I’ve lived within a rifle shot of Martinez for twenty years, and my great-grandmother Loreto was baptized there during the Gold Rush, but for some reason I had to drive halfway across the state to discover the Martinez cocktail. One of my fellow guests at the all-exclusive Shinola Resort, in the rustic hills west of Redding, was the celebrated mixologist Jay Crabb, of San Jose’s Martini Monkey. Jay hauled up a truckload of booze and fixings, and treated us to many classic cocktails over the course of a weekend – Sazeracs, Manhattans – but it was the Martinez that really caught my fancy, an ancestor of the Martini that’s considerably more nuanced and flavorful than its better-known descendent.
I have never been a fan of the Martini, which in most modern interpretations is little more than an ice-cold glass of gin. It’s the frat boy’s frozen shooter, made respectable by stemware. The Martinez, by contrast, seemed like a real cocktail to me, not just a one-note symphony but a complex chord of flavors.
I spent some time researching the drink, which was invented, like so many other cocktails, by the legendary Professor Jerry Thomas. The city of Martinez claims “born here” rights, and even put up a brass plaque congratulating itself for being the birthplace. But since the Professor worked in San Francisco, behind the bar at swank dives like the El Dorado saloon, this seems less than likely. The more believable story is that one of his regular customers was a ferryman, whose daily trips to and from Martinez across the foggy Bay required substantial fortification against the elements.
The Professor’s recipe first appeared in print in his 1862 book. It called for a pony of gin, a “wineglass” of vermouth, a dash of bitters, and two dashes of Maraschino, shaken over ice and strained into a glass with a lemon twist. Hmmm. If a pony is an ounce, and a wine glass is at least four ounces, then it sounds like we’re making vermouth punch here. But, as I soon learned, all the ratios in these older recipes are a bit out of whack, since spirits used to be sold at cask strength, with roughly double the punch of modern liquors, and cocktails needed more mixer to be palatable. Still, even correcting for strength, Jerry’s recipe calls for more vermouth than gin. Modern interpretations of the Martinez tend to reverse the ratios, but still add a lot more vermouth than anyone has seen in a Martini since the Jazz Age. Jay Crabb was generous enough to share his most excellent recipe:
2 oz. Bafferts or Plymouth Gin
3/4 oz. Noilly Prat Sweet Vermouth
1/4 to 1/2 oz. Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Optional: 1 small dash Fee Brothers Orange Bitters
Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with orange peel.
The two gins cited in Jay’s recipe are both on the citrusy side, lighter in body and with less juniper than other brands. Though he was pretty adamant about this point, I initially disregarded his good advice and made my first batch with Boodle’s. As he had warned, it was a bit on the heavy side, with a strong juniper flavor. The same drink made with Plymouth was much lighter and more refreshing, and needed less Maraschino in the mix to achieve the right ratio of sweet to bitter. The perfect Martinez!