Confessions of a Reluctant Tent Pole, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Make the Perfect Martini
I keep having thoughts that are too long to go into a tweet, but that I’m not sure are enough for a blog post. So I don’t write them down at all. Which has resulted in many weeks where they only thing posted to my blog has been the Friday Five posts.
I’ve resolved that I need to get back to posting things, especially if they are not about troubling news stories and the like.
I rhetorically asked on twitter recently: "Is there any better way to kick off a night of editing than with an ice cold martini made with Botanist gin, Noilly-Pratt vermouth, chilled to near freezing?"
The reason I had such an ice cold martini ready to go that evening requires a bit of a story. During the last year and a half at work we have frequently had software release days that had way too much in common with a marathon. Part of the issue is that there are a few of us (I’m the only technical writer in our entire division, for instance) who are on every single project. So I am the one who finalizes and releases all of the documents related to a particular release, right?
And no matter how I try to get any of the documents done early, there are always some last minute changes that are deemed show stoppers. And some details that need to go into the Release Notes, in particular, can not be known until the final build artifacts are finished. So I’m usually up late on these days, scrambling to get things done.
Our group currently only has one Project Manager, and she has to send out the official release notification, which can’t be done until I have uploaded all of the finalized documents to the official locations. She is in the Eastern Time Zone, while I’m in the Pacific Time Zone. Which means that if I don’t get finished until 9pm, she isn’t finishing until after midnight.
We had a particularly bad couples of weeks a while back with two or three releases in each of the two weeks, which meant a lot of very late nights for some of us. (I should mention that we have managed to make the process slightly more rational since, so the really late nights are happening less often). Back to those two weeks. It was very cranky-making, so on the Friday of the second week, having had four previous recent nights were I was working until at least 9pm, I really felt I needed a reward to look forward to when we completed the work.
There was a moment in the early evening were I had finished the more that a dozen other documents and uploaded them, when I was informed by one of the engineering managers that it would be at least an hour before they could give me the last remaining details of the Release Notes. So I headed into the kitchen to start dinner cooking, and made myself a martini.
I mixed up one of my usual 8 parts gin to 1 part dry vermouth in one of my metal cocktail shakers full of ice, and then stuck the shaker and its contents into the freezer to wait.
I got this idea from an interview some years ago of Sir Roger Moore. Because Moore had played James Bond for many years, he was more than occasionally asked about his favorite way to make a martini. He was specifically interviewed on that subject at least once on the occasion of World Martini Day. At that point, Moore mentioned that for health reasons he could no longer drink alcohol, but he explained the process, which included putting the shaker full of ice and the mixed alcohol into a freezer for a minimum of two hours. He made the suggestion that if you followed his recipe, that you put at least two olives on the garnish, so that when you had finished the drink you could offer one olive to him, and thus give him a taste.
The week that Moore died, I searched out that interview and mixed myself a martini his way, including keeping it in the freezer to two hours.
It was so, so delicious!
Since that one evening, I often on software release days mix up a martini in the late afternoon and stick it in the freezer to way to serve in a chilled glass once we’re finished and I have logged out of the work network.
I mentioned that my usual martini is an 8-to-1 mix. And it’s always gin and dry vermouth. If you’re making it with vodka it is not, IMHO, a martini. And it’s not thus me, the official ANSI standard for martinis agrees: ANSI STANDARD K100.1-1974: SAFETY CODE AND REQUIREMENTS FOR DRY MARTINIS.
That document heavily prefers a 16-to-1 ratio. I’ve made martinis to that ratio and they are good. I happen to like a good vermouth, and also since I’m usually serving myself my martinis in a classic coup glass or a nick and nora glass–which only hold a bit more the 3 ounces of cocktail–it’s just not easy to measure out the vermouth in a teeny enough quantity to make it work.
My favorite gin for a martini has been The Botanist for a while, and my favorite vermouth is Noilly Pratt. The Botanist is about twice as expensive per ounce as my next favorite and several other acceptable brands, so I often make martinis with one of the other gins. I really like olives, so I usually garnish with one or three olives. My favorite olives for martinis are San Diego Olive Company Pimento Olives, by the way.
There are several gins that do not go well with the briny taste of olive (New Amsterdam, Roku, and Brockmans) so if I’m using one of those for my martini I garnish with a twist of lemon or a twist of lime.
