by Shaun Layton | I guess I better start this whole writing about liquor and bars thing with one of my favourite cocktails, The Martini. By that I mean an ice cold mix of gin, dry vermouth, and maybe a dash or two of bitters served in a small cocktail coupe or V shaped “martini” glass.
I used to get all worked up when someone would ask to see our “Martini List”, expecting an assortment of neon coloured 6 oz flavoured vodka-based, sweet-on-sweet cocktails. I still want to make an actual Martini List one day with an assortment of proper Martinis and Martini-inspired cocktails.
Examples of great martinis abound across the city. You can find the Vesper (Gordon’s Gin, Vodka, Kina Lillet, shaken and served with a long piece of lemon peel), the Fitty Fitty (Plymouth gin, Dolin dry, and orange bitters, lemon twist), the Martinez (Old tom gin, sweet vermouth, Maraschino, aromatic bitters, lemon twist), among many others. But for me it’s always the Gibson, which has an especially cloudy history. One story claims that a barkeep at the Player’s Club in New York was challenged by a patron to improve on his regular Martini. The very resourceful (or uninspired) barman simply switched the garnish from an olive to a pickled pearl onion, and thus the Gibson was born. Another story sees an investment banker during the three martini lunch days who would tell the bartender to make his martini with water and garnish it with an onion so that he could could tell the difference between it and those garnished with olives and stay sober as his clients got hammered, allowing him the advantage when closing deals.
Such tales are what make cocktails and bars so interesting and enjoyable to me. Many are myths, of course, or are so riddled with inaccuracies (the dates are wrong, etc.) as to be comical. But please, never tell me that I’m wrong when I’m telling one, and the next time you overhear a bartender telling his or her guests a story, don’t jump in with a correction. They’re just stories, so put down the smartphone (on Wikipedia) and leave it at that to enjoy the bar and the conversation!
When making a Martini, there are a few key points. First off, get to know your gins. Some are good for G and T’s and some are best for Martinis. Personally, I like Tanqueray 10 or Plymouth in my martinis. Also, keep your vermouth in the fridge (it’s a wine after all). And always stir, never shake, that is unless it’s a Vesper. Oh, and always garnish with onions or olives on the side, because the second they are dropped in the cocktail they change the flavour irretrievably.
I always order a Gibson; a dealer’s choice of gin, dry (I like a bar spoon of vermouth), and classically garnished with a pickled onion or two. The quality of the onion is a big deal for me. I love bars that have great onions, especially those that make their own! In the photos above, you can see some recent evidence of this affection: #1, a dealers choice Martini at the Fairmont Pacific Rim (No. 3 gin with regular pickled onions made ice cold and perfect by barman Todd); #2, a Gibson martini at my home bar, aka Bar SL (Tanqueray 10 gin, Dolin dry, SL’s picked onions); #3, my thermometer spoon, available here; #4, a dealer’s choice Martini at Blackbird (Hendrick’s gin, made with housemade pickled onion strings); #5 a dealer’s choice Martini at Hawksworth (Plymouth gin, Cocchi Torino, w regular pickled onions made by barman Cooper). I’d also recommend that you check out The Pourhouse in Gastown (on live jazz night), South Granville’s West (David Wolowidnyk makes a great Gibson), The Gerrard Room at the Sutton Place Hotel (the room is old and awesome), and, of course, L’Abattoir, where I’d be happy to provide you with my best effort.
Here’s my own Gibson Martini recipe:
60 ml Tanqueray 10 gin
1 barspoon Dolin dry vermouth
2 pickled onions (I might sell these one day, but for now you can just come see me at L’Abattoir)
Add all ingredients with ice to a mixing glass, stir for 25-30 seconds until desired dilution and temperature, strain into a chilled coupe, garnish on the side 2 pickled onions.