Today at The Drunkard’s Almanac we’re covering the classic Martinez cocktail in honor of World Cat Day on February 17. Or World Cat Day as recognized in Europe since Italy defined the date some 25 years ago. But before you cough up a furball please be assured we understand that International Cat Day is often considered to be August 8 and in the U.S. National Cat Day is October 29. We recognize the Italian interpretation because the Martinez recipe uses Italian, i.e. sweet, vermouth. The Old Tom gin used in the original recipe also referred to a tomcat. So that’s our story and we’re sticking to it.
You probably know what a cat is, but some things are worth noting. First, calling a cat domesticated is a stretch. While a dog is your dedicated servant the cat is your mercurial roommate that shits in a box. And then expects you to clean it up.
A useful guide is if a cat’s jaws can open far enough to grasp your neck you should be very concerned. That’s one reason jaguars are lousy pets, and house cats like to remind us of this by depositing small carcasses around the house. Ancient Greeks and Romans had pet weasels to control rodents, but eventually cats gained favor as they’re more pleasant to have at home.
You see, they’re killing machines. That makes them valued distillery employees, keeping at bay rodents that would like to feast on the grain stores. A female tortoiseshell named Towser was at the Glenturret Distillery from 1963 to 1987. She’s in the Guinness Book of World Records for her estimated 28,899 mouse kills, as we described with the Rob Roy cocktail.
A dog is an open book, but a cat maintains an air of mystery. Many cultures have considered cats a sort of bridge between the world we know and the extrasensory universe. Whether providing company to the dead in a cemetery or producing magic, cats are the most inscrutable of pets. All knowing, but not telling.
None of this seems odd for a creature delivered from the factory with night vision capabilities, hearing that extends to the ultrasonic, whiskers that detect air currents and a more sensitive sense of smell than dogs. Put them together and the cat’s management while the dog’s labor. They’re perhaps the Ferrari of small animals, but nonetheless have carried many negative superstitions related to witchcraft or other unsavory activities.
The Martinez Cocktail
At this point you may be wondering why the Martinez cocktail is Drink of the Day for World Cat Day. It’s because the original Martinez recipe calls for Old Tom Gin, which legend has it is related to carved wooden cats.
During the gin craze of 18th century England the British government tried to cut down on sales through taxation. Not to be deterred, the gin industry supposedly moved underground. To let drinkers know where they could get some gin black wooden cats, the Old Tom as in tomcat, were mounted on walls outside pubs with a money slot under one paw. Adjacent to this was a lead pipe leading to a funnel inside the establishment. Drop money in the slot and the gin would flow to the buyer’s vessel of choice. Old Tom became a nickname for gin.
As we covered under the entry for the Tom Collins cocktail, Old Tom gin was characterized by less juniper, more citrus and often with sugar added to hide the imperfections of poor technique meets pot still. Various Old Tom style gins have been resurrected, but it’s not a requirement in our Martinez recipe.
The Martinez cocktail itself is generally regarded as the direct precursor of the Martini, but Its exact origin is unclear. Some have attributing it to Jerry Thomas and others to a bartender named Richelieue who worked in Martinez, California. Nobody knows for certain, but it’s clear any number of specifications have appeared in print. Most early recipes and the IBA official recipe call for a 1:1 ratio of gin to sweet vermouth, but that is too sweet for the palates of our Editorial Board. We present a more modern variation based on readily available London Dry gin.
- Add all ingredients to your trusty mixing glass.
- Add ice and stir to chill.
- Strain into pre-chilled Nick & Nora glass.
- Express twist over drink, drop into drink.
- Rinse and repeat.