The fun thing about last week’s software release day is, that during my lunch break I mixed up the martini and shoved it in the freezer compartment of our fridge, assuming it was going to be one of those late nights. But when I got back to my computer, all of the other work from other departments was finished. So we managed to release whole thing before 2pm my time, which was before 5pm for the project manager.
The martini wound up sitting in the freezer for a bit over 7 hours before I poured it and took my first sip.
And it was delicious!
Throughout December I started several blog posts without finishing them. There were more distractions than usual this holiday season. I decided that even though several of the unfinished post are seasonal, I should finish and post a few. So, here’s one:For a number of years I ran a Steampunk-based roleplaying game. We got together about once a month for an afternoon game. And people brought food to share, it that it was also a potluck. My husband would frequently look for period recipes that could be adapted into a good potluck dish. In the course of this research he happened upon the origin of the liqueur known as Rock and Rye. It was invented in the 1800s by a guy who was trying to figure out how to turn a large quantity of bad-tasting bourbon into a sellable product.
This requires a short digression about bourbon, particularly bourbon in the U.S. during the 19th Century. Farmers had long been in the habit of turning a certain amount of their annual grain production into alcohol. Besides being a product other people were willing to pay for, barrels of whiskey and similar spirits could be stored safely for much longer than grain could. Usually. But every now and then something would go wrong (the storage building might have gotten to hot for a period of time, or could have been flooded, et cetera) and many barrels of the alcohol that should have aged into something quite delicious would be ruined.
So, this guy had come into possession of a quantity of such bourbon, and he tried various things to make it palatable. The process he settled upon was to mix rock candy (sugar), sliced up citrus, and some spices (most notably star anise) into the bourbon, let it infuse of a month or so, then strain out the liquid. The result was a sweet-tasting booze that carried a deceptive kick (because the citrus oil, sugar, and spices masked a lot of the alcohol taste). He patented it and began selling it for its supposed medicinal purposes. Many decades later, during Prohibition, because Rock and Rye was still often sold in drugstores as a medication, it was one of the few products containing alcohol one could buy in many states.
The point was that there was a recipe for how to make batches of it at home, rather than go to a liquor store and see if they carried the manufactured stuff. Pick of the cheapest kind of rot gut whiskey you could find (it didn’t necessarily need to be bourbon or a rye whiskey), slice up an orange and/or a lemon, put it in mason jars with rock candy, star anise, and so forth. Keep it in a dry cool place. Check on it and shake it every now and then to make sure the sugar dissolves, and eventually strain it out into bottles.We tried it. And I was quite surprised at how good it was. I started experimenting some more. Any time I picked up a new bourbon or rye (assuming it wasn’t too expensive), if I decided I didn’t really like it for making cocktails, it would go on a back shelf until I was ready to make a batch of rock and rye. It’s difficult to find plain rock candy now a days—it almost always has artificial colors and flavors added—but I can usually find Lump Candy at the local asian market, which works just fine. You can also find big bags of star anise, as well as cinnamon sticks, at much cheaper prices than the regular grocery store.
What would usually prompt me to make a batch is if I noticed that I had an orange or a lemon or lime in the fruit bowl that was getting iffy. The skin was hardening and you just know in another couple of days it would start to mold. So I’d grab a couple of mason jars, whatever cheap bourbon was on the back shelf, a package of rock candy, and start assembling. For spices I tend to put three or four stars of anise in each jar, two or three sticks of cinnamon, and about five whole cloves. Sometimes if I have vanilla bean on hand I’ll slice one of those and throw in, as well.
And sometimes there would be other fruit. There was a bunch of dried apricots and dried cherries left over after my husband made solstice cake one year (and the leftovers had been sitting in the pantry for a few months at that time), so they went into a batch of Rock and Rye.For the last several years I’ve made two or three bottles (one batch is usually two mason jars, which once you strain out the solid bits, turns into one bottle of finished products) in time from our annual Christmas party. I give each batch a name, based on what it tasted like when I sipped it, and I make labels for the bottles. I’ve been picking up small plastic shot glasses that are in the shape of the red plastic cups you see frat boys drinking beer out of in movies—I can usually find them in both red and green at Christmas time. And I set out cocktail umbrellas along with the shot glasses, just for fun.
Because it isn’t the same base booze each time, and because the citrus isn’t always the same, the batches do wind up tasting very different from each other.
Last year I ended up making three batches, plus I had a lot of the 2017 favorite, “Farewell to Ballard” leftover. The three batches I made last year wound up being labeled “You’ll Get a KICK Out of Me,” “Feel the Lemon Flow Through You,” and “As Sure as There’s an X in Christmas!” Two of those are song lyrics, and one is a riff on a line from Star Wars.
