Five Cocktails that Defined the Early Renaissance

The drinks that defined the early years of the cocktail revival introduced forgotten flavor profiles to a new generation of drinkers. Here, five cocktails from the 1990s and the early aughts that changed how we drink today.

Breakfast Martini: Salvatore Calabrese's marmalade-infused sour, created in 1997. [Recipe]

Earl Grey MarTEAni: Audrey Saunder's tea-infused un-Martini, created in 2002. [Recipe]

Juniperotivo: Jerri Banks' early take on the "culinary cocktail," created in 2002. [Recipe]

Jasmine: Paul Harrington's riff on the Pegu Club, created in 1990. [Recipe]

Porn Star Martini: Douglas Ankrah's passionfruit- and vodka-based sour, created in 2002. [Recipe]

Less than a generation ago, calls for Midori Sours and Appletinis far outpaced requests for Negronis and Boulevardiers. That the opposite is true today owes much to a small number of bartenders who, in the ’90s and early 2000s, sought to redefine what a cocktail was.

While many of these early renaissance drinks might read as simple or even dated by today’s standards, they were largely responsible for reintroducing flavor profiles long forgotten by the majority of drinkers, explains Robert Simonson in A Proper Drink, which revisits the early years of the cocktail revival. Created by a group of bartenders that, in his words, “saved the civilized drinking world,” this canon of new classics paved the way for the more sophisticated, amaro-friendly bar world we occupy now.

To re-educate a largely uninformed public, bartenders called on a variety of strategies, initially capitalizing on the near-universal name recognition of the Martini to contextualize their creations—as was the case with two heavy-hitters of the time, the Breakfast Martini and the Porn Star Martini. Of course, neither of these drinks bears much resemblance to the historic, pre-Prohibition cocktail (save for the fact that “both [are] served in a Martini glass,” says Simonson). In fact, they’re technically sours: the Breakfast Martini gets a tart bite from orange marmalade—incidentally, one of the first drinks to use jam as an ingredient—while the Porn Star Martini gets body and flavor from passionfruit purée.

Beyond familiar names, bartenders drew inspiration from traditional formulas, too; the Mojito, in particular, proved to be a fruitful template to riff on, spawning a number of new classics like the Gin-Gin Mule and the Old Cuban. It was also the inspiration behind the Juniperotivo, a straightforward mixture of gin, lime and muddled mint, plus the unexpected addition of pomegranate syrup—an ingredient typically reserved for culinary applications.

Another template: the Pegu Club, the gin-based classic that, by the late 20th century, had largely faded into obscurity—until bartender Paul Harrington famously put his spin on it. “Paul Harrington was ahead of his time,” says Simonson. “He knew his old forgotten classics.” His iconic Jasmine cocktail is a deliberate riff on the original: Building on a base of gin and Curaçao, Harrington swapped in Campari in place of Angostura bitters, and lemon juice for lime.

A drink that seemed to embody all of the elements above—unusual ingredients, a classic sour structure and a nod to the Martini in name—was Audrey Saunders’ Earl Grey MarTEAni. Like the use of orange marmalade in the Breakfast Martini or the pomegranate syrup in the Juniperotivo, Saunders introduced the unexpected element of tea by way of Earl Grey-infused gin.

“With the opening of Pegu [Club],” explains legendary bartender Dale DeGroff, “Audrey’s singular mission was to get people used to drinking gin again.” Ironically, it was Saunders’ non-Martini MarTEAni that helped pave the way for gin’s return and, indeed, the eventual primacy of the gin Martini after so many years of vodka leading the call.

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