The Mountain Times

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Cocktail corner: The martini

In 1988 I was bartending at a T. G. I. Fridays in Manhattan. We were playing around with recipes for shots and I put 2 parts vodka, 1 part apple schnapps in a mixing glass full of ice, shook it, strained it into a rocks glass and called it a "Jolly Rancher". Well, did I miss the boat on the creation of the "Apple Martini." I had no chance of catching that boat because I wasn't even standing on the dock.

You see, up to that point in my life I'd always assumed that a martini was gin and vermouth. At least that's what it said on the side of my dad's mixing glass that he kept in the cupboard next to the breakfast cereal. I didn't realize it was an option to change a recipe, delete ingredients add others and call it the same name. I just figured we have all these letters in our alphabet, why not take a few, rearrange them and come up with a new word. Or just use some of our other fine existing words, like "Jolly Rancher" and invent a new drink. I just don't see the need to smack around the once proud martini. The guy who came up with the "Cape Codder", didn't call it a "Screwdriver w/ Cranberry."

I can hear comedian Jim Norton in my ear, "Tom, stop being a silly goose, don't let these things bother you."

I think the real issue with people drinking a martini is the vermouth. The problem with vermouth is that it goes bad. Vermouth is wine, it's fortified wine, but it's still wine and needs to be treated as such. It should be refrigerated, aerated with a wine pump after opening to avoid oxidation and stored out of direct sunlight. Even with all these precautions it will still probably go bad after a month, which is much faster than most are able to consume the bottle. So if you haven't bought a bottle of vermouth since the Trike Races at Killington, now is time to get a new one. Originally martinis were made with sweet vermouth - I suggest you try one - if you don't like it you can always use it for your manhattans.

If you're not sure if your vermouth is bad, do a taste test: Take your old bottle, pour some in a glass and do same with your new vermouth. First look; old dry vermouth gets darker and the red gets lighter.

Next, smell. The difference should be obvious. Then, taste, and I think you will understand why everyone shies away from vermouth. They don't hate vermouth, they hate vermouth that's spoiled.

The same happened to me with champagne. I didn't think I liked champagne until I left T. G. I.'s and went to work at "Stringfellow's" where I worked the champagne room. (I was more than ready to ditch my bling-laden suspenders for a sporty vest.) And I realized I don't hate champagne; I hate bad champagne, (but love Perrier Jouet).

Ok, back to the martini. Get a nice bottle of gin, not Tanqueray, save that for the summer to mix with Tonic. Gin doesn't have to taste like somebody shoved a pine tree up your nose. Try Plymouth gin. If it's good enough for the British Navy it's good enough for me. It seems to be a little sweeter than other London dry gins and has some nice earthy flavors.

Oh, I almost forgot the orange bitters. Gary Regan makes some nice stuff.

Get your tools in order - mixing glass and cocktail glass in the freezer, getting nice and cold. We're going to stir this drink not shake it. I don't care what James Bond says, he may have a license to kill but he doesn't know how to make a martini. Shaking only makes it a cloudy mess and introduces air bubbles into your drink. Stirring in a frozen glass also makes your drink colder than shaking. Just trust me on that. Shaking is loud and showy and great for emulsifying ingredients but it won't make your drink colder. I know you won't believe me on this issue if you currently shake, but please try.

"Tom, you're being a silly goose again!" Sorry. Thanks Jim.

Pull that mixing glass out of the freezer. Hit it with one or two dashes of orange bitters. (Remember a dash not a drop, a steady stream not a drip.)

Add your spirits:
I like 3/4 ounce of French vermouth (dry)
2 1/2 ounces Plymouth gin

Put in your mixing spoon, add ice and stir for about 30 seconds - 15 one way, 15 the other. Put your strainer on top and go back to the freezer for your glass. I hope you didn't have it sitting on the counter getting warm while you were mixing.

Strain into said glass, grab a nice fresh lemon (sorry I forgot to mention the lemon, my bad). Peel a nice fat swath with a veggie peeler over the top of your drink, then twist that baby or fold in half if it's big enough. Rub the remnants of those fragrant oils on the edge of the glass and drop it. Sip and enjoy. Nice, right? It's a classic for a reason, no need to guild the lily.

Relax you deserve it, and remember be safe, "Tipple, don't topple."