Back in January, Camper English of Alcademics wrote a piece for the LA Times Magazine with an interesting observation. He suggested that the Martini no longer exists because everyone who makes one (or who orders one) expects something different. In other words, we don't really have a universally accepted recipe today, partly because everyone has different ideas about what they like, what should or shouldn't go into the mixing glass, the proportions and how it should be garnished. Blame it on history, marketing or even peer pressure—it has become a call drink that requires specifics about its construction every time it is requested. If you order a Martini, you should expect a bunch of questions in response. Gin or vodka? Which brand? How much vermouth? What kind of garnish? If you don't get questions you probably shouldn't be ordering one. There's no telling what you will get. Same goes for when you get an odd stare as you run through your own Martini specifications.
However, there is one component that should always be present—vermouth. Camper's argument may be true about the exact recipe, but everyone should agree that it's just not a Martini without the vermouth. I realize that some of you think vermouth is a bad idea or you grew up with the notion that the drier the drink is, the better. It's a lie. The quantity may depend on taste, but to be a Martini, it must have vermouth. Sometimes people say they don't like it, but I ask, how old is your vermouth? Remember, vermouth is aromatized wine. The flavor is delicate. It oxidizes once opened and has a limited shelf-life. Thankfully, it's also inexpensive, so you can and should replace your bottle often and keep it stored in the fridge. Pour yourself a little taste test if you don't believe me and recognize how the flavor changes over time.
The Drink of the Week is the Atty, not the Martini, so why all the fuss about it? Well, the Atty is basically a Dry Martini (one that uses dry, French vermouth) with a pair of subtle flavor elements added. If you love the subtle nuances of flavor in a good Martini you'll appreciate what the Atty brings to the glass.
1.5 oz gin
.75 oz dry vermouth
.5 tsp absinthe
.5 tsp creme de violette
Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
You'll notice that the basic components are gin and dry vermouth and that the absinthe and violette are tiny additions. Now it starts to make sense. The vermouth takes the edge off the spirit, unites with the gin's botanicals and mingles with the absinthe and the violette in a way that lets them compete for attention. Both are already quite potent, and with such small amounts (depending on the brands you use), it may take a few tries to achieve a balance between the two.
Some people believe it's the lemon twist that really makes this drink, and others who have written about it describe that a properly executed Atty tastes different with every sip. This isn't a drink to free-pour. The "dance" between the absinthe and creme de violette might even require using one or the other as a rinse in your cocktail glass. More is certainly not better. Remember, this starts as a Martini—strong and spirit-driven, not sweet or light-hearted. But it is kissed with flavor that keeps you interested and challenges your senses to find one flavor more dominant than the other. If you were going to make a Martini anyway, try this variation, and don't forget the vermouth!