends' house, and Mrs. The Ace signed me up for brunch cocktails for the event. From a mixology perspective, weekend brunches can be very tough events for mixing cocktails. You normally get a lot of folks that don't prefer to tipple on some combination of the following occasions:

  1. Ever;
  2. Before noontime; or
  3. While their kids are running around the joint looking for steep staircases and/or sharp objects.

So The Ace keeps it simple at brunches. Money drinks only, folks. For tomorrow's little soiree I have picked three of my favorites. The process of prepping the drinks tonight inspired me - so here goes. This is what's on my brunch menu tomorrow AM. Stop by if you're in the neighborhood...


Ramos Gin Fizz
Adapted from Henry Ramos recipe at New Orleans' Meyer's Restaurant (1880s)

2 oz. Hayman's Old Tom Gin
1/2 oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice
1 oz. heavy whipping cream
1 egg white
1 oz. simple syrup or gum arabic
3 dashes orange flower water
2 drops vanilla extract
club soda
Orange Bitters

Pour all ingredients except for club soda and bitters into a shaker WITHOUT ICE for at least 30-60 seconds - long enough to emulsify the egg white into a nice frothy head. Then add ice and shake for another 60 seconds until the drink is extremely cold and frothy.  

Pour the contents of the shaker through a fine strainer into a tall collins glass.  Use a barspoon to stir the drink while pouring approximately 1 inch of club soda over top of the drink. The club soda will turn the frothy head of the drink into something like a meringue topping for the drink.  Finish the drink with a couple drops of the orange bitters.  

Okay - this drink takes a fair bit of work to prepare.  And the cream and the egg white might scare off one or two of you. But this drink is absolutely worth the time and effort. This is like cocktail comfort food - think orange dreamsicle for adults. Truly an incredible drink. The Ace uses this in all instances when the brunch companion claims that they "don't really like cocktails."   


St. Germain Cocktail
St. Germain's website  

2 oz. white wine (something simple and inexpensive will do just fine here) 
2 oz. club soda
1 1/2 oz. St. Germain elderflower liqueur

Pour the wine and St. Germain into a tall collins glass with 3 perfect ice cubes.  Use a bar spoon to stir the drink as you pour the club soda over the top of the drink.  Serve

This cocktail is not unusual nor is it particularly creative mixology.  It is, after all, straight off the distributor's promotional materials.  But that doesn't change the fact that this drink is perfect for this situation.  It is light, bright and bubbly (just like the The Ace!) and just tastes damned good.  


Celery Mary
Adapted from Scott Beattie's Artisanal Cocktails (2008)

1 1/2 oz. vodka (I use Hangar One Chipotle)
2 oz.  heirloom tomato juice (see recipe below)
1/2 oz. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 oz. Apple Farm apple balsamic vinegar
celery salt
kosher salt
black pepper 
15 pickled celery root matchsticks (see below)
13 young celery leaves

Combine the vodka, juices, vinegar, celery salt & pepper in a shaker and stir well. Add the celery root shoestrings and 10 of the celery leaves, fill the shaker with ice and shake. Pour the contents into a tall collins glass and garnish with the remaining celery leaves to serve. 

Heirloom Tomato Juice
Makes about 2.5 cups - enough for 10 cocktails

1 1/2 pounds heirloom tomatoes, at room temperature
1/2 tsp. kosher salt

Core the tomatoes and place them in a blender with the salt.  Puree until smooth, then strain the puree through a fine mesh strainer.  Press the puree through the strainer to get as much juice as possible.  

Note: Yes, I live in locavore Northern California.  And of course I am cheating - this is New Year's Day and I am using out-of-season heirloom tomatoes shipped in from god-knows-where.  My most sincere apologies.  This drink really is better with in-season tomatoes. I am working through my guilt one day at a time.  

Celery Root Matchsticks
Makes 150 pieces - enough for about 10 cocktails

1 pound celery root
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 tablespoon dill seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons fenugreek
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 cups white wine vinegar
2 cloves
1 large bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
1 dried chili pepper

Trim the outside edges of the celery root into the shape of a cube.  Slice the cube into 1/8 inch thick squares, then slice the squares into matchstick-size pieces.  Set aside. 

Heat a stainless steel saute pan over medium heat.  Add the fennel, dill, fenugreek and coriander to the hot pan and shake the pan to evenly distribute the seeds over the surface of the pan.  Let the seeds rest over the heat until little wisps of smoke begin to rise out of the seeds (just a few seconds).  Remove the pan from heat and toss the spices in the pan a few times and set aside.  

Combine the sugar and vinegar in a stainless steel pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Stir in the toasted spice seeds and the cloves, bay leaf, cinnamon stick and chili pepper, then remove from heat.   

Place the celery root matchsticks into an airtight container along with the still-hot pickling juice and cool the mixture in the refrigerator before using.  The pickled matchsticks will keep in the refrigerator for 2-3 months.  

So again this is a pretty labor-intensive drink. But this is not your parents' bloody mary, folks. It's fresh and spicy (especially if you use the Hangar One Chipotle vodka), a little sweet with a yummy vinegar kick.  I tend to make a few batches of the celery sticks at once - pickled vegetables have a very half life in the fridge.  And the tomato juice is easy to whip up the night before.

Notes on preparation: 

  • The star of this drink is the apple balsamic vinegar.  It is truly beautiful stuff. It adds a little sweetness and a nice sharp acidity to the drink. Here's the website from the folks at Philo Apple Farm to order it - and YES they deliver.  
  • Celery leaves can be a little tricky to find, but they are essential to the drink. They give off a delicious celery aroma and a little grassy flavor - without any of the unpleasant stringy texture of actual celery. I usually get them at Berkeley Bowl - but when in a pinch I usually can find celery stalks at the big chain grocery stores with the leaves still attached.