Freelance Food & Drinks Writer

Hunting the martinez

The martinez is an almost mythical cocktail, given that it was impossible to order one until recently. My first sighting came in 1995, while reading Barnaby Conrad III’s The Martini. The book includes this recipe from the 1887 edition of Jerry Thomas’s bartending guide: “Use small bar glass, one dash of bitters, two dashes of Maraschino, one wineglass of vermouth, two small lumps of ice, one pony of Old Tom gin, shake up thoroughly, and strain into a large cocktail glass. Put a quarter of a slice of lemon in the glass, and serve.”

Conrad scoffs at the drink because it’s made with “a sweetened product known as Old Tom, which no modern Dry Martini connoisseur would allow near the glass.” He needn’t have worried. Although popular in the mid-1800s, Old Tom gin had quietly faded before disappearing all together from American shelves. As with most things, being told I couldn’t have a martinez made it all the more compelling.

The martinez trail warmed a decade later, when I met David Wondrich (along with Robert Hess and Janet Zimmerman) at an IACP conference workshop on American cocktails. Wondrich mused on the origins of the martini, which may or may not have descended from the martinez. There are any number of creation stories, and the ingredients vary widely, so who knows? (Well, okay, Wondrich probably does.) He also poured samples of an historic-style martini, made with enough vermouth to make Conrad sputter over use of the word. It certainly wasn’t a martinez, since Old Tom was still in absentia.

Fast forward to 2006. Oregon winemaker and distiller Tad Seestedt was lunching with his pal, David Wondrich. Seestedt said he was thinking of making a gin; Wondrich suggested an Old Tom. Two years later Ransom Old Tom Gin was on the market. A couple Saturdays ago, I finally ordered a real martinez at the Westport Cafe & Bar. The drink was worth the hunt. It looked more like a whiskey drink, thanks to the 4-5 months Ransom spends in used wine barrels. Aging gives the spirit an amber tone and woody sweetness (Seestedt doesn’t add any coloring or flavorings), but Ransom is definitely a gin, with juniper, citrus and spice notes. Dolin Rouge vermouth, Luxardo Maraschino, Angostura bitters and an thumb’s length of orange peel rounded out the drink. Delicious and perfectly balanced. You can bet I won’t wait 15 years for another.

Make your own with this recipe from Hess’s 1 ounce gin, 2 ounces sweet vermouth, 1 dash orange bitters, 2 dashes maraschino liqueur. Stir with ice, strain into a cocktail glass, garnish with a lemon twist.