The Pomegrantini

Let’s face it, I have never even considered making a Pomegranate Martini before this weekend. Why? Because it calls for fresh pomegranate juice, and Degroff has a complicated recipe in the back of his book where you mash a pomegranate and then let it steep in its own juices before adding vodka and sugar or whatnot. Not something I would ever do. Pomegranates are too expensive, for one thing, and I don’t really like them, for another, and it’s too much trouble to make a single cocktail.

But then I was at Droubi’s this weekend, and I came across small bottles of pomegranate juice concentrate along with rose water, so I figured, let’s try it.

Here’s the recipe:

  • 2 oz. citrus vodka
  • 0.5 oz. lemon juice
  • 0.25 oz. pomegranate juice
  • 1 oz. simple syrup
  • dash rose water
  • flamed orange peel, for garnish

First, let’s talk about the pomegranate juice: it’s nasty. Simply gross, in fact. But it’s a concentrate, so I thought it may work in the drink. And rose water is just like it sounds: roses steeped in water, which just gives it a scent of roses. Weird.

The drink is ugly. It’s a dark brown color from the think, syrupy pomegranate concentrate. Yet it actually works surprisingly well. Next time, I will use less pomegranate concentrate, about half, I think, with half water. It’s a concentrate, after all.

As I’m drinking it, I’m actually at a loss for words. There is a bitterness in the back of the throat from the pomegranate juice, so it has nothing to do with the alcohol. And I taste no alcohol in it. It’s merely like a mixture of juices, which could be a good thing. I will keep trying this one, but I doubt I will make it all the time. Some friends are coming over later, so I think I will make it for them. That’s what friends are for, right? Guinea pigs?

The Smoky Martini

As you guys can obviously tell by now, I am on a quest to find the best martini. I won’t be able to try every different kind, of course, but if I have the ingredients, I will try it. I still have a couple more that I will be trying over the next couple of days, but tonight, I went for an outlier: the Smoky Martini, not to be confused with a Smokey Martini.

From the name alone, I thought perhaps it had some liquid smoke in it, or maybe a piece of beef jerky for garnish. But nope, it does one simple switch with the standard dry martini: it substitutes scotch for French vermouth. Just combine in a glass and stir well:

  • 2.5 oz. gin
  • splash of scotch
  • lemon peel for garnish

Before I get into the taste, I feel that a disclaimer is in order. Scotch and I have a love/hate relationship. I love the idea of it, for it is the quintessential man’s drink, right alongside bourbon. I love it that there’s so many grades of it; I love it that people have scotch tastings. I love everything about scotch, in fact, except actually drinking it. For me to enjoy scotch by itself, it must be a very good scotch. See my failed attempt at the Bobby Burns and the two bottles of partially used scotch in my cabinet, and you know what I mean.

I’m not that way only with scotch, however. I’m that way with all liquors. I don’t exactly like them plain; that’s why I like cocktails, and this isn’t a blog about drinking bourbon. It must be a very good gin for me to enjoy it straight, just as it must be a very good vodka, bourbon, anejo rum, or anejo tequila for me to have a glass neat. Still, I only want one shot.

So here I am with the Smoky Martini, a lot of gin with a little scotch. Thank goodness they’re both good liquors, because otherwise, I wouldn’t be drinking this right now. As it is, I’m halfway through, and it’s getting better with each sip. It started out way too strong, but now, it’s okay. It still burns the back of my throat a little, but it’s a pleasant burn. The interesting thing about this drink is that the scotch actually comes through on the back end. It adds a scent to the gin and gives it an interesting endnote.

Now if I can only infuse some vodka and go for a bacon martini

The Salt and Pepper Martini

By now, you know that I’ve got a thing for martinis and a fetish for prepared rims that use salt or sugar or chile or anything else. And now I come across the Salt and Pepper Martini. Martini purists insist that it isn’t a martini, but that doesn’t matter to me; only taste matters to me, so you can call it whatever you want. This drink is good.

It combines

  • 1.5 oz. gin
  • 0.75 oz. lemon juice
  • 0.75 oz. grapefruit juice
  • 0.75 oz. simple syrup

and it pours it into a salted glass. That’s where you rub a lime around the glass and then dip the glass into salt. And you do this with a martini glass, so that alone makes it double awesome. It isn’t often that you prepare a martini rim, so dipping a martini glass into a plate of salt excites me. It makes me linger and relish the fact that it isn’t a margarita glass or a highball glass. Nope, it’s a martini glass, and that’s something else entirely.

About the taste: unlike anything else. This is a cocktail that I will make again and again. It’s like a Salty Dog yet it’s more complex. The grapefruit adds a sour punch that the salt controls nicely, and the syrup and gin go perfectly with whatever citrus you throw at them. But the combination of grapefruit and lemon make this drink stand apart. It may not be a martini, but once you try one, you will have tasted the pinnacle of the cocktail. Fruity, sour, sweet, salty, and altogether delicious.  

