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Cupboard Cocktails: Forget Quarantinis. Let's Talk About the Real Martini, a Classic Worth Revisiting 

click to enlarge RON BECHTOL
  • Ron Bechtol
When the term “quarantini” first appeared, it was cute — just what we needed in a time of stress, I admit to thinking.

Then, like so many memes in the making, it took over the internet. Instagram images of questionable-looking drinks appeared in the classic glasses, sometimes placed next to identifiers such as containers of disinfectant wipes. Sadly, the term hasn’t yet run its course.

But it did make me reconsider a drink I had often written off as past its sell-by date — one far too associated with mid-century grey flannel suits and Bond-era steakhouse bars. Unworthy of today’s hyper-creative cocktail culture in other words.

All of this is wrong, of course. The simple act of determining one’s preferred ratio of gin — yes, always gin — to vermouth is foundational to building both a bartending skillset and developing a cocktail palate. Walk before you run, in other words. From simply looking at a bottle of vermouth, instead of actually incorporating any, to reverse-ratio creations in which the vermouth takes the leading role, there are myriad options. And we haven’t even discussed types of gin — which, by the way, is a neutral spirit distilled from a base of ingredients such as grapes, wheat, potatoes and then flavored with juniper and other botanicals.

Turns out my personal palate may be morphing from a very dry 5:1 martini to one more like 4:1 or even “wetter.” At least that’s how it played out in my most recent Martini-making session. Times being what they are, I wasn’t going to obsess over the “perfect” Martini gin. I’ll save that for later. But that didn’t mean there wasn’t a choice to be made. I don’t have as many different bottles of gins as I do pairs of shoes, but there’s still a pretty good arsenal from which to choose: English (including a sweeter, Old Tom variant), Spanish, Italian, Austrian, Japanese, Texan (barrel aged), Mexican (from agave) and even an apple-based Danish version purchased in Copenhagen right before the Great Shutdown. I picked the Japanese due to its tailored, citrus-dominant profile.

Regarding vermouth, since it needs to be refrigerated after opening, I usually have only one or two bottles on hand. And though many Italian, Spanish and even American vermouths are perfectly fine, those bottles are usually French: Dolin Dry and the slightly sweeter Dolin Blanc.

For the record, vermouth, thought to have originated in Italy, is a wine that is first fortified with a grape-based neutral spirit, then aromatized with the botanicals that give each brand and region its distinctive character. There’s red vermouth, almost always sweet, but we’re talking white here. A martini really wants the dry version, though there’s nothing from stopping you from going sweeter.

The next essential component is water. Fortunately, it comes about naturally through the chilling process. So, here’s what we do: leaving shaking for those who insist on vodka mixed with Emergen-C — which is how this whole Quarantini thing started — place some standard-size ice cubes in a shaking tin or mixing glass, add the gin and vermouth. In my case, I used 3 ounces of gin and ¾ ounces of vermouth. Using a stirring spoon or an iced tea spoon, stir for a good minute or so until the container is really cold. A martini wants to be bracingly cold and properly diluted, and you will have achieved both. Strain into a chilled martini glass for that classic look, but any old wine or cocktail glass will do just as well. Garnish with a strip of lemon peel or a couple of skewered olives.

So, it’s clear that you can change this formula at will by simply fussing with the proportions. And, right now, you may have time on your hands, so fuss away. Just FYI, the 50/50 martini is considered an “insider’s” iteration. I happen to like a couple of shakes of orange bitters for yet another simple variation. And you can investigate different gins until the cows come home — or the pandemic ends, whichever is sooner.

And if there’s room in your freezer not occupied by frozen peas or pandemic pizza, here’s another thought: having arrived at your preferred formula, why not freeze up a batch? This will come in handy if you’re spending all your time video conferencing from home — or binging Netflix, we don’t judge. Find a clean, empty 750-millileter booze bottle with a good cap, add 125 milliliters — a little over 4 ounces — of water and fill up with your preferred ratio of gin and vermouth — say 375 milliliters of gin to 250 milliliters of vermouth. Shoehorn into freezer and extract as needed.

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