A Martini made with Absinthe

“Oh god… is my face melting?”

 

I didn’t invent this one. Some other crazy person did.

What’s more, it’s evidently been ordered and drunk often enough to have earned itself a name: the Mystic Martini.

  
Absinthe is typically 45-74% ABV and therefore highly potent.

Invented in Switzerland, its alleged psychoactive properties led to its prohibition in many countries for decades, before decriminalisation led to a comeback in the 1990s.

Flavoured with botanicals including sweet fennel and wormwood, the drink is anise-flavoured and usually green or colourless. It turns milky/cloudy when mixed with water.

  
The drink was traditionally served via ‘the French method’ whereby a slotted spoon holding a sugar cube was placed over a glass containing a measure of absinthe. Cold water was then poured over the sugar cube, running into the absinthe, turning it cloudy and bringing out its complex flavours.

  

Social folklore and urban legend, now largely disproved, claimed that the effects of absinthe on the drinker were different to that of other types of alcohol, such as hallucinations and temporary insanity.

The ‘absinthe fairy’ is also associated with a wide variety of artists, writers and other cultural figures, earning the drink a reputation for bohemian creativity – as well as danger.

  
So back to the cocktail. The Mystic Martini is basically a classic martini with approximately one teaspoon of absinthe added to the mix.

Some bartenders rinse the glass with the absinthe before pouring the martini, others stir the absinthe into the martini after it has been prepared. I prefer the latter method, so you can watch the absinthe swirl into the already hypnotic drink. To evoke ‘the French method’ you could serve a classic martini with a measure of absinthe separately in a silver spoon, so the drinker can add it themselves and watch it ooze into the mixture.

Traditionally you are supposed to garnish this martini with a single green olive (largely for appearance purposes) but I actually think a wrinkled black olive goes better with the anise flavouring. I made the above drink with lemon peel which doesn’t compliment the anise flavour quite so well. If you really want to appreciate the complex botanicals of the absinthe you might also want to prepare this drink using vodka instead of gin – sacre bleu!

Personally anise is not my favourite flavour so this isn’t a drink I will be revisiting, but if it’s your thing, give it a go. Just make sure you’ve got life insurance first. 

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Happiness Forgets in Hoxton 4/5

“Great cocktails, no wallies.”

A dreamy basement cocktail bar in central London with attentive, knowledgeable staff. 

  

The low level lighting is sublime but it means that my photos are a bit rubbish. Just trust me and pay them a visit if you’re anywhere near Hoxton square in London.

A classic martini wasn’t even on the menu – they have a wide range of other good quality cocktails that my friends sampled extensively and reviewed most positively.

However, when I asked if I could have a standard martini (I felt guilty and irritating whilst doing so) not only was my request graciously fulfilled, I was asked which gin I would prefer, whether I wanted it sweet or dry (I asked for medium) and whether or not I would like it with an olive or a twist of lemon.

I instantly knew I was in safe hands.

  
 

I asked for a Tanqueray martini to start. It came in a coupe glass with a twist of lemon and that much-welcome citrus aroma indicating that the barman had attentively squeezed the peel into the glass before pouring. The gin and the glass hadn’t been kept in the freezer but the barman had clearly shaken the drink with ice to cool it down. It was pleasant and clearly made with care, respect and attention. 

 

For my next drink I asked for another of the same but made with a gin of the waitress’s choosing. She regularly checked our table to see if we needed anything. One of my friends, a former resident of Finland, remarked that her style was very Scandinavian. She was straight forward, knowledgable but not fawning, fake or overly smiley: a professional.

She recommended that I try a martini made with Ford’s gin for its clean, crisp taste. It came very cold. I think they used a glass kept in the freezer this time – you can tell because you will leave your finger prints on a frozen glass.

Instead of lemon, it came with a twist of grapefruit to compliment the botanicals of the gin (it’s strong on juniper – as I like it). What an unusual treat.

