Look! A Fancy-Pants Cucumber Martini Because You Deserve It!
Greetings, Wonketteers! I'm Hooper, your bartender. I'm going to show you something a bit more elegant and genteel today – a sophisticated little martini that's perfect for summer. ALSO, at the urging of the wonketariat and yr editrix, I've got a second, non-alcoholic beverage. Buckle up, folks. This martini takes a little more technique than what we've done to date. But the end result is most definitely worth it.
2 oz. Vodka
1/2 oz. Hendrick's Gin
1/2 oz. Lillet Blanc
2-3 slices English cucumber, ¼ inch thick
cucumber slice for garnish
In a chilled mixing glass, add cucumber slices, gin, vodka, and Lilet Blanc. Gently muddle the cucumber slices. Add 3-4 ice cubes and stir 8-10 seconds. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish.
Got all that? Cool. We're talk about the technique and ingredients in a moment. This martini recipe is based on the Vesper Martini, aka "James Bond's Martini." Mr. Bond provides strict instructions for making this drink in Casino Royale: "Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?"
James Bond is not a bartender. James Bond is full of hooey. There's no reason to shake this drink; you'll dilute it too much and get ice shards in it. The golden rule of bartending is: Shake if there's fruit juice in the cocktail. Otherwise, stir. And this particular cocktail definitely needs to be stirred, not shaken; otherwise, you'll get stringy bits of cucumber floating around in the drink. Not. Pleasant. On to the ingredients!
Ingredient shot. The cucumber martini mysteriously vanished shortly after this photo was taken. Matthew Hooper
Vodka: I'm not even remotely picky about vodka brands. If you're looking for a vodka recommendation, I'd suggest Tito's, simply because I sell it like hotcakes at the bar and Tito's donates to causes like shelter dogs who need transport to their forever homes. But as long as you don't use bottom-shelf garbage, you'll be fine.
Hendricks' Gin: This gin is amazing. If you think you hate gin, you need to try this gin. Lesley Gordon, the woman who first made this gin in 1999, decided one miraculous day, "Hey. Juniper berries suck. Let's put just enough in our gin to be called 'gin' and use roses and cucumbers instead." It's a must in this recipe. Try this gin. It's awesome.
Lillet Blanc: I don't care how "dry" you like your martini. A martini without vermouth is just cold booze. Most people who don't like vermouth abuse it horribly. It's a wine, not a liquor. Once you open a bottle, keep it in your fridge or else it'll go rancid as quickly as Chardonnay on the kitchen counter. Lillet Blanc is light and floral – another great flavor bomb for this particular drink.
Technique: This is a bit trickier than the "shake, strain, dump" routine we've done so far. But you can do this. I've got faith in you. All the ingredients in a martini need to be very very cold when they hit the glass, but you have to be delicate about the whole affair. You got this.
A good mixing glass and stirring spoon for the home bar are cheap and fun to play with, but they aren't strictly necessary. You can swirl a martini around in a highball glass with some ice and it'll be fine. But whatever mixing glass you end up using, it has to be ice-cold. Stick it in the fridge a half an hour before martini o'clock. Put your martini glass in the fridge too, to keep things chilly. (You can use a juice glass instead of a martini glass. I won't judge.)
Now here's the tricky bit. Put the cucumber slices and liquor in the mixing glass, but don't add the ice yet. Gently muddle the cucumber with a cocktail muddler or the handle of a butter knife or whatever. Just be gentle! You aren't making mashed potatoes! Push straight down on the cucumber slices, oh so tenderly, just enough to release some cucumber juice and give everything the tiniest hint of green.
Now, add the ice. Stir for 8-10 seconds – enough to make the bottom of the glass feel cold again. There's a lot of mystique about how to stir a martini, but the truth is, as long as the drink gets cold you're doing fine. You don't even have to stir it, really – just swirl it around in the glass and it'll be great. Strain into your ice-cold drinking glass, and bingo – you've made a perfect summer martini. Sip. Feel sophisticated. Enjoy.
One for the Road – Your Non-Alcoholic Cocktail!
I thought that making NA cocktails would be easy and I WAS WRONG. I'm researching entirely new techniques and ingredients and I need more time before I get stupid creative. Sorry. In the interim, I'm sharing some classic non-alcoholic drinks from the bar and telling you how to make them better. First up, the one I serve all the time at work: the Shirley Temple.
Modern Shirley Temple. Yours is going to taste better than this, I only had Rose's at the bar. Matthew Hooper
Modern Shirley Temple
3 oz. House Grenadine
.25 oz fresh lime juice
Soda water to top
Pour grenadine into a highball or banquet goblet. Add ice. Top with soda water and lime juice. Garnish with at least 4 maraschino cherries and a lime wedge.
The original Shirley Temple was written in 1933. Ms. Temple hated them – "saccharine sweet, icky" drinks, in her words. Using homemade grenadine syrup improves them greatly. So does swapping the ginger ale for carbonated water. And by now you know that balancing sweet drinks with lime juice is a go-to move of mine. I'm not going to run down everything in this glass, but you need to know this bit:
House Grenadine: Rose's Grenadine Syrup – the bottled stuff – is corn syrup, red food coloring, and artificial flavor. You deserve better. Mix equal parts pomegranate juice and simple syrup and you're good to go. It's not fire-engine red, but it's way less of a sugar bomb, and much tarter and tastier.
In summary and conclusion, drink well, drink often, drink with a friend, and tip your bartender.