Sunday 28 May 2023

Is this the Martini-lover's bible?

Hot on the heels of his book Negroni (OK, a bit over two years later) m’colleague David Smith has published his new work, Martini, again written in conjunction with Keli Rivers. As its name suggests, it is an exploration of variations of this classic cocktail.

In its purest sense a Martini is a mixture of gin and vermouth. The iconic Dry Martini uses dry white vermouth in a ratio that greatly favours the gin. (In the early to mid-20th century there seemed to be a cult of minimising the vermouth presence, by delivering it with a pipette, atomiser or even a “Martini stone”—a stone that was kept in a vessel of vermouth. One added the stone to the glass, trusting that what vermouth clung to it would be sufficient.) The traditional garnish is either an olive or a twist of lemon peel. A Perfect Martini uses a half-and-half mix of dry white and sweet red vermouth. You don’t encounter Sweet Martinis much, though the Savoy Cocktail Book (1930) does have one that uses “Italian” (i.e. sweet red) vermouth, rather than bianco (sweet white) vermouth as you might expect.

There was as time in the 1990s and beyond when it was fashionable for any cocktail to be dubbed a “[Something] Martini”, even if its ingredients had nothing in common with those of a Martini, simply by virtue of serving it in a v-shaped “Martini glass”. To his credit, Mr Smith does tend to stick to recipes with some relation to the basic idea of a Martini, with a base spirit (usually gin or vodka, though occasionally straying into tequila or rum territory) augmented with a smaller amount of vermouth or something standing in for vermouth, such as sherry, amaro, liqueur, etc., and sometimes also small amounts of citrus juice and/or syrup. We do get a Dry Manhattan, which would seem to be a whole different ballpark, but whereas a Manhattan more often uses sweet red vermouth, here it uses dry white, so I guess it’s a sort of Martini/Manhattan hybrid. Perhaps inevitably we encounter the Espresso Martini (see my previous post) and the Porn Star Martini but, being vodka based, they are at least slightly related to a real Martini. (The Porn Star Martini features passion fruit purée and/or liqueur, lime juice and an element of vanilla, either from vanilla syrup, vanilla vodka or vanilla liqueur, such as Galliano.)

We encounter classics such as the Dirty Martini, which includes brine from the olive jar, or the Gibson, which is a Dry Martini garnished with a cocktail onion. (No mention of the Murphy, however, where the garnish is a radish. Though, as I discovered, there is a good reason for this—it adds nothing.) We get the related classic the Gimlet, gin and lime cordial, along with its modern version made with fresh lime juice and syrup. Another classic is the Pink Gin, just gin and Angostura bitters, sometimes with water, but here we instead get the Pink Gin Up, with added dry vermouth, so a cross between the Pink Gin and the Martini. We get the modern classic the Vesper, created by Ian Fleming for his 1953 James Bond novel Casino Royale, which blends gin and vodka and uses Kina Lillet instead of vermouth. (Kina Lillet hasn’t been made since the 1980s; Cocchi Americano is a useful alternative, though here David suggests a 50:50 mix of Lillet Blanc and China Martini.) 

An Improved Appletini, a 2:1 mix of gin and Calvados with a little curaçao

Red vermouth is also represented, in the form of the classic Gin and It, where the “It” is short for Italian (sweet red) vermouth, as well as the Martinez: here it is also gin and red vermouth, though using Old Tom gin (usually sweeter than London Dry) and splashes of maraschino and bitters. (It’s an old recipe, possibly even older than the Martini, and other recipes feature curaçao or both dry and red vermouths.)

We get two versions of the Cosmopolitan, the original 1930s recipe of gin, curaçao, lemon juice and raspberry syrup, and the 1980s reinvention of vodka, curaçao, lime juice and cranberry juice. We’re also treated to some modern twists, such as the Leggero Martini, essentially a Martini spliced with a G&T, or the GT Turbo, which is in a way the opposite—a GT concentrated into a Martini glass, using a “tonic syrup”. There have been commercially available tonic syrups, but David suggests making one by heating tonic water in a saucepan until reduced to a syrup.

We get the historical curiosity which is The Saint, inspired by an incident from the 1930s when the bar on the airship the Hindenburg ran out of gin, so Pauline Charteris, wife of the novelist Leslie Charteris, suggested using kirschwasser instead. And the book finishes with some seasonal ideas, such as a Halloween-appropriate version of tequila, sherry and blood orange, garnished with “fangs” of grapefruit peel, or, for New Year’s Eve, the Millionaire’s Martini, with a splash of Champagne.

Martini is a slim volume of just 64 pages, but it contains much useful, well-curated material, offering both a grounding in the essence of the Martini, as well some variations, from the traditional to the exotic (fancy a Breakfast Martini, made with a spoonful of marmalade?). There is no jokey filler here:* the recipes are actually things you might want to drink. In each case specific gins and vermouths are suggested, but the recipes are not dependent on having those to hand, and hints are offered as to what kind of flavour profile would make a suitable gin for that recipe.

