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What Is the Right Way to Make a Martini?

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In the last few decades, it’s become almost customary to call anything served in a martini glass a martini. But the only thing that these cocktails have in common with the classic Martini is the glassware.

Like most parts of drinking history, the Martini is the center of much debate. Whole books have been devoted to its history, and their authors have come to wildly varying conclusions about the cocktail’s name and origin.

Drunk History

The most colorful story is that the tipple was created in the 1870s for a gold miner who struck his fortune in Martinez, California. He wanted to celebrate with champagne, but the bar didn’t have any. Instead, the bartender mixed together sweet vermouth (a type of fortified aromatic wine), gin (probably a light, sweet version called Old Tom that was popular during the era), and a lemon twist.

The bartender named the cocktail after the town, and the miner liked it so much he had more than a few. At this point, the guy was so inebriated that he started slurring off the “z” in Martinez, and the cocktail’s current name was born. (Side note: the Martinez is still available in some bars. Be prepared, it’s quite different than the Martini.)

Alternative Storylines

Another origin story is that the Martini was the name for any cocktail made with Martini & Rossi Vermouth, which hit the American market in 1863. At the time, most cocktails didn’t have fancy names, but followed a pretty general pattern (spirit, bitters, water, sugar) and were ordered by the name of the booze they contained. Some examples: Whiskey Cocktail, Gin Cocktail, Fancy Gin Cocktail, etc.

Yet another (likely anachronistic) story is that the Martini was invented by a New York bartender in 1911 at the Knickerbocker. Mythology aside, the original was probably a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio of gin to vermouth. It might have been made with sweet or dry vermouth and also included a splash of sugar syrup and possibly some orange bitters. It was likely garnished with a lemon twist. But all of those particulars have been lost to time.

What we do know is that the dry Martini probably entered history around 1900 with a 2:1 gin to vermouth ratio. By 1930, the ratio was closer to 5:1. At the height of the Three Martini Lunch, the prevailing recipe was eight parts gin to a hint of vermouth, garnished with an olive.

Spirited Changes

When vodka first outsold gin to become the best-selling white liquor in the United States in 1967, many bartenders and consumers replaced the gin in their cocktails with vodka. This trend only intensified with James Bond’s famous “shaken, not stirred” Vesper Martini. So even though the original was made with gin, don’t be surprised if your bartender asks about your preference of spirit, mixing method, and garnish. After all, the cocktail has changed a bit since it was first created.

Hit The Lab

Modern Martini

2 oz gin (higher proof, if possible)
1/2 oz dry vermouth
Olive for garnish

Combine gin and vermouth in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir vigorously for about 10 seconds or until it starts to chill. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with an olive.

Martinez

2 oz gin (Old Tom style)
1 oz sweet vermouth
1 dash maraschino liqueur (optional)
2 dashes orange bitters
Lemon peel, for garnish

Combine all ingredients except garnish in a mixing glass. Add ice, and stir for about 15 seconds or until mostly chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with lemon peel.

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What's the Right Way to Make a Sazerac?
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If you pronounce New Orleans "New Or-leens," or if you can’t get enough of those Big Ass Beers sold on Bourbon Street, you’re probably not actually from New Orleans. But if you’re feeling adventurous and missing the Big Easy, a Sazerac might be just what the doctor ordered. 

‘Tails and Stories

A few hundred years ago, you might have actually gotten a doctor’s order for a Sazerac. One of the drink's origin stories claims that it was invented by New Orleans apothecary Antoine Amedie Peychaud. According to this tale, Mr. Peychaud mixed up the drink with his eponymous bitters and served it in an egg coupe in his shop. 

A more likely origin story states that the drink was invented by a different New Orleans resident (though in the same neighborhood). Around 1850, Sewell T. Taylor sold his bar to Aaron Bird and went into the import business. One of his products happened to be Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils brandy. While Taylor was importing, Bird renamed his bar the Sazerac House and began serving a house cocktail that featured Taylor’s brandy and, as the story goes, bitters made by his neighborhood apothecary, Mr. Peychaud.

In the 1870s and 1880s, Europe's grape crops were decimated by an infestation of American aphids. In just four years, French wine production was cut by 67 percent, and even the most dedicated cognac drinkers switched to whiskey. For New Orleans, that meant switching to rye whiskey that was shipped to the city down the Ohio River and through the Mississippi. Thomas Handy, who owned the Sazerac Bar during that time period, likely switched the drink's main ingredient. This take on the signature cocktail is the one that found its way into the 1908 edition of The World's Drinks and How To Mix Them, with the recipe calling for "good whiskey," not Sazerac cognac. 

