May 3, 2006

Center of the cocktail universe

It's all about the gin, the vermouth, the garnish, the size of the glass, even the temperature of the ice. The folks who know are here in Seattle. Four cocktail luminaries on the dais at the Mayflower Park Hotel: from New York, authors Anistatia Miller and Jared Brown (Shaken, Not Stirred), local guru Robert Hess (, and celebrity bartender Ryan Magarian. Two dozen people in the audience for a seminar on martinis.

Shaking not stirring.jpg Martini at Oliver.jpg
Anistatia Miller and Robert Hess prepare martinis at Mayflower

Surprise number one: the first martini was half gin, half sweet vermouth, with a dash of orange bitters. Botanical elements of vermouth deemed crucial. (In fact, Julia Child drank "reverse martinis," 5 parts white vermouth to 1 part gin. "The perfect drink for swordfish," says Jared.) Order a martini today and all you're likely to get is a giant glass of cold gin (or vodka).

Those sexy, oversize martini glasses? Bah. A cocktail should be of modest size. "It's a 5-minute thing. Drink it while it's still laughing at you," says Anistatia.

There's no consensus among the experts on the "shaken or stirred" question, except that melting ice adds water--a good thing. They also agree that the martini is first and foremost a cocktail, a culinary creation worthy of prime ingredients. "Use fresh vermouth!" says Anistatia. "Measure your ingredients, use fresh ice, pay attention to garnishes," says Robert. "Drink one glass of water per cocktail," says Ryan.

Inevitably, the question turns to "best" spirits. "Do blind tastings," recommends Ryan. For gin martinis, they agree on Plymouth (for its floral edge), though Tanqueray (very dry with notes of lime) is ideal for gin & tonic. Vodka: Ketel One, but Anistatia and Jared have their own award-winning brand, Heavy Water, that's about to go into expanded production. .

"Seattle is a great cocktail town," says Jared. "We say so in our book," says Anistatia. "So's Portland," says Robert.

Related calendar items:

* On May 13th the Museum of the American Cocktail celebrates the 200th anniversary of the first mention of a "cocktail." Kirkland bartender Brandon Williams is among the contestants for best new concoction. Commander's Palace, Las Vegas.

* On June 29th Oliver's, the Mayflower Park's bar and 7-time winner of "Seattle's Best Classic Martini," celebrates its 30th anniversary. Cheers!

Posted by Ronald Holden at May 3, 2006 11:13 AM

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I don't get the love for Ketel-One. It's like drinking rag water to me.

Heavy Water though is a must try.

Posted by: Rick Dobbs at May 3, 2006 2:44 PM

Gosh, I am so upset to have missed this great evening. I'm jealous----you learned so much.

Count me in on June 29th to be at the Mayflower Park Hotel to celebrate Oliver's 30th year birthday bash.What a milestone in our city---and still going strong too!


Posted by: Eileen Mintz at May 3, 2006 1:00 PM

Yikes! Brandon, I've fixed your name.

Jack, I think Hendricks has a very appealing profile. Turns out it's a lot more expensive than Plymouth.

Posted by: Ronald at May 3, 2006 12:31 PM

Glad you were able to make this, Ronald! Now I know what I missed. :-(

~ B

Posted by: Culinary Fool at May 3, 2006 12:31 PM

My personal preference with a gin for Martinis is Hendricks which interestly is a gin from Scotland. I've also been told it's very good with gin & tonic.

Posted by: Jack Fisher at May 3, 2006 12:26 PM

Ron thanks for the plug it is very nice to see my name out there on such a great website. Although my name is spelled Brandon I still got the jest and once again thank you

Posted by: Brandon Williams at May 3, 2006 12:23 PM