While savants debate the origin of the Martini, they’re in agreement that America’s trademark cocktail should only be made from gin. Of course, it’s your privilege here in the Home of the Free to swill vodka or Everclear or even moonshine from that elegant Y-shaped glass and call it a Martini, but please don’t try to pretend that you’re a member of our club.
The first gin was distilled from the oil of juniper berries by a 17th century Dutch professor of medicine named Franciscus de Boe Sylvius, who was seeking a blood purifier. The Dutch word genever was shortened by the English, and to my way of thinking the best gin for a Martini is the elegant English spirit, Bombay, chilled to zero degrees. The initial taste is sharp and glacial, like a stab wound from an icicle, and the “finish,” as wine lovers say, hints of licorice, coriander, almonds, and, naturally, the fruit of junipers.
Here’s how to make a High Noon, one of my favorite Martinis:
First, put your bottle of Bombay overnight in the freezer compartment of your fridge. There’s no danger that it will turn solid—most of these compartments are factory-set at zero, and Bombay will only begin to slush up at around -5 degrees. A half hour before Happy Hour put the glasses in the freezer, as well, inverting them to discourage frost.
Keeping gin frigid subdues the raw bite of alcohol so that the sublime flavor of the drink shines through. And prohibiting the liquor from any contact with water or ice assures that this aristocrat won’t be compromised by something, well, common.
When the glasses are cold pour the gin into a Martini shaker (or any clean, dry bottle), which has also been stored overnight in the freezer. Depending on taste, spritz the bowls of the glasses with a few sprays of vermouth from a mister, which has been chilled in the refrigerator (not the freezer—vermouth doesn’t contain enough alcohol to resist freezing at that temperature). Some tough guys believe that a true dry Martini should only be shown the vermouth, but I think that’s grandstanding. However, I always serve a small piece of chocolate before the drinks. Under the heading of making your guests happy, chocolate is the perfect warm-up act, and it also readies the palate for the exciting tension of a totally opposite taste.
Shake the gin till it’s frothy, pour immediately, and place in each glass a single dried tomato chip. These translucent confections, sliced ultra thin, are chewy and slightly acidic and mildly salted, another food friend of the liquor. Swimming in the glass, a radiation of red and yellow, the little globe looks like the sun in a seamless sky, a promise of the warm and lazy hours to come.
If you’re thinking about taking a step towards getting clean from alcohol, then you’re on the right track.