The origins of the Sazerac’s name is vague. It’s possible that it was a nod to the fact that it was the bar's house cocktail, but it’s also possible that it’s a reference to the brand of brandy. In those days, “cocktail” referred to a specific alcoholic drink format. As put forth by The Balance and Columbian Repository in 1806, a “cock-tail” is “a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.” If you wanted this type of drink with whiskey in it, you would ask for a Whiskey Cocktail. If you wanted Sazerac brandy (until the aphid plague, at least), you'd ask for a Sazerac cocktail.

Hit the Lab

Sazerac Recipe:

2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
.25 oz simple syrup (or a sugar cube)
2 oz good rye whiskey (use the good stuff)
lemon peel for garnish

Place the sugar cube into an absinthe-rinsed rocks glass. Dash the bitters onto the cube and muddle. Add whiskey and one large ice cube and stir to combine. Garnish with a lemon twist.

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Flickr User Janice Waltzer // CC BY 2.0
What’s the Right Way to Make a Caipirinha?
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Flickr User Janice Waltzer // CC BY 2.0

The Rio Olympics start in just a few weeks, and all eyes are on Brazil. To celebrate, we decided to focus on the country’s most famous cocktail creation: the Caipirinha.

In form, the Caipirinha is pretty much a Brazilian Daiquiri. It’s made from sugar, lime, and cachaça. Cachaça could be considered a cousin to rum, but it is altogether unique. While most rum is made from molasses, cachaça is made from fresh sugarcane juice.

Unlike rum, which can be made anywhere, cachaça can only be made in Brazil. Though it’s often sold unaged, it is usually matured in woods that are native to Brazil, like peanut and balm. As with wine, beer, and whiskey, different kinds of wood affect the product inside differently.

The classifications of cachaça aren’t based on the type of cask in which it’s aged. It can get a bit confusing: Spirit that is not stored in wood or is kept in stainless steel vats before it’s bottled is often called branca (white). But cachaça aged in wood that doesn’t color the liquor may also be labeled as branca. This category goes under several other names, including prata (silver) and clássica (classic).

Cachaça that’s stored or aged in wood is usually labeled as amarela (yellow), in reference to its color. These may also be labeled as ouro (gold). Envelhecida (aged) cachaça, a subtype of amarela, is a bit more involved: it’s considered aged if more than 50 percent of the content of the bottle has been aged for at least a year in a barrel that’s 700 liters or smaller.

Cachaça is the “third most produced distilled drink in the world,” according to Alcohol In Latin America: A Social and Cultural History. Though more than 5000 brands existed in 2008, it was relatively ignored outside of Brazil until the recent resurgence of craft cocktails. In fact, until 2013, it had to be labeled “Brazilian rum” to be imported into the U.S. As a result, it’s often mistaken by many people for being a type of rum.

Unfortunately, we don’t really know anything definite about the origins of the Caipirinha. Like the Mojito and the Old Fashioned, the formula was perhaps first used in folk medicine. Carlos Lima, the executive director of IBRAC (the Brazilian Institute of Cachaça) told Casa e Jardim that a mix of lime, garlic, and honey with a pour of cachaça was probably used in São Paulo around 1918 as a remedy for the Spanish Flu.

As the story goes, someone eventually decided to skip the garlic and honey. Then, to balance the acidity of the lime, sugar was added. Over time, the drink spread into bars, ice entered the equation, and it became the Caipirinha we know today.

HIT THE LAB

Like the Mojito, the classic Caipirinha recipe is quite simple, but it’s also been the subject of many, many variations. We’ve included the International Bartenders Association (IBA) recipe as well as a modern take on the drink.

Caipirinha
Modified from the IBA website.

2 ounces Cachaça
1/2 of a lime
1 tablespoon sugar

Muddle lime and sugar in an Old Fashioned glass. Fill with ice and pour cachaça over it. Stir and enjoy.

Prata B. (Puerto Rico Asta Ah Brazil)
Recipe by Luis Ramos, bar manager of Bourbon and Branch in San Francisco.

1 3/4 ounces Avua Prata Cachaça
3/4 ounce lime juice
3/4 ounce pineapple gomme syrup
1/2 ounce Pedro Ximenez sherry
1/4 ounce Punt e Mes
Grated nutmeg, lime zest, lime wheel for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a Collins glass. Add crushed ice and stir until glass frosts. Top glass with grated nutmeg, lime zest, and lime wheel.

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