Sunday, November 25, 2012

Search for the Perfect Martini - Guest Post by Ak

It's a crispy winter evening in Delhi and I am going to be stuck in front of the telly for the next couple of hours. For those who aren't in the know, today is Sunday evening and the last Formula One race of the season is on. If that wasn't motivation enough, today's race decides the 2012 F1 champion, and it's at Interlagos, Senna's home track. The championship hunt usually doesn't last all the way to the last race - the years where Schumacher was winning them back to back were so humdrum, you could literally sleep through the season. Tonight though is a close fight between Alonso & Vettel, with the odds highly favouring Vettel. I am not really writing this post to celebrate Vettel's victory or even Alonso's for that matter. It's Schumacher's last race before he retires, and while I am not a fan (I prefer Raikkonen, and Senna before him), he did win seven seasons and that surely deserves a toast.

"I never go jogging. It makes me spill my martini." George Burns

The martini is a great drink. Stories of the origin and evolution could fill volumes and they have, so I'll dispense with the mythology and the history that drunk bores go on and on about. What I would like to touch upon is the martini/manhattan relationship to the original cocktail. The word cocktail simply denotes mixed drink these days, but the cocktail was once an exact combination of sugar, water, bitters and spirit. The entire concoction was a delivery for the medicinal quality of the bitters, a combination of herbs much like achaar. They were a cornerstone of the hard working man's daily routine and helped keep away the diseases that plagued the industrial revolution. There was a lot of alcohol in the glass, typically 2oz, but it was simply to make the bitters better. Like Betty with her butter.

The availability of French & Italian vermouth from across the Atlantic really changed the cocktail scene around the turn of the century. The addition of vermouth meant that sugar was no longer required as a sweetener, and that you could add even more alcohol to your daily alcohol intake. The vermouth, being fortified, kept much longer than regular wine, which was more likely to go bad after opening. Sweeter vermouths were added to create the manhattan family of drinks and dryer vermouths created the martini family. The earlier martinis were notably vermouth heavy, presumably to mask the unappetizing notes of turn of the century spirits. However, as the quality of spirits improved, bartenders and drinkers across the world reduced the vermouth quantity to the point that Noel Coward simply waved his double shot of gin "in the general direction of Italy."

Update. We are on lap 41/71 and although Alonso is ahead, Vettel looks to win the championship on overall points. The first 10 laps were quite engaging, hence my slow speed in typing.

Gin is the primary ingredient in a martini. One of the older distilled spirits, its Christmas tree smell and clarity are distinctive. Originally a herbal medicine, Gin has evolved from its primarily naval heritage to a more sophisticated spirit that has found its way into many a modern day classic libation. I dont mind either Gordons or Bombay Sapphire in my martini, but Tanqueray is the only one that really makes it perfect. Tanqueray, although owned by Diageo, is a Scottish Gin, surely there must be something in the water up there. The folks at 12bottlebar, David & Lesley are experts on Gin History and Lesley has literally written the book on Gin. In fact, you can buy it here.

I mentioned earlier that the martini is a family and that what it really is. The purist view is that a martini is a lot of gin, a little bit of vermouth, a dash of orange bitters, served really really cold. However, like all good things, it has spawned a lot of offshoots. I have a book on martinis that list 4 chapters and 63 kinds of distinct martinis. Thankfully, the author, and I both agree somewhat on the "classic" recipe. Here it is.

3oz of Gin (Tanqueray recommended)
1/2oz of Vermouth (Noilly Prat recommended)
Dash of Orange Bitters (Angostura or Fees)

Mixing a martini is an art unto itself. You need a chilled mixing glass, large cubes of ice that don't melt as much as smaller ones and a chilled bar spoon. Add the bitters and vermouth to the ice in the mixing glass and give it about 20 seconds of stirring. A little water from the melting ice will help mix the ingredients. Add the gin, preferably from the fridge. If you're adding the gin at room temperature, you could add a little more to compensate for the melting ice that will form a sizable component of the drink, considering all the stirring you'll have to do to chill it down. That it needs to be cold is an understatement. You best keep the glass in the freezer and handle it only from the stem. Pour without ice and garnish with a couple of olives that have had the brine wiped from the surface. A thin slice of lemon zest can also be used, but in my opinion, it adds too much of a strong flavor to the drink and distracts from the herbal notes.

I am adding a video of Mr. Mori of Mori's Bar, Tokyo, making a martini. I've ordered a great many martinis and probably mixed a lot more, but this is certainly the best example I have seen to date.

Where Mori-San and I differ, is that he uses Boodles Gin. I've never used it myself, but I just love the ad. Also he free pours, something I am not yet confident of doing, opting to measure using a jigger. The distance at which he twists the lemon zest suggests he too is trying to control the amount of lemon oil that lands up on the surface of the drink and the inner surface of the glass, to avoid overpowering the drink.

Another Update. Kimi Raikkonen just went off the circuit onto part of the older layout and didn't really realize what was happening until he saw he was pretty much racing alone. What a lunatic. Reminds me of James Hunt & Duncan Hamilton. First time I've ever seen something like that in a live F1 race.

A word here on Bond. James Bond. He was Wrong. Dead Wrong.

You never shake a martini, it becomes cloudy with the ice shards. You never use vodka for a martini either, it really should taste of something besides the vermouth and the olive brine. You don't add Kina Lillet(which you can't even buy anymore), unless you want to make a Vesper. Even worse, in Skyfall, I swear I saw him have a beer, a Heinekin lager at that. The least he could have done was have a proper pint, a scottish ale perhaps.

Last Update. What a Race. Alonso finishes second in the race, just 3 points behind Vettel in the overall standings. Vettel is world champ. Toast to Adrian Newey, the man behind it all.

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