Harrison Ginsberg, bar director for New York’s SAGA, Overstory and Crown Shy, never thought the Martinez would become his signature drink.
Largely considered a predecessor to the Martini, the Martinez is typically made with Old Tom gin, sweet vermouth and maraschino liqueur. The classic never achieved the popularity of its successor, perhaps because of its relatively sweet profile. But Ginsberg views the drink’s richness as a positive: “It could be an aperitif, a digestif,” he explains. “It’s one of those cocktails that could go both ways.”
To make the drink his own, Ginsberg constructed a slightly stronger, drier version that sidesteps the common criticism that the Martinez is too sweet. His recipe has been revisited and tweaked for nearly a decade. The first version began in Chicago, where Ginsberg worked at a bar called The Dawson. Although the Martinez wasn’t part of the cocktail menu, it merited a quick mention as a suggested drink on the spirits list. That section of the menu was “about classics that are called for with some sort of frequency,” recalls Ginsberg. Yet the bar didn’t have a specific recipe for that particular drink—nor for most classic cocktails, he recalls—so he set out to create some guidelines. “I thought it was important to start building classics I believed in,” he says.
Ginsberg tried a blend of genever and Old Tom, but deemed it “too rich—the juniper presence is a must.” He experimented with a bianco vermouth for a White Martinez, but found it a little thin. In the end, he returned to the classic sweet vermouth to retain the drink’s body and balance.
Today, his version starts with Porter’s Old Tom gin, which is made in Scotland and has tropical notes of passion fruit, guava and pineapple, along with white tea and almond. “It has this beautiful florality to it and a fruit note that plays nicely with one of the other key components in a Martinez: the maraschino,” Ginsberg explains. But the Old Tom on its own wasn’t enough; it needed the juxtaposition of a classic London dry gin, specifically Tanqueray. “The proof on the Tanqueray and the heavy, heavy juniper really made this cocktail.”
Next, he tackled the maraschino liqueur. Though just a single teaspoon goes into the drink, as in the classic recipe, it’s an important teaspoon. Bordiga’s maraschino is Ginsberg’s pick. “It’s a small Italian producer, and their version is quite different: It has that cherry pit, marzipan note that is just really beautiful and not overpowering,” he says.
The rest of the recipe is fairly straightforward: an ounce and a half of “rich and bold” Carpano Antica, finished with a lemon twist garnish. “I’ve seen it many ways—orange peel, cherry,” notes Ginsberg. But he prefers a lemon twist. “Any time you have a sweeter-style drink, lemon brightens it up.”
Although sky-high Overstory is known for relatively complex, elaborate drinks, Ginsberg describes his Martinez as “super-approachable” and doesn’t anticipate changing his spec. But, he says, anything is possible—especially given supply chain issues, or the travails small producers endure.
“You never know with these things,” he observes. “It took a while to figure out the right Old Tom to make this cocktail really special. But as long as these ingredients are available and around, this is the hill I’ll die on with this spec.”