Cocktail of the Month: The Martinez

It’s February and the world is bleak. Storms with implausible names rage outside, and I suggest you make yourself a Martinez.

There’s an Old English poem called The Wanderer, which is basically about being cold, having no home and everyone being dead. Mood.

‘Walls stand battered by the wind,
Covered by frost, the roofs collapsed.
The wine halls crumbled; the warriors lie dead,
Cut off from joy’

As you can see, the Wanderer doesn’t sugar-coat things. Probably due to the lack of wine halls. What he needed, it seems to me, was someone to leap out from behind a nearby ruin and hand him a Martinez. A cocktail that’s absolutely cold, but also rather warm, and entirely season-appropriate.

The Wanderer may not have been able to avail himself, but you are.

Stirring a cocktail shaker filled with ice to make a Martinez

So this is a cocktail with some background: it’s been around for bloody ages, and is in some quarters regarded as the precursor to the Martini (a John the Baptist sort of role, I guess, but with less decapitation). And you can see how the modern Martini is a refinement, a paring down of the drink that homes in on the alchemy of gin and bitter — though in fact, drinking a Martinez, I think you’ll agree it’s actually in spirit much closer to the Manhattan, but anchored on gin rather than whiskey.

Like a Manhattan, it’s a welcoming, generous, enveloping sort of a drink — not like the Martini, which is often very welcome, but seldom exactly welcoming, and possesses no small measure of aggression. It’s fruitier, sweeter (though the degree to which it’s sweeter is up to you), rounder, rosier than a Martini.

And while a Manhattan is ideally garnished with a Maraschino cherry (for pity’s sake, NOT a glacé cherry), the Martinez incorporates wonderful Maraschino Liqueur.

Maraschino Liqueur is definitely the pain-in-the-arse ingredient of this cocktail, as you’ll be lucky to find it in the supermarket. If you’re lucky enough to have a well-stocked local booze shop, they may have it; otherwise you’ll need to venture online. It’s relatively pricey, but will keep for ages and you need very little of it for each drink. It is a magical cocktail component and one that, I suspect, will soon come to occupy a never-out-of-stock status in your booze cupboard.

Plus, it also allows you to make the fabulous Aviation cocktail, of which I may well write more in future.

Ingredients of a Martinez cocktail (dry version)

So, it’s a classic-style cocktail of the kind I like (which basically means it has a hefty boozepunch and doesn’t dick about with loads of fruit). Moderately accessible, but do make sure the person you give it to (a) can handle a cocktail that tastes of actual booze and (b) likes the marzipan-esque flavour of maraschino. You can change up the cocktail significantly by varying your main spirit: opt either for an Old Tom gin, which is markedly sweeter, or a London Dry. Both are excellent, the latter working particularly well pre-dinner, the former afterwards (not that you need be remotely constrained by that rule, I might add; I just prefer dry drinks before eating).

Here’s my go-to recipe. It’s a somewhat fiddly drink to make in small quantities when faffing around with 1/4 parts. This is an excellent excuse to make it in big quantities. Enough to slake the thirst (and restore the joie de vivre) of a wine hall’s worth of Wanderers.

Martinez Recipe

  • 2 parts Old Tom gin (I’m using Silverback Old Tom, £35)
  • 3/4 part Red Vermouth (Martini Rosso is fine)
  • 1/4 part Dry Vermouth (mine’s Dolin)
  • 1/4 part Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur (£29.95, Master of Malt)
  • Dash of Angostura Bitters

Stir all the above on plenty of large ice cubes for 15-20 seconds, then strain into glasses straight from your freezer: martini or nick & nora glasses work well. Garnish with either an orange twist (make sure to squeeze it over the surface of the drink to express the oils) or a Maraschino Cherry if you want to amp up that side of things.

The above recipe is pretty much in line with the ever-reliable Difford’s, where there’s also a suggestion for the drier Martinez.

Copperfield Gin Review

‘Do you like Dickens, sir?’

‘I don’t know. I’ve never been to one.’

That was a favourite joke of Mr Jarvis, my A Level English teacher. To the degree, I seem to remember, that he had to ask someone in the class to provide him with the setup question in order that he might triumphantly deliver the punchline. Which is nice for you to know.

What’s also nice for you to know is that Copperfield Gin may be the most handsomely packaged gin I’ve seen. Obviously I dig it because it’s literary, innit, and given that my idea of a perfect sitting room is one bedecked with books floor to ceiling, how could I not be seduced by a book-themed gin bottle? Or, at least, one so bloody well executed. Hats off to the designers, who presumably like Dickens.

This gin was one of the leaving presents bestowed upon me as I scrammed from my last job, along with a couple of grape vines (how well they knew me!) and suchlike. So, fortunately, it turns out to be good. One of the innumerable perils of blogging about booze is the potential awkwardness of reviewing a mediocre bottle received as a gift. Fortunately, at least one of my former colleagues must’ve liked Dickens.

So Copperfield London Gin is rather good. It’s fairly classic, I’d say, and balanced — not trying to do anything too funky. Its flavour isn’t dominated by a particular characteristic, and as such, it’s a versatile beast. So let’s put it through the usual tests, shall we?

Copperfield Gin and Tonic

This is a decent, honest G&T. There’s a backbone of juniper, though not a hoofing amount, a dab of citrus (a dab, not a smudge), a bit of spice and pepper to tingle things up a bit, and a rich, smooth, woody quality that ties it all together. Nothing is done to excess. I’d liken it to something like 6 o’Clock Gin, which has a similarly balanced quality and shares the smoothness. Despite whacking in at 45% ABV, there’s nothing remotely rough about Copperfield. It’s good stuff. I’m putting it with lemon in my G&T, though lime might also work nicely.