In fact, the night I tried it, I had two. And then I took the ingredients over to a friend’s house as we prepared to watch the Aggies in the Cotton Bowl. A hit, a lover, fighter, and I don’t care what happens in the game. Just keep making these.

The Silver Bullet Kangaroo Vodkatini

To continue with our series on martinis, we delve into the vodkatini. For some reason, vodka began to supplant gin as the Western liquor of choice in the 1960s, and the martini developed along with it. It’s controversial, to be sure. Some insist that it isn’t a martini, some claim it is better than a martini, and some just won’t touch it.

Then try to figure out how much vermouth to put it in and you’re in a jam. Many recipes joke that you put the vermouth in front of a fan and blow it into the glass, meaning, of course, that it doesn’t actually have any vermouth in it.

But where’s the mixing in that drink? It’s just diluted vodka with an olive in it. Me, I follow the traditional dry martini recipe and substitute vodka:

  •  3 oz. vodka (only Tito’s, for me!)
  • 1 dash of dry vermouth
  • one olive

It’s not a dirty martini, so you skimp on the olive, using only one. Since I prefer a dirty martini, the vodkatini isn’t my drink of choice. It’s really just a couple shots of vodka with a splash of vermouth and an olive.

The real problem with the vodkatini is that it uses vodka, a clear, tasteless liquor. That’s the point of vodka, after all. Just reference my dad’s name for vodka: Baptist whiskey. Why? Because it doesn’t make your breath smell like whiskey because it’s odorless and tasteless. Sure, it gets you drunk like anything else, but it doesn’t have the flavor of gin.

Still, there’s something about the vodkatini that’s appealing. Hell, it’s good enough for James Bond, so there’s something to it. A hint of olive, a touch of dryness, with a strength in the back of the throat matched only by the traditional dry gin martini.

You won’t see me making them with any regularity, but if I have a friend (I’m looking at you, Stay at Home Cocktails taster!) who can’t stomach gin, then I’ll make them. Or if I run out of gin and I’m itching for something strong like a martini, then I’ll succumb to it.

The “Perfect” Martini

In cocktail terms, perfect usually means that the bartender has a big head and thinks his drinks are the best, as in he makes the “perfect Gimlet,” “the perfect Old Fashioned,” or even “the perfect Martini.” But the term means something different if we’re being specific. With a lot of drinks, the term “perfect” is actually a part of the name, and it refers to a perfect mix of sweet and dry vermouths.

The Perfect Martini, then, has a perfect ratio of sweet to dry vermouth. Here is my recipe:

  • 3 oz. gin
  • 0.25 oz. sweet vermouth
  • 0.25 oz. dry vermouth
  • lemon peel, for garnish

This one is nearly a Martinez (see my previous post), but it keeps the strength of the dry martini. The gin comes through nicely, but the sweet vermouth adds an element that is missing from the dry martini. If we’re talking about a balance of the five tastes–sweet, salty, bitter, sour, umami–then the Perfect Martini adds a note of sweetness that works. It isn’t too much to take over the gin, but it is enough to provide another element. It works.

I will be keeping this one around.

The Martinez Martini/Manhattan: gin, vermouth, Angostura, maraschino

The Martinez Martini:gin, dry vermouth, Angostura bitters, maraschino liqueur

Look up the Martinez online, and you find all sorts of stories about it. Here are the facts:

1. The Manhattan is older than the Martini.
2. The Manhattan uses sweet vermouth and a maraschino cherry.

And that’s about it. Most people postulate that the Martinez is the bridge between the Manhattan and the Martini. Most original Martinez recipes merely substitute gin for the Manhattan’s whiskey: voila, the Martinez. But as people began to switch to dry vermouth, the Martinez morphed into the Martini.

Dale DeGroff’s modern Martinez recipe is interesting because it uses dry vermouth but keeps the bitters (now Angostura instead of Booker’s) and the maraschino liqueur (to mimic the taste of the maraschino cherry). Here is his recipe:

  • 2 dashes bitters
  • 2 dashes maraschino liqueur
  • 1.5 oz. gin
  • 1 oz. dry vermouth
  • lemon peel

Just a note here: I don’t keep maraschino liqueur, although I should, so I substituted 2 dashes of Peter Heering, which is a better liqueur anyway. Come on, guys, it’s only 2 dashes. Sheesh.

The Martinez is good for the repertoire, but it isn’t something I’ll be making on a regular basis. Frankly, it does keep many of the same bitters and sweet maraschino notes of the Manhattan, and those are the parts of the Manhattan that I don’t really like that much. What they do, though, is they cut down on the strength of the Martini. The Martinez is unlike the modern dry Martini and nothing like the dirty Martini, yet it isn’t like the Manhattan, either. It isn’t crazy strong like the Martini, nor weirdly sweet like the Manhattan.

