The poor old Martinez is another old timer that doesn’t get enough love these days. Hailing from somewhere in mid 19th century America – our guess being Martinez, California – it was a fairly straight-shootin’ gin and Italian vermouth cocktail with a small portion of sweetening liqueur (mostly maraschino, sometimes curacao, occasionally both) and a dash or two of bitters. Some theorise that the Martinez predated and then gradually morphed into the Martini but whether there’s anything to that is beside the point as they are certainly now two entirely different drinks and have been for at least a century. If you’re ordering a Martinez in a cocktail bar I strongly suggest that you heavily over-pronounce the “nez” (MarteeeNEZ!) or you’re likely to get served the far more common Martini. Early iterations of the Martinez varied a bit but most had more vermouth than gin which we can probably put that down to the vermouth craze that was going on at the time. Around 1900 the gin/vermouth proportions got flipped around and it’s been that way ever since. But the problem then becomes that the Martinez starts to resemble other drinks such as the Gin and It and the Manhattan a bit too much. A second problem for the poor old Martinez was the disappearance of its main component Old Tom gin*, a slightly sweetened gin that was popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. We’re gonna solve both those problems and kill two birds with one stone using history (da-da-daaaaaaaa!). First it would be remiss of me not to point out that Old Tom has recently made a reappearance (Hayman’s Old Tom is a popular choice) and you could certainly use that once again. But wait: In 19th century America they weren’t drinking Old Tom, which was much more of an English affectation, but Dutch gin. Time out!
Jenever (correctly pronounced Yeh-Nay-Fir) AKA genever, Hollands gin or Geneva (totally incorrect but that didn’t stop anyone) is the grand-daddy of all gin and has been produced almost entirely in the Netherlands and Belgium ever since the 16th century. It was originally made in a similar way to whisky: from a fermented malted grain mash, pot distilled and then with juniper (jenever in Dutch) berries and other herbs added to mask the roughness of relatively unsophisticated distillation. British soldiers took a shine to it while passing through the region and carried the concept back home where it was copied, modified and lazily abbreviated to “gin”. Back in the low countries the original continued to be made the traditional way until a new type of jenver began to be produced around 1900 which used the relatively new-fangled column still to distill a lighter version of the spirit which has more in common with vodka. Thus there are two styles of jenever, old (oude) and young (jonge) and despite the misconception that this refers to whether they are aged or not the truth is that they represent the “older” (pot still) type and the “younger” (column still) type. As it happens the young style is never aged but old jenever can be aged but doesn’t have to be. A third style called korenwijn/corenwijn is like old jenever on steroids but rarely seen outside of the region. All types are usually 35-38% ABV and are less heavily botanicalified and therefore less dry than modern “London style” gin. The young has a crisp neutral taste and the old a very agreeable malty character with the aged versions bringing a little wood to the party. Old jenevers can have variations based on the cereal used such as spelt or rye. That’s right – you can get a pot stilled, barrel aged, rye jenever that is much more like a rye whisky than a gin. Who knew?
Meanwhile back in 19th century America the locals, considering things English somewhat unpatriotic due to some recent disagreements, came to replace tea with coffee and London gin with jenever. Furthermore the jenever they imported was old jenever. We know this with some degree of certainty because young jenever hadn’t been invented yet. Also this “Hollands gin” had to cross the Atlantic in a fairly slow boat and in a wooden barrel. So, allowing for some additional warehousing time at each end of the voyage, it was wood aged – albeit accidentally – old jenever. How about we try to replicate that in our Martinez? I picked a one year old (sounds about right) oude jenever from Zuidam who are a small distiller in the south of The Netherlands. Or are they? You see Zuidam Distillery is located bang in the middle of in the most geographically bonkers town in the world. Baarle-Nassau (Baarle-Hertog to some) is a small town that can’t decide what country it’s in so ended up being in both Belgium and The Netherlands at the same time. Sort of. Hang on, I can’t explain this without a map:
See? Bananas. The chaotic border runs through individual houses and businesses with hilarious consequences such as houses with two addresses (in different countries) and more. But I’m getting sidetracked and none of this is in any way relevant to the Martinez.
Using our Ur-gin with its slightly woody and warm malty notes in place of the dry gin or old tom gives us a completely different Martinez. Combined with a good bittered vermouth (Punt e Mes** as always), a dash of earthy-sweet maraschino and a couple of heavy-handed dashes of our favourite bitters the Martinez becomes something really, really good and I can’t help but wonder if this was the way it used to taste more than 150 years ago.
1.5oz/45ml old jenever (or old tom gin, see text).
1.5oz/45ml Italian (sweet) vermouth (ideally Punt e Mes).
0.25oz/7.5ml maraschino liqueur (eg. Luxardo).
1 healthy dash of aromatic bitters (De Ooievaar Angostura if you can).
1 healthy dash of orange bitters (Regans or another brand)
Stir with ice and strain into a chilled champagne coupe or Nick & Nora glass.
Garnish with an orange twist.
Feel free to play with the gin/jenever to vermouth proportions. Two parts gin to one of vermouth would be more modern and the opposite more original.
Toast the people of Baarle-Nassau/Hertog. You nutters!
*That should have been the end for the Martinez but it somehow hung on by the skin of its teeth for another 100 years or so using, but not entirely suiting, modern dry gin.
**I know I always use PeM but it’s just so damn good. And you can’t really have five different vermouths open like you can with other spirits.