Both the Martini and the Old-Fashioned have deep roots into the origin of the cocktail. The cocktail was originally created somewhere in the early 19th century. Born in the USA, the cocktail has its humble beginnings as a concoction of liquor(s), bitters, water and sugar. The bitters, sugar and water made the liquor that was often of inconsistent quality go down easier. The dawn of the breezer. Along the way the cocktail evolved into the more complex drink it is today.
The Martini’s predecessor was called the Martinez which was made out of a sweet gin, vermouth and bitters. Sometimes simple syrup was thrown into the mix to make the drink even sweeter. It evolved into the Dry Martini when people discovered that throwing out the bitters and substituting the sweet gin for dry gin and the sweet vermouth for a dry one made for a far more sophisticated cocktail.
Vodka got in the mix and that’s when the fighting began. Do you use gin or vodka, what is the ratio of gin/vodka to vermouth and does one garnish with a lemon peel or an olive? Everybody who enjoys the occasional Martini will desperately defend his position on the matter. Some believe that using vodka is completely out of the question and others will try and strangle the bartender who approaches the freshly poured cocktail with a lemon peel instead of olives.
If you’re a bit of layman but curious on the matter, this is a good place to start: Take 3 or 4 measures of good quality gin or vodka and 1,5 measures of dry vermouth. Stir it in a mixing glass with ice to cool it and pour it. I suggest garnishing with a lemon peel if you use gin and three skewered olives if you use vodka. From here on out you can experiment, find the way that you like above all others and claim it’s the one and only true way to make a Martini.
If you’re talking about mixing liquor with sugar, bitters and water as the proto-cocktail, the Old-Fashioned isn’t too far off. The Old-Fashioned made with sugar, bitters, lemon peel, rye whisky, a slice of orange and soda water sounds like quite a sweet or mild affair. Yet partakers of the cocktail will have lively discussions about how an Old-Fashioned should be made. When Harry Truman was president of the United States him and his wife kept telling the usher of the White House that he made their Old-Fashioneds too sweet. The usher’s pride was hurt and poured the first lady a double bourbon on the rocks to prove a point. After her first sip of the drink she exclaimed: “Now, that’s the way we like our Old-Fashioneds!”
The other extreme exists as well. A little too much sugar, soda water and ice in addition to a cocktail cherry and a slice of orange eliminates any whiskey flavour the drink relies upon. The Old-Fashioned is indeed no different from the Martini. Everyone has an opinion on it and every single opinion is more true and sacred than the other.
A good way to start exploring the world of Old-Fashioneds is to take a tumbler, add one teaspoon of sugar and two dashes of Angostura bitters. Muddle the sugar and the bitters with a piece of lemon peel until the sugar is more or less dissolved. Add two ounces of bourbon or rye whiskey, ice and stir. Garnish with a slice of orange and a maraschino cherry. You can add a tiny amount of soda if you wish (I advise against it). From here on out you can experiment with Scotch whisky, different fruit, different sweeteners etc…until you’ve found your liking.
These two classics have survived the ages and live on differently in every bartenders head. The simplicity of both drinks allows for a world of exploration and experimenting. Enjoy and let us know what you’re perfect Martini or Old-Fashioned is.