Martini Project: DeVoto Edition

The martini: easily the most-often mixed drink in our household, and the one I have the most fun playing with. As Paul “Birthday Boy” Clarke pointed out recently on Serious Eats, it’s a much more flexible drink than people give it credit for. With the explosion of the gin category in the last few years, there are now many expressions of the martini’s base to experiment with. Vermouth, however…

Until recently, most elbow-benders didn’t have much choice in the vermouth market. You could find Noilly Prat, Cinzano, and Martini & Rossi just about anywhere. If you were in a larger market, you could probably Boissiere and Stock, as well. In the last couple of years, though, that’s changed. I won’t say the category has exploded, but some excellent new vermouths are on the market now, and if you can find them, you’re in for a treat–Vya and Dolin immediately come to mind.

Further, if you expand your definition of martini to include a drink mixed with other fortified wines or aperitifs–sherry, Lillet Blanc, Cocchi Americano, or Bonal Gentiane-Quina, for example–you open up for yourself a number of new avenues for combinations. Until early this year, however, my options in Rhode Island were rather limited. Now, though, the Haus Alpenz portfolio is available to us, and I already have several nearby stores that carry the line of Dolin vermouths. (And I’m working them on the Americano and Bonal.)

With that in mind, it’s time to start playing. The game is, here, I’ll be mixing up various variations on the martini–different proportions, different ingredient combinations, etc. I want to get to a point where I can say, “Hey, I really like Bonal with Plymouth, and I also think Dolin’s the perfect partner with Tanqueray.” (These are just examples, of course; I’ve never mixed them that way yet.)

I’ll begin by tackling the De Voto recipe that Paul mentions in his SE column. In his newly reissued (and handsome) book The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto, first published in 1948, the author and literary critic Bernard De Voto wrote of the martini that …

[t]here is a point at which the marriage of gin and vermouth is consummated. It varies a little with the constituents, but for a gin of 94.4 proof and a harmonious vermouth it may be generalized at about 3.7 to one. And that is not only the proper proportion but the critical one; if you use less gin it is a marriage in name only and the name is not martini. You get a drinkable and even pleasurable result, but not art’s sunburst of imagined delight becoming real. Happily, the upper limit is not so fixed; you may make it four to one or a little more than that, which is a comfort if you cannot do fractions in your head and an assurance when you must use an unfamiliar gin.

Now, most people would probably skip the 3.7 nonsense and go right for the 4:1 measure. After all, that’s easy. If you’re stirring for two, that’s 4 oz. gin and 1 oz. vermouth. For one person, it’s a snap to halve that. But how do you measure 3.7 or 7.4 or 1.85 ounces of anything? I always hit that roadblock and never went farther.

But I’ve been reading one of De Voto’s contemporaries lately, the gourmet, railroad aficionado, bon vivant, boulevardier, and long-time newspaper columnist Lucius Beebe. He wrote of a 1963 trip to Boston, in which he luncheoned in the private Union Club. He writes of their martinis that they’re “magnificent” and mixed “precisely according to the immutable formula laid down by the late Bernard De Voto.”

So to hell with it. I’m a geek, there’s gotta be a way to hack this. I remembered my digital kitchen scale. I placed a mixing tin on the scale and zeroed out the weight. Then I carefully poured 37 grams of water into the tin. That’s a little over 1-1/4 oz. but not quite 1-1/3. Okay, I could work with that. Take 37 grams of gin, 10 grams of vermouth; then it’s simply a matter of scaling that up to make two cocktails. I still needed the digital magic machine to get the right measure, but fine. Anything for you, dear ones.

De Voto Martini for Two

  • 148 grams gin (I used Bombay, which isn’t quite up to De Voto’s standard of 94.4 proof, but it was good)
  • 40 grams Dolin dry vermouth
  • lemon twist, for garnish (upon which De Voto simply insists)

Stir, dammit. Garnish.

Prior to dilution, that comes out to 188 grams or approximately 6.63 oz. for two cocktails. Just about perfect for my glass size, with a little left in the mixing glass. Now, an Imperial variation.

De Voto Martini for Two, Imperial

  • 5-1/2 oz. gin
  • 1-1/2 oz. vermouth
  • lemon twist

Stir, dammit. Garnish.

That’s not quite to the 3.7 standard, but it’s as close as you’ll probably come with traditional bar measures. That gives you 7 oz. of martini, prior to dilution, for a ratio of 3.66667 to 1.

And now even I’m weirded out by the geekery of this post.

DISCLAIMER: I was sent a review copy of The Hour.

5 thoughts on “Martini Project: DeVoto Edition

  1. You forgot to compensate for the different densities. But other than that I’m quite thrilled by the thought of mixing by weight. Just put the mixing glass on the scale and pour into it. No more jiggers to wash after!

    1. Whoo hoo. Are the differences in density between gin and vermouth really so great that this method affects the flavor balance? Pardon me if I fail to lose sleep over this.

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