Theme Magazine - UK, February 2002


What force is driving so much innovation in the cocktail category? The answer is simple economics, the demand for the product. For some people cocktails equal sophistication, for others they are a fashion accessory, but most of all they are just plain sexy. In the United States the cocktail revival was preceded by 20 years of change in the way we eat. We went from a meat and potatoes diet with nothing spicier than mild Cantonese cuisine or Italian American food in the 1950's and 1960's to the big flavors of Thai, Szechwan, Tex/Mex., French/Japanese fusion, Pacific Rim fusion, Mexican, middle and South American and more.

In the last ten years the same thing has happened to dining in the UK. The American palate and the English palate are much more open to big flavor today than ever before and that adventurous spirit has spilled over into the pre-prandial tradition of cocktails. Just as the word fusion has served to define the creativity of the droves of young chefs who are making food that borrows from many cultures, the word martini has come to represent that same "all over the board" kind of innovation in the cocktail world. When Dorothy said to Toto in the Wizard of Oz "I don't think were in Kansas anymore" she was expressing the same feeling that the traditional Martini drinker feels as he scans the list of 61 "Martinis' at Lot 61 in New York City or he encounters the Cowboy Hoof, Parma Violet and Pomegranate Martinis at the Lab bar in London.

The canvas that most of the "new age martinis" are painted on is vodka and the colors on the palette come from flavored liqueurs, fresh fruit, spices, and herbs. I love the whole idea of these inspired creations but I also love a gin Martini straight up with an olive and a twist, and I have no trouble sorting the two out. The standard I use to judge the new age martinis is taste, if the drink tastes good call it whatever you please. When Duke Ellington was asked if he played jazz music he mused "there are only two kinds of music good music and all rest". We are entering a new age of the celebrity bartender; an age when cocktail bartending, for women as well as men, is achieving the same kind of professional status that American chefs have fought so hard to achieve in the kitchen.

Let us not fall into the same trap as a lot of the young chefs. In the beginning they received all the accolades for their innovative dishes but didn't pay attention to the preparation and manufacturing of the dishes for the big crowds that followed. I am afraid that in many bars like Lot 61 in New York City the creativity is racing way ahead of practical production capabilities and what you end up with on a busy night is poor sales and an even poorer product. Before you decide to have a vanilla bean as a garnish with the vanilla daiquiri you just invented cost out the drink with and without the vanilla bean garnish and you may have a change of heart. Before adding the Horses Neck Cocktail to your menu with its' long spiral lemon peel garnish teach bartenders and their support staff how to make and store the garnish. The more ambitious you become with the ingredients and garnish the more you need to focus on training, preparation and steps of service.

Owners spend time every week with the chef to discuss the viability of menu selections based on cost and production problems but how many of those same owners have had a sit down with a bar manager or head bartender to discuss the same issues with the menu at the bar? There is this attitude in the business that the bar will take care of itself…how difficult can it be to pour a scotch or make a good gin and tonic. Of course that is true but times are changing people want Caipirinhas and Mojitos, Sazeracs and Ramos fizzes, Fresh fruit sours and Margaritas, and fancy multi-flavored martini menus. Below are a couple examples of the new age martinis that require thought and planning. From the Lab Bar in London martini selection we have the Pomegranate Martini, I am not going to call them for a recipe but instead based on the ingredient list that they publish on their menu I will create a recipe that I would use. Here is the list: Absolut Vodka, passion fruit syrup, cherry bitters, fresh pomegranate and fresh mint. Here is the cocktail:

Pomegranate Martini In the bottom of a glass half of the boston shaker muddle together a tablespoon of pomegranate seeds with two dashes of cherry syrup and a tablespoon of passionfruit syrup. Add the vodka and a couple of mint leaves and ice. Shake well and strain the drink into a chilled martini glass. Garnish by expressing the oil of a lemon zest over the drink and discard, then float a small mint sprig on top.

La Ninfa in Rome prides itself on a classic as well as a new age martini menu, here is a list of ingredients for their Executive Martini: Bombay Sapphire Gin, dry vermouth, apricot brandy (which of course means apricot liqueur but that is matter for another column), and orange bitters. I will cheat a bit since the head bartender at La Ninfa probably won't stumble on my column and insert a similar cocktail of my own:

Apricot Mango Martini* 2 measures gin ½ measure apricot brandy ½ measure simple syrup ¾ measure fresh lemon juice 1 slice of fresh mango In the bottom of a glass half of the boston shaker muddle together the mango, the syrup, and the lemon juice, add the apricot brandy and the gin and shake well with ice. Strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a lemon peel.

Back Issues:

Memories from WTC

New Martini Trends

What Makes a Great Bar?

Bar Chef - Albert Trummer