Copperfield Martini

Copperfield London Dry Gin and martini

That balance I was just talking about? That stands Copperfield in pretty good stead when it comes to the ultimate test. It makes a martini that’s squarely classical, rather traditional. Which I like.

There’s a fantastic marzipan smoothness holding the whole thing together. As that implies, there’s a touch of sweetness, but that’s balanced by pepper and spice and, yeah, a bit of fire. Lime comes through towards the end, cutting the creaminess rather nicely. That sounds as if there’s a lot going on (which there is), but this is far from a try-hard gin. It’s pretty clean and subtle, in fact. I think that subtlety betrays a great deal of careful tasting and balancing on the part of the makers.

So. A fine martini and a fine G&T. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say that Copperfield Gin is the kind of thing of which you could happily partake every night and not get bored.

In that respect, rather like Dickens? I suppose I should ask Mr Jarvis.

Booze of the Week: Jameson’s Whiskey

The confluence of aesthetic principles and undergraduate pretension? Jameson’s Irish Whiskey, apparently. God knows why; I suppose you’ll have to read my Booze of the Week to find out.

I don’t think we should underestimate the role nostalgia plays in our alcoholic predilections. We’re all just walking bags of meat and memories, after all.

My comfortable cohabitation with Jameson’s Irish Whiskey has its root in the confluence of — or compromise between — genuine aesthetic principles and appalling undergraduate pretension. (Writing the above, I am troubled at the possibility that the same contemptible triangulation is applicable to vast swathes of my life.

Oh well.)

Bringing a tumbler of Jameson’s to my lips can still conjure the inside of somewhere like this:

Interior of the Bear Inn, an old and small pub in central Oxford
The Bear in Oxford, one of the oldest (and perhaps also the tiniest) pubs in the country. A bloody nice pub, but not the place to order a gin and tonic.

Even these days, I pretty much always have a bottle of Jameson’s in the booze cupboard. Just the standard one — 40% ABV, generally about twenty quid for a bottle. Nothing fancy.

I was a latecomer (scandalously late) to the joys of beer. Instead as an undergraduate I drank G&Ts, wine and cocktails. For those young scamps among you who’ve only known an adult existence during which gin has been elevated to an extent that approaches deification, you ought to know that there was a time at which you’d order a gin and you would not be asked which one you wanted, because there was only one. In most pubs, gin meant Gordon’s. Occasionally, it meant Beefeater instead. If you were somewhere wanky, there might be Bombay Sapphire. Tonic was quite possibly on tap. If bottled, there was a fair chance it’d be sodding Britvic rather than the preferable Schweppes. Fever Tree was still a mere twinkle in a private equity fund manager’s eye.

Entering a pub, I’d routinely perform the Britvic check: approach the bar, try to get a good enough view of the fridges to ascertain the tonic brand, then choose my poison accordingly.

(To be fair, I still do this today. You can never be too careful.)

So it was that I acquired my taste for Jameson’s.

I told myself a story about Jameson’s, too. And booze is about stories, isn’t it? I loved James Joyce when I was at university (I mean, I guess I still do, in some ways, just from a much much greater distance. I’ll let you into a secret: it’s actually a hell of a lot more comfortable this way) — and I think Jameson’s actually shows up in Finnegans Wake… Yup, these guys did the research and I do remember correctly:

‘Rot a peck of pa’s malt had Jhem or Shen brewed by arclight and rory end to the regginbrow was to be seen ringsomee on the aquaface.’

Finnegans Wake, James Joyce

Jameson’s was (and remains, I’d contend) a drink you could order in pretty much any pub in this forsaken country of ours. You’d be asked, no doubt, if you want it with ice (no you do not), and you’d get a glass (god knows what kind of glass, but it’s not so very important) with which you could retreat to your secluded corner, your whiskey clutched in one hand, a copy of Ulysses in the other (careful, careful, make sure you hold it so that people get a good view of the title.)

Closeup of glass of Jameson's alongside copy of Ulysses by Joyce. Bottle of Jameson's in the background.

Jameson’s… it’s not a drink you really expect to write about, is it? I mean, it’s odd enough perhaps to earn you a raised eyebrow from some bartenders if ordered early in the evening, but it’s hardly an exotic or trailblazing choice. It’s not something I really think about. And as I sat here, half an hour ago, wondering what the hell I should write to you about, my dear, it didn’t remotely occur to me. I was all set to crack out another post about bloody vermouth, but—

But.

My eye fell on that bottle of Jameson’s in the cupboard and I thought, no.

And I poured myself a familiar dram.

Listen, it’s just an unassumingly nice drink. It tastes like late afternoon sunshine towards the end of August… Warm, mellow, sweet. It doesn’t challenge you, it wants no aggro. Even the heat of the alcohol, when it arrives, is soft; the crescendo of flavour very much that of a string quartet rather than an operatic overture.

I think there’s a lovely balance between the honeyed sweetness and the gentle, spreading heat.

Look, I know it’s not particularly complex. I know it’s easy to drink. But it’s easy to drink in the right way; it’s not at all banal. It’s honest and accessible and comfortable.

And it shits all over a Gin and Britvic Tonic with two rapidly dwindling icecubes just as comfortably now as it did in 2002.