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Book Essentials: The Martini Companion.

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Book Review: The Martini Companion.

 

Here begins a review of books that will appeal to both martini aficionados and vintage cocktail lovers alike. It’s best to begin with a book most practical:The Martini Companion (Regan/Regan, 1997, Running Press). Small enough to tuck under your arm or slip into a handbag, The Martini Companion¬† answers the question: I want to make my own martinis. Now what?

Despite its own declaration of “A connoisseur’s guide,” The Martini Companion will walk you through martini self-sufficiency from the first step, from glassware to garnishes, and the ever-present debate of shaken vs stirred. Lovely photographs by Steve Belkowitz grace each section, displaying a gorgeous selection of vintage glassware to fire even the most spartan imagination. Since vodka martinis are just as popular as gin martinis, this book divides evenly between the two liquors and then vermouth, covering history, basics on their creation, and a selection of brands to try.

It is here, in the brand reviews, where The Martini Companion proves its worth. The history and production of each mentioned brand is thoroughly covered, before tasting notes and recommendations are given. If you are floundering on where to start with gin or vodka and vermouth, which brands are respected standards, or which taste personality might appeal to you, then this book can be a godsend without overwhelming you. The reviews are by no means comprehensive, but it’ll certainly get you on your feet and on your way to defining what kind of martini drinker you will be.

It is after this point that this book will either outlive its usefulness, or carry on, depending on your personal tastes: the general martini recipe section. Since this book was penned in the late ’90s at the height of the x-tini cocktail boom, the authors give a (perhaps reluctant) nod to the many variations cropping up in bars worldwide. It is here that a classic martini enthusiast will flip through many eyebrow-raising variations (or corruptions) of the martini, from the La Serre Tequila Martini to a Skyy Diver Martini (made with peppermint schnapps). As vodka is a more neutral spirit for such wild experimentation, you’ll also note that the majority of these recipes are made with vodka, not the classic gin of the original martini recipe.

Still, there are some variations that even I, vintage gin martini curmudgeon, would love to try, such as the the Gotham Martini from the Four Seasons Hotel in New York, whose beautiful accompanying photo displays the slightly darkened mix of vodka, blackberry brandy, black sambuca, and a blackberry garnish. I’d be most inclined to substitute gin for vodka… but still.

The Martini Companion is available in hardcover for about $25 on Amazon, but I picked up a very good used copy from the Marketplace for less than $5. After two years with this book, I can say it’s well worth any price you find it for.

Gin Tasting Notes: Magellan Gin

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Magellan Gin

The requisite amount of time was spent suspiciously eyeing this gin on the shelf and examining its contents under strong lights to determine that indeed, this gin is blue. Fear not, this isn’t merely a marketing ploy involving Blue Lake #1. Magellan Gin is perhaps the world’s only naturally colored blue gin, owing its exotic hue to the iris flowers that grace its bottle. These flowers are steeped in the gin, contributing both a vivid blue and a distinct floral note to its flavor. Subtle notes of spice are also pleasing to the palate.

Well enough, but how does it stack up in a dry martini? Although at least one other reviewer doesn’t recommend Magellan for a decent martini, I find that this gin holds its own well, as long as it isn’t forced to compete with the higher vermouth ratio in a vintage gin recipe. Magellan Gin benefits from a more modern, austere gin to vermouth ratio, anywhere from 5:1, 8:1, or even the fairy-touch spritz of vermouth that I would normally spurn. Like a delicate hothouse bloom, Magellan Gin is best appreciated in the most spartan recipe possible, but might also provide intriguing notes in complex cocktails with bitters.

If you’re simply searching for a better blue martini recipe than those involving blue curacao and sugary additions, this gin will fit the bill while cutting the fluff. Its deep color, barely diluting in the most generous recipes, will certainly draw some attention as a conversation piece. As a sipping gin on its own, its light floral and spice notes will engage the tongue without overwhelming, leaving your mind free to wander while pondering its blue depths.

Gin Tasting Notes: Gordon’s London Dry Gin

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Gordon’s London Dry Gin

Today I sampled Gordon’s, one of the original grandfathers of London dry gin (since the late 1700s) and the dry martini, so much so that it featured prominently in many vintage martini ads (I’ve added a few images). It still uses the original secret recipe, and replicas of the original pot stills used by Alexander Gordon. But this angel has fallen from grace and is now sold in a plastic bottle on the bottom shelf of any liquor store. I avoid the bottom shelf (and plastic liquor bottles) for good reason since my early college years. But the Distracted Hermit’s on a budget, so today was a fine day to rack my pride, stop giving it the side eye, and try a gin I should have tried a long time ago.

10632632_10207542724503551_6332875360701194438_nImage Source: The Martini, Barnaby Conrad III. All Rights Reserved.

This is the world’s most balanced gin. It’s the gin that gin distillers should be required to consume at least five bottles of and memorize what it means to distill a classic juniper gin, not too overpowering in any of its flavors, not too heavy on the kick, soft on the swallow, nor too sweet and smooth, like the new “modern” gins. It’s the perfectly balanced scale; the center of a spinning compass. It should say to distillers, “This is the classic standard. This is what you build upon.” Plastic bottle aside, the Regans (The Martini Companion) still list this gin as one of their first recommendations out of dozens, and they haven’t lead me astray today. Happy New Year.