Martini was published by Ryland Peters & Small on 9th May, priced at £8.99

* Even the Mr Blue Sky, which has blue curaçao for colour and is garnished by a “cloud” of white candy floss

Tuesday 23 May 2023

Luxardo Espresso Liqueur

Luxardo kindly sent me a sample of their new Espresso liqueur. They describe it as “a traditional Italian liqueur obtained from a thirty-days infusion of a selected variety of fine coffees (Brazil, Columbia, Kenya), with the Arabica type predominating”. It certainly tastes very coffee-ish: I’m assuming it contains water, neutral spirit (it’s bottled at 27% ABV), sugar and coffee.

The obvious thing to compare it with is
Kahlúa. The first thing to note is that the Luxardo product is quite a bit less sweet, which would certainly make it more flexible—after all, you can always add more sugar, but you can’t really take it out. Secondly, while the Kahlúa does taste convincingly of coffee, the Luxardo liqueur tastes specifically of espresso coffee, that earthy, bitter, high-roast flavour, with hint of berry fruit (and a touch of rubber). In fact there is more to it than that: Kahlúa is made from a rum base, and the nose has rum and vanilla notes as well as coffee, whereas the Luxardo liqueur has a simpler nose, really just of coffee and sugar. The Kahlúa’s palate has distinct rum elements, whereas the Luxardo does not have any noticeable contribution from the spirit base; and Kahlúa’s coffee note is less profound, whereas the coffee flavour of the Luxardo has considerable depth to it (more than most cups of coffee I’ve had). 

Espresso Martini
Luxardo suggest drinking the espresso liqueur neat, chilled or on the rocks, though I don’t know how many people will do that. I get the impression that it’s all about the Espresso Martini, a cocktail created by Dick Bradsell in the early 1980s, originally served on the rocks, but converted to straight-up in a cocktail glass in the 1990s—a decade when every cocktail seemed to be served this way and named a “[Something] Martini”, even if its ingredients bore no resemblance to a Martini. This is typically made from vodka, freshly made espresso, coffee liqueur and sugar syrup. (Perversely, Simon Difford, on his website, omits the syrup but adds a couple of drops of saline solution, and adds that he likes to squeeze a lemon peel over the top. However, in my copy of Difford’s Cocktails #8, from 2009, the recipe just has vodka, espresso and sugar, so he’s obviously changed his mind since then. On the website he gives Bradsell’s recipe from the 1990s and it includes a blend of Kahlúa and Tia Maria.)

On this occasion I use the recipe from m’colleague David Smith’s new book Martini (Ryland Peters & Small):

Espresso Martini
45ml vodka (he suggests Beluga, but I’m using my new favourite, J.J. Whitley Artisanal Vodka)
15ml coffee liqueur (he uses Conker, but obviously I’m using Luxardo)
30ml espresso coffee
10ml simple syrup
Shake hard with ice and serve in a cocktail glass: it should have an appealing layer of foam on the top (what I believe coffee nerds call a crema). Garnish with coffee beans.

Reflecting on Difford’s original recipe, is this cocktail essentially vodka and coffee with a bit of sugar? (Apparently Bradsell’s original was just this, created at the request of a model who asked for something that would wake her up, then f**k her up.) Given that the liqueur has sugar in it anyway, you could just mix vodka and the liqueur—interestingly, another of the three cocktail recipes on Luxardo’s webpage for the liqueur is a Black Russian, which is precisely this, vodka and coffee liqueur. It’s a viable drink, particularly if you don’t want anything too sweet. Compared to the Martini, it’s obviously more about the alcohol, whereas the Martini is quite different, from having actual espresso in it. Which is interesting, given that the liqueur is made from coffee beans. But there is something earthy about the flavour and also the texture, which I guess comes from the suspension of coffee particles. To be honest the Espresso Martini from this recipe is too sweet for me, though Mrs H. is drinking it happily.

Coffee Old Fashioned
The Luxardo webpage gives only one other cocktail suggestion, a blend of 45ml coffee liqueur with 5ml sambuca, which they call an “Espresso, What Else!” I don’t have any sambuca to hand, though I’m guessing this is a riff on the tradition of serving sambuca on fire with a few coffee beans floating on the top.

Instead, it occurs to me that the coffee flavour should pair well with bourbon, and indeed it does. I offer it to Mrs H. and she said it needed chocolate. I do actually have some chocolate bitters from Mozart, and I can confirm that 3 or 4 dashes of this does go very well, making a sort of Coffee Old Fashioned. Needless to say, I’m not the first person to have this idea, and if you Google “Coffee Old Fashioned” you’ll find a few iterations, several of which use orange bitters. In fact I find it works well with chocolate bitters, orange bitters or regular Angostura bitters.

Coffee Old Fashioned
50–60ml bourbon (rye would doubtless work too)
15ml coffee liqueur
3-4 dashes of Angostura, orange or chocolate bitters (or a perhaps a combination)
Build in a tumbler with ice.