So, allow me to summarise my review in bullet points:


PROS

  • Very attentive and knowledgeable staff.
  • A classic martini wasn’t even on the menu but two were happily prepared for me.
  • I was asked if I wanted them sweet or dry.
  • I was offered a choice between a twist of lemon or an olive (so simple, so crucial).
  • The waitress took time to talk to us about different kinds of gin and introduced us to some new brands, of which she knew a lot.
  • We were checked upon to see if we needed anything in a way that was straight forward and professional, not fawning or intrusive.
  • The setting is lovely.
  • The music was good and conducive towards conversation.
  • The lighting. I’ve already mentioned it.
  • The toilets were very clean and smelt divine.
  • There was a wide range of gins.
  • The martini glasses are kept in the freezer.
  • The crowd was nice – mostly couples of dates, rather than grating hipsters or stray city-types.

CONS
There’s not a lot for me to say here and my points are purely related to my martini preferences. Bear in mind that martinis weren’t even on the menu so the fact that the staff went to the lengths that they did is hugely commendable.

  • I don’t like martinis being served in a coupe glass but it seems to be very common in London.
  • I like some nibble options to go with a martini, even if it was just a small dish of olives at extra cost. Probably not within the style or business model of this bar but there you go, those are my preferences.
  • I prefer the gin to be stored in the freezer. This might be difficult in the bar as they have such a wide range available but perhaps I would pick a favourite and keep that one in the freezer for martini requests (I would suggest Tanqueray or Beefeater for commercial purposes). Otherwise they chilled it with ice in a shaker and the glasses were clearly frozen so I cannot fault the staff in any way.
  • I found the seating slightly uncomfortable. But hey ho, if you have a few of their cocktails your nerve endings won’t be that receptive anyway…

And that’s it. Minor points of fault. Otherwise it far exceeds most bars in London for its drinks. I’ll be back.

Their website is here and you can follow them on Twitter here.

The Beet Up Vesper Martini at the Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town 4/5

Behold, the oddest blog title I have ever produced! But you will see what I’m talking about in the bar review below. 

 

I award the above-mentioned cocktail bar 4/5 for its variation on the classic Vesper Martini. Given the strict criteria of my Martini Ratings I could only offer full points upon trying a proper classic martini but if I offer my review in word form rather than numbers I would say that I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the drink at this bar.

I went with a friend to the Breakfast Club near Spittalfields Market / Liverpool Street Station in London. I have wanted to try out the semi-hipster burger bar for ages but the queues on a weekend morning have normally been devastatingly long. This time, it was a Tuesday night. The service was fast, the burgers were tasty and the atmosphere was fun.

However, we had heard the rumours that a secret cocktail bar existed somewhere on the premises. To gain access you must utter a special code. After a little bit of intelligence gathering (Google and Foursquare) we deduced that we had to say “can I please see the Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town?” in order to gain access. 

We uttered the words and the waitress said that one her colleagues would be right with us.

  

A few moments later, to our surprise, the fridge standing next to the bar opened up and a man stepped out of it. He asked us to join him, so we followed him back into the fridge, through a secret door into a hidden stairway, which led down to a dark, secluded bar with a surprisingly large number of drinkers and a very interesting cocktail menu. 

Obviously I ordered their martini variation on sight. 

It consisted of Tanqueray gin infused with beetroot (I am a fan of savoury infused spirits), as well as vodka, Cointreau, Lillet blanc and a red current garnish. It was a far cry from my normal classic martini but I liked it nonetheless.

Nice and cold, beautifully presented, tasty, with good, friendly service and with a lot of effort put into the venue I award the bar/diner with 4/5.  

From an objective martini-fascist perspective I would award 5/5 if they offered a classic martini with the gin and glasses kept in the freezer, a strip of lemon peel and maybe a small bowl of olives. However, you can do that at home! 
 Otherwise, come out to play, try out the food upstairs and the range of cocktails downstairs… but no heavy petting!