946458_10207542724943562_5028877681654445070_nImage Source: The Martini, Barnaby Conrad III. All Rights Reserved.

Step Up Your Martini Game.

Step Up Your Martini Game.

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Christmas present. Thanks Sis! I had this gem on my Amazon wishlist for quite awhile and she finally obliged me. I already switched out the “modern” (bird bath sized) martini glasses for a pair of smaller vintage ones.

I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t this a bit superfluous? Do you really need a dedicated cocktail case? First, I want you to envision yourself: Cocktail Aficionado, esteemed by friends and family alike. Will they invite you to their parties? Will they expect you to dazzle them with a recipe or three? Of course they will. Now, I want you to imagine yourself pulling an open cardboard box out of the trunk of your car and huffing up the walkway to your host’s house, bottles and glasses clinking, as you hope there’s no cat or dog underfoot to send you diving face-first into a mess of glass and wasted vermouth. Seems a bit more appealing now, doesn’t it? I bet.

Or, if that scenario doesn’t suit, just imagine the next family Thanksgiving, with those one or two intolerable relatives talking nonstop, and nothing on the table but sparkling cider. You’re welcome.

Gin Tasting Notes: Broker’s London Dry Gin

12392036_10207467121253517_606520314754226261_nBroker’s London Dry Gin

We’re long overdue for a Gin Tasting Note, Vacation Week Edition, which allowed me to languidly stroll the city’s new liquor megastore & line up the latest contestants. Today we have Broker’s London Dry Gin, a London import sporting an adorable English bowler hat on its cap & boasting to be the “best gin in the world,” based on a 2010 NY taste test. I hold the results of this test in strong skepticism, being as they placed Scotland’s Hendrick’s Gin in 6th place, only one spot above New Amsterdam – the cloying, biteless king of the 3rd shelf in liquor stores. Anyone with half a tongue knows that Hendrick’s tastes like fairy magic in your mouth. Anyway. While not a #1, they were definitely on to something, as Broker’s manages to combine the personality of the “new” gin style (smooth sweetness) with the old London dry gin’s kick to the throat that keeps you on your toes. It’s lightly reminiscent of Bombay’s Sapphire, without Sapphire’s schizophrenia. Overall, a sipping gin – good enough to drink neat, with a strong enough personality to give you something to ponder. In a 4:1 clean martini, it produces a surprisingly savory afternote that imitates an olive. In a dirty martini, you may want to add some extra dirt, because this gin absorbs brine while pushing its high notes higher. I ended up adding 3x the brine for it to taste properly dirty.

Gordon Biersch Brewery, Broomfield, CO

Gordon Biersch Brewery

We had a seriously trying, “defining moment” type of day, and we ordered at Gordon Biersch like we’d never eat again. We watched a movie at the best theatre and I bought new boots. Don’t let anyone tell you such activities are not cathartic. They’re lying.

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First things first. Keep in mind, this is a full brew pub with I’m sure some interesting brews on the menu. But it wasn’t that kind of day. I needed it straight, with no nonsense. I ordered a clean gin martini, no garnish. I’ve developed a distrust of restaurant olives, as they tend to be the worst kind, with a low quality, over-the-top brine and garish pimentos. It came in a bird bath-sized glass, but in this era, that cannot be helped. I was a bit suspicious of the “frostiness” of the martini when it arrived, but I discovered to my delight that this was a perfect, finely shaved iced that disappeared within the first two minutes of drinking, leaving the ideal, ice-cold martini. Very well done. I had two.

 

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The meal itself was exquisite: shrimp and salmon carbonara with fried pancetta and topped with a fried egg. The perfect meal for an extremely stressful day.

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I usually turn down dessert since I expect to come home with leftovers, but what the hell. Rich fudge, but not so rich as to make you feel like you’re being taught a lesson.

Overall, the finest experience I’ve had in a long time, including the service. I can’t believe how many times I’ve walked into the movie theatre at Flatirons and only casually glanced at this restaurant. So if you find yourself in the Denver Metro Area, or one of the other rare locations of Gordon Biersch, I thoroughly recommend you drop in.

Grocery Shop Fails. How to Make a Frosty Martini.

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Grocery Mission: Fail

Grocery shop fails. Don’t mind my frosty martini. I’m baffled by how many accounts I’ve read of people, regular and celebrities alike, trying to invent new ways to make the coldest martini. Here’s how: Measure your vermouth and gin in two separate mixer glasses and stick in freezer for 20 minutes or a little longer – just under the freeze threshold of the vermouth. Mix together, stir gently and serve in a martini glass. Don’t James Bond shake, for heaven’s sake.

Decadent Weekend.

Decadent Weekend update: I woke up around 11 to realize that I’m out of cheesecake, but I’ve started some lobster tails steaming, so me and the cat will survive. I’ve also caught up on my nerdy research, and I now know several more famous martini recipes, including Hemingway’s Montgomery, most variations of Ian Fleming’s Bond nonsense (Do not. I repeat, do not), and the martini habits and recipes of the last dozen Presidents, including Hoover, Roosevelt, Reagan and Nixon. I have ascended to the next belt in martini-fu.