Vanilla, strawberry, chocolate, sour apple, blueberry, watermelon, Creamsicle, red grapefruit, mint. No, this is not a list of summer ice pops. It is not a rundown of ice cream flavors, either. These are flavor fads in beverages drunk out of martini glasses. The martini glass, and the image it evokes, is seen as the ultimate in sophistication. Ditto for the very name martini.
Call them spicitini (Tabasco), bluetini (blueberry puree), mintini (mint leaves and creme de cacao), for starters. Order a Creamsicle martini and you'll get vanilla- flavored vodka and orange juice. Ask for a "cream soda” and you'll get vanilla vodka with Sprite. The "yin” martini contains more sake than gin, and the "yang” is the reverse, said Dale DeGroff of West Hempstead, who tended bar at the Rainbow Room and is now a consultant to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. These drinks and dozens more have little to do with the traditional martini, except that, like it, the new martini contains a base of hard liquor, almost always vodka instead of gin.
Unquestionably, the martini is "the superstar of the cocktail,” said DeGroff. He traces the current martini craze to the creation of the "Hennessey martini,” stirred, not shaken, made with cognac and a lemon twist (some add a dab of fresh lemon juice) and served in a martini glass. "Some Hennessey guys came to the Rainbow Promenade Bar in the early '90s,” said DeGroff, "and they asked how they could make their product more appealing to the younger crowd. I answered, ‘Put it in a cocktail glass.'” They did, and the rest is history. Some of the new-age martinis are designed to go with food, and the term "bar chef” is used to describe bartenders who create a menu of cocktail concoctions to pair with food. Vodka infused with cucumber pairs well with sushi, for example, said DeGroff. Nobu in Manhattan serves citrus vodkas with sushi. But something more is going on. Glassware is key, and it is the reason these offbeat cocktails are being called martinis. In a Tom Collins glass or a highball glass, the same drinks would somehow taste more ordinary. You could put a drink in a martini glass and call it a margarita, but it wouldn't have the same panache, say beverage experts. "The martini glass is an elegant piece of glassware,” said Chris Morris, spirits .historian and master distiller in training at Brown-Forman, makers of the official Kentucky Derby bourbon, Woodbridge .Reserve. "It's streamlined and sporty looking. It showcases the cocktail,” he said. For years, said Bev Bennett, author of "The Absolute Beginner's Guide to Mixing Drinks” (Prima Publishing, $14.95) martinis "got drier and drier,” with a mere whisper of vermouth in the vodka or gin. "Now, all of a sudden, they're sweet,” she said. Partly, said Bennett, the switch is because people are eating more adventurously. The jazzed-up cocktails go along with Asian and Latin food and other cuisines that make liberal use of spices, herbs and seasoning. Sweetness can balance spicy, powerful cuisines. For example, an apricot-mango martini complements Thai or Vietnamese cuisine. At Aquavit, chef Marcus Samuelsson pairs lobster and tuna-roll appetizer with chilled pepper vodka. Bourbon cocktails are served with barbecue down South. David Tetens, a bartender at Lotus in Manhattan, puts a shot of espresso in a .vanilla vodka and kahlua espresso martini and muddles fresh watermelon for a melon martini. At SQC on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, bartender Sam Schwarz makes a chocolate martini using a smidgen of SQC chef Scott Campbell's rich hot chocolate, which the staff has dubbed "life in a cup.” "A lot of these flavors are so sweet that they are more suitable for dessert,” said Schwarz. By contrast, in the 1950s, the heyday of the traditional martini, "people were having steak and baked potatoes” with a drink, said Bennett. The "nuanced smokiness of a fine gin is not going to appeal” to the 21- to 31-year- old crowd, said Bennett. Besides, she said, the new cocktails are pretty and "you .really feel elegant” drinking them. "Sex and the City,” the TV show, has made the Cosmopolitan, served in a martini glass, popular, said Bennett. For today's young drinkers, the show "is inspiring in the way that ‘The Thin Man' was in an earlier time.” "I grew up watching William Powell and Myrna Loy” said Bennett about the stars who epitomized sophistication as Nick and Nora Charles, a private eye and his society wife, in the classic 1934 movie. "When you say, ‘Give me a martini,' you are suggesting something about yourself,” said Bennett. "You are suggesting you have a certain amount of taste, that you can hold your liquor because you are not a novice. It's romantic. It's transporting. It takes you to your favorite fantasy.” The fantasy needs to have substance, pointed out DeGroff. "The art of balancing sweet and tart ingredients in a well-made cocktail doesn't become any easier if you are calling the cocktail a martini.” The new martinis -- or unmartinis -- in an explosion of flavors have created a huge market for flavored spirits. In 2001 alone, according to Beth Davies, spokeswoman for the Distilled Spirits Council, 25 new flavored vodkas went on the market; 110 such vodkas are now sold in this country. While sales of traditional spirits increased by only 2 percent last year, sales of their flavored cousins increased 40 percent. More than half the growth in sales is in flavored vodka, added Davies. Citrus vodkas are still the most requested, said Schwarz, although raspberry and vanilla are "up and coming.” Vanilla, in particular, is making a splash this summer. Amarula, a cream liqueur that tastes of vanilla, butterscotch and chocolate, was introduced to the United States by Brown-Forman, the company behind Jack Daniels, Woodford Reserve Bourbon, Canadian Mist and other well-known spirits. Drinks made with Tuaca, an Italian vanilla liqueur with a hint of hazelnut, are popular. Das Komet, a 70-percent-alcohol vanilla liqueur from Canada, is another entry in the vanilla category. Far from scorning the nouveau martinis, seasoned bartenders welcome this shakeup -- pun intended -- in their trade. DeGroff, an authority on cocktails who has been dubbed a "master mixologist,” calls them "cocktails dressed in a martini glass.” The new drinks, he said, "show a lot of .creativity in my profession.” Now, DeGroff said, a group of young men and women "are actually pursuing a career as beverage professionals,” instead of treating bartending as a stopgap on the way to .another career. "It is the first healthy sign for my profession in years,” said DeGroff, author of "The Craft of the Cocktail,” to be released by Clarkson Potter this fall. Copyright © 2002, Newsday, Inc.
July 10, 2002
Call It a Martini,
But Hold the Olive
Colorful Summertime Twists on the Classic Cocktail
By Sylvia Carter