My plan is to keep the recipe on hand when I’m making Martinis in case there is something in the drinking party that doesn’t exactly like Martinis. For me, though, the dirty is still the best.

The Casino Royale or the Vesper Martini: Gordon’s gin, vodka, Lillet, lemon

Shaken, not stirred!
The Casino Royale or Vesper Martini: gin, vodka, Lillet, lemon

In Casino Royale, there is a scene in the book that is recreated in the new film where Bond creates the Vesper. The drink comprises

  • 3 measures of Gordon’s gin
  • one measure of vodka
  • 1/2 measure of Kina Lillet
  • thin slice of lemon

If you have never had Kina Lillet, it is a fruity apertif wine that is approximately 18% alcohol. On it’s own, it is a less sweet version of sweet vermouth or a sweeter version of dry vermouth. An interesting choice, Mr. Bond.

The Vesper works, but it’s hard to tell the difference between it and the typical dry martini. The addition of the good, smooth vodka and the sweetness of the Kina Lillet round out the cheaper Gordon’s Gin.  Like the dry martini, the Vesper is a clear drink, one that is strong yet not that flavorful. Don’t expect the saltiness of the dirty martini or any of the flavor of additional fruit or anything like that. This is a drinker’s drink, a drinker who likes the clarity of alcohol and doesn’t want to muck it up.

At the beginning of the night, it’s a good one.

The Dirty Martini: Gin, vermouth, olive juice

The dirty martini is probably my favorite type of martini. Here is the recipe I generally use:
  • 2.25 oz. gin
  • 3/4 oz dry vermouth
  • 0.5 oz. olive juice
  • three olives, for garnish

I have two general rules about my dirty martinis:

1. They should be stirred, not shaken. James Bond is a wuss, I suppose, because he likes more ice bits and thus more water in his martinis. Me, I want it to be cold and a little watered down without losing its martini-ness.

2. They should use olive juice, not olive brine. Olive juice is bottled stuff you buy separately from olives. It’s cheap, so it’s well worth it. Buy a big bottle and it will last a couple months in the refrigerator. It’s better than olive brine, the stuff olives are marinated in, because it isn’t a bitter.

Follow those two rules and you have a gorgeous cocktail that is infused with saltiness. Just don’t make the mistake of trying to eat a cookie while drinking a dirty martini.


Ode to a Martini: my poem about the delights of gin

The martini may be my favorite cocktail. I like nearly all of the variations, so I decided to write a poem for this amazing drink: 

Ode to a Martini

Be gone, my vodka friends, and let me be
With gin, vermouth, and lemon slice.
Try an olive, one, two or three.
Clarity pure when stirred with ice.
The dry one, with a dash or maybe two,
The perfect, with a splash of sweet and dry,
The dirty, with its half-measure olive brine:
Make a martini for me, and one for you.
Choose your type: a dirty low or vesper high.
Any way is fine, as long as it’s mine.
I do have to admit that the dry martini is not my favorite. What I still like about it is its clarity. Not only does the drink look like a clear glass of water, but it actually tastes clear. There’s flavor there, no doubt, but the tastes are very simple and understated. With a good gin, it goes down very smooth. And the lemon adds a lovely nose.

How to make the Salty Dog highball: Vodka, grapefruit, lime, salt

The Salty Dog. Even the name sounds like it means something.

There are two things I like about the Salty Dog before I even drink one. First, there’s the name. It sounds like a man’s drink, like a pirate’s drink (ninjas wouldn’t drink Salty Dogs). I feel like I should order one in my best pirate slang.

Then there’s the salted rim. I have mentioned before that I have a cocktail fetish for prepared glass rims, so I’m interested whenever I find one.

Last time, I wrote about the Greyhound. Coming on the heels of both the Cape Codder and the Sea Breeze, the Greyhound was too tart. It needed something to cut the grapefruit juice, and the vodka just didn’t do it.

The Salty Dog manages to do just that. It cuts the grapefruit flavor using a surprising ingredient: salt. The Salty Dog is a Greyhound with a salted rim. That’s it.

How to make a Salty Dog

So first, you prepare the rim: cut a lime slice, run it around the outside edge of the glass, then dip it into a plate of kosher salt. Fill the highball glass with ice. Then pour in

  • 1.5 oz. vodka
  • 4 oz. grapefruit juice
  • lime wedge, for garnish

Stir it well, and you have a balanced drink. There’s something about the salt that does the trick, and I guess it because of what it means to have taste balance. If there are five flavors–sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami–then the salted rims adds a new dimension. The Greyhound has only two of the flavors predominant–sweet and sour. Yes, there is some sweetness in grapefruit juice. But the Salty Dog adds the new texture and taste of salt.

It puts the Salty Dog way above the Greyhound. The verdict: skip the Greyhound and go for a Salty Dog.

Now if I can figure out how to get some chicken broth in there…

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