Sunday, March 25, 2007

There's Only One Slam, Bang, Tang

In yesterday's Wall Street Journal, Eric Felten notes that calling a drink a Martini does not make it one (sub req):

The most common complaint I hear about the offerings on the current cocktail scene concerns the epidemic of "Martinis" that aren't Martinis. For the purists, it's bad enough that a drink of vodka and vermouth is referred to as a Martini. But one doesn't have to be a stickler to bemoan the candy-colored cocktails with labels like "Raspberry Martini" or "Apple-tini" that fill out the "Martini List" at innumerable bars and restaurants. A drink of vodka, sweet liqueur and fruit juice is not a Martini.

Most definitely not.

And what a shame that would be. Though hardly the purest of the purists, I am firmly of the belief that a Martini is a drink of dry gin and dry vermouth. No other drink has what songwriter Frank Loesser called the "slam, bang, tang" of the original. But beyond my unshakeable fidelity to the basic ingredients of the Martini, I must admit a tendency to apostasy. For example, I like to have an olive or three in the glass (two olives is bad form), which is anathema to the most orthodox, who insist a twist of lemon peel is the only acceptable Martini garnish. And even more heretically, every now and then I like to doctor Martinis with a smidgen of liqueur.

He had me up to the "smidgen of liquer." However, Felten does offer up an acceptable solution:

The point is well taken, which is why I think we should make it clear that any cocktail that varies from the strict Martini paradigm is no Martini, but rather a drink of some other name altogether. Thus we can enjoy the occasional permutation on the Martini theme without contributing to the linguistic erosion of the Martini.

David Embury, in his opinionated 1948 classic "The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks," decrees as acceptable "occasional interesting variations in your Martinis," but each variation he suggests comes with a name attached. Add a couple of dashes of orange curaçao to a Martini and you have a Flying Dutchman. If instead you add a touch of the herbal French liqueur Chartreuse, the drink is called a Nome. A dash of crème de cassis and you get an International. Embury is so serious about correct Martini nomenclature that he insists a Martini is not worthy of the name if it has not been stirred: "If you shake the Martini, it becomes a Bradford."

Now that's some hardcore orthodoxy. I'm open to shaken or stirred myself.

It is only natural that a popular cocktail will breed variations on the theme -- witness the proliferation of Pomegranate Margaritas and Mango Mojitos. When the dry gin Martini was at its peak, there were dozens of "special" cocktails anchored with gin and vermouth. One of my favorites is a house cocktail that was served at London's Savoy Hotel: Dry gin, dry vermouth and a little mellowing Dubonnet. The Savoy Hotel Special is a fine, sophisticated drink, and one that might appeal to those who like the idea of a Martini but who find gin and vermouth alone to be a bit demanding.

Just please don't call it a Martini.

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