Like so many cocktails that hail from before 1920, the origins of the Martinez cocktail are a little murky. It seems clear that this cocktail was in circulation around 1887, if not before. It was in 1887 that the Martinez Cocktail was first found in print in The Bar-Tenders’ Guide written by famed 19th century barman Jeremiah Thomas who is generally credited for its creation. Thomas, dubbed ”Professor Jerry,” was one of the most famous and flamboyant barmen of the day and worked throughout the United States and even barnstormed his way across Europe. He is also credited with the creation of the Blue Blazer cocktail. The generally accepted version of the story says he created this cocktail for a traveler heading from San Francisco to the town of Martinez, California, about 50 miles away.
Photo courtesy of SanFranAnnie
The Martinez Cocktail is often credited as the original Martini. A quick look at both recipes may leave you scratching your head as the only common ingredients are the gin and the lemon twist. Further, the Martini is a decidedly dry drink whereas the Martinez is much sweeter. In fact, the original Martinez was believed to be made with Rye whiskey (though this recipe never appears in print) taking the Martinez farther away from what we know as the Martini.
A little history helps in understanding why this belief might be. The Martinez cocktail hails from the time when most coctails were sweetened with curaçao, gum syrup, Maraschino liqueur and/or sweet vermouth (which was always Italian at that time and referred to as such). Of the four, the vermouth is the least sweet and began to show favor more and more toward the end of the century in cocktails like the Manhattan. With the advent of dry vermouth, known at the time as French vermouth, a series of drier concoctions begin to emerge. By this point, the Martinez, which originally had sweet vermouth and maraschino liqueur, had dropped the maraschino for only sweet vermouth at a 1 to 4 ratio with the gin. Simply swapping the Italian vermouth for the French vermouth at the same 1 to 4 ratio with the gin gives you the earliest Martinis. A Martini today can usually be found in a 1 to 7 or 1 to 9 vermouth to gin ratio.
What makes the Martinez Cocktail relevant to today is where it falls, I feel, in the cocktail taste spectrum, especially as it relates to gin cocktails. Dry gin, as most gins are these days, pair well with citrus and can be found with all sorts of lemon, lime and orange flavors that are then balanced by some form of sweetness (syrups, surgars, curaçao, Gran Marnier or other liqueurs). Alternately, you find gin presented chilled and almost naked as in a Martini or Pink Gin which highlight the sophisticated use of botanicals typical in dry gins. The Martinez falls between these two extremes as it is neither dry nor sugary sweet or, for that matter, puckeringly tart.
In the end, the Martinez Cocktail is one I believe is worth knowing and ordering. Most better establishments with full bars are carrying maraschino (pronounced mara-Skee-no) liqueur these days. I am also finding a growing number of bartenders who know this one and are eager to make it for a patron with a taste for the classics. Learn it, know it, love it.
Oh, go prehistoric and try it with rye instead of the gin. Totally different drink but still great.
2 ounces dry gin
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
2 dashes Agnostura bitters
1 twist of lemon
Rub the lemon twist along the rim of your cocktail glass. Fill glass with ice. Add all ingredients but the lemon twist to an ice-filled cocktail shaker and shake vigorously to combine. Discard ice from the glass. Strain cocktail shaker into the chilled cocktail glass. Twist the lemon over the glass and then drop into the cocktail and serve. Cheers!