Because we’ve been caught in this slow-moving apocalypse for eleven months, I didn’t make any new batches of Rock and Rye. If we couldn’t get together for a party, there would be no one to share them with. And for whatever reason, I still had a lot leftovers from last year, any way.
I typed whatever, but I know a big part of the reason. It isn’t a beverage that you drink a lot of at a time. One of my friends misunderstood the first view years we did it, and was shocked after he had been sipping at a shot for a while at how the alcohol was hit him. When I describe letting the booze infuse with the citrus and sugar, that gives some people the impression that it is juice with some booze in it. It is not diluted. It’s still a shot of bourbon, it just has flavor added. No significant amount of the juice of the citrus winds up in the liquid. You get the citrus oils, not the juice.
It’s the kind of thing that you drink in small quantities. And sipping shots of flavored bourbon by myself isn’t that appealing. But I’ve invented a couple of drinks using the Rock and Rye as a base. One is a toddy: put a shot or two of Rock and Rye in a mug, top off the mug with hot water, add a slice of lemon and a cinnamon stick. It’s really good on a cold winter night. The other is a Rock and Rye and Soda: but some ice in a double rocks glass, add a shot or two of Rock and Rye, top off the glass with seltzer water. The latter is a bit better for warm weather.
I realized that I still had those bottles left over the week that we hosted the virtual version of the party. I have been trying to use them up so I can clean out the bottles and think about possibly making a batch for next Christmas. Because maybe we can have a party this year?
A friend shared this image last week, and then I shared it on twitter, and I have subsequently seen mention here and there in various streams of cocktails called the Quarantini. I understand the urge, because many of us are staying home and dealing with any anxiety about our own health or the health of our loved ones, so coming up with a pandemic- or quarantine-themed cocktail seems like a fairly harmless way to pass the time. Well, maybe not entirely harmless: The rise of the quarantini! People whip up coronavirus-themed cocktails at home during the pandemic, prompting Emergen-C to warn that its products should not be ‘taken with alcohol’.
But assuming you aren’t mixing things that oughtn’t to be consumed at the same time, this can be fun. My husband, who used to be a bartender, shared this post about one bartender’s version of a Quarantini: The Quarantini! which does look tasty (not surprising coming from a bartender) and at least has a nice story to go with it. I object to this one a bit because it hits two of my pet peeves regarding cocktails:
- The first is that a good cocktail recipe should not be dependent on super-specific, branded ingredients. If you can’t make it without buying a specific brand of an uncommon alcohol, liqueur, or cordial, most people aren’t going to be able to make it.
- A true martini is a three ingredient drink: gin, vermouth, and a garnish (olive or a twist of lemon, traditionally). It has been argued that a martini is actually a four ingredient drink, because they taste best if served very cold, so if you consider temperature an ingredient, that is that. Regardless, the above recipe has eight ingredients (and is also recommended to be served chilled, so nine counting temperature) and that just isn’t a martini!
An important caveat to my first point: while it is true that I have specific gins that I will recommend if one if making a martini, as well as a favorite dry vermouth, those are recommendations, but the actual recipe. I have a number of favorite bourbons and ryes for making Manhattans or Old Fashioneds with, as well, but the specific brand isn’t part of the recipe, right?
Anyway, I find this recipe much more fun: Margaret and Helen introduce the COVID19 Quarantini. It’s strong enough to make you think Obama is still President and will knock you on your ass from 6 feet away. #SocialDistancing. And half of that is that is it always fun to read a new Margaret and Helen blog post. If you aren’t already a fan, you should check it out.
One part vermouth and 19 parts gin sounds insane, until you remember that a lot of people make their martinis by putting a little vermouth in the glass, swirling it around, then dumping it out and pouring the chilled gin into the glass. My typical recipe is closer to a 1 part vermouth, 9 parts gin, for example.
I’ll allow the vitamin C table garnish on the assumption that you are swallowing the tablet before you begin sipping the drink. If you want to get vitamin C into the cocktail itself, maybe a twist of lemon will be fine.
Edited to Add: It’s been pointed out to me that because Margaret and Helen often write in a distinctive style that one should not always take literally, that not everyone understands that when Helen says to serve this with hand sanitizer, she means that if you’re making a drink for someone else, you should use hand sanitizer since both you and the person you are making the drink for will be touching the surface of the glass. Not that you should put hand sanitizer into the drink.