Martini Madness

Troy Patterson Live-Blogs the Martini Madness Final Four and Championship
Wine, beer, and other potent potables.
April 9 2013 12:12 AM

Martini Madness

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The Final Four and Championship live-blog.

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Logo by Holly Allen

Troy Patterson Troy Patterson

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

the_nick_and_nora_with_bombay_original
The deviant Nick & Nora.

L.V. Anderson for Slate

12:12 a.m.
My hostess earlier had been going on about "the spring-water chill" and "Arctic thrill" of M.F.K. Fisher’s Gibson. I began to prepare one for her, musing that this cocktail had the stuff to go all the way. The editrix objected, "You can't let a Gibson win a martini tournament! It's sacrileg—" 

"Look, dollface," I snapped. "This is my tournament, see. I'm callin' the shots here. Moreover, Mary Frances doesn't call for a garnish. There ain't no onion in it, so how can you say that that's not a martini?"

I presented the championship martini to my hostess, saying, "Tell me that's not a martini," and she said, "Tastes like a martini to me!"

M.F.K. Fisher's Gibson wins the Martini Madness title.

11:52 p.m.
Poetry Interlude
This is a poem about an older poet out on a drinks date with a woman in her early 20s. It so happens that just the other night in a bar I ran into an ex-poet acquaintance of mine, a guy who did the whole Iowa City routine and then went to law school, and he was with a younger female poet: young and vivacious, with the tails of her Oxford cloth shirt above her navel. I had her read this poem, and she confidently called it a failure. She said the poem is six stanzas too long, which might be true, but if it's true, the only stanzas that could be cut are where the liquor is talking, metaphorically. I left them and went off to the corner to write about martinis. When I came back, she had gone, and it was just him at the bar. I was like, "Oh, dude, I was giving you some space there, I thought you were out with her," and he said, "No, no, no; she's too young for me."* He said the problem is that she's involved in the New York poetry world, which is an incestuous, navel-gazing, circle jerk. But, he added, she'll be OK.

"The Ghost in the Martini"
By Anthony Hecht

Over the rim of the glass 
Containing a good martini with a twist 
I eye her bosom and consider a pass, 
              Certain we’d not be missed 


              In the general hubbub. 
Her lips, which I forgot to say, are superb, 
Never stop babbling once (Aye, there’s the rub 
              But who would want to curb 


              Such delicious, artful flattery? 
It seems she adores my work, the distinguished grey 
Of my hair.

11:25 p.m.
[As dictated to the editrix after Kyle and Kyle's wife have departed for dinner.]

All caps: CHAOTIC PHILOSOPHICAL DILEMMA.

What is a recipe? A recipe is a formula. And thus not copyrightable, for one thing. I have prepared in the past few hours a couple Contemporary Standards, which is to say, foremost, 5:1 martinis, that have won the admiration of the tasting panel. Which right now is me, the editrix, and the babysitter, which I guess makes that two babysitters. 

[Troy asks, "Can I get playback on that, please?" Ed. reads it out loud to Troy.]

No, you have to type, "Can I get playback on that, please?"

[Troy reviews the transcription.]

'Tis true that one among these Contemporary Standards was non-Standards, departing from the instructions by harnessing the floral aromatics of an orange twist. But since I'm the guy that put the recipe together, I figured that was legit. Have I ceased to follow the recipe? If I have, so what, dot dot dot ...

The Nick & Nora, meanwhile, has been problematic. Um. Daniel Boulud's take on the 3:1 martini [gestures at drink] is perfectly sound, yeah. Though I'm not, on second thought, totally sold on this brand of bitters. 

[Kyle and Kyle's wife return from dinner.]

Um. But this was good, right?

[Babysitters affirm that it was good.]

But not as good as [pokes at rind of cheese with knife]. Can we just find a way of getting it in there that we're running low on gin as a consideration? No, the point is that we get it in here somehow that I sloshed together a 3:1 martini using equal parts half Dolin Dry and half Dolin Blanc, you know, and that it was better than decent.

This is a stalemate! No, it's a stalemate, and M.F.K. Fisher’s Gibson wins by default!

Here are the levels on which the decision needs to be made: Is the important thing to—

[Kyle and Kyle's wife try to convince Troy to advance The Nick & Nora.]

The thing is, as much as I'd like to talk about Dashiell Hammett, I have to give it to The Contemporary Standard, which is a bad name but a good recipe—more a template than a recipe, which is its virtue. And there's a danger that someone might come across this in the future and take it seriously.

The Contemporary Standard advances to the Championship.

10:46 p.m.
Deviating from the standard recipe, we prepare The Nick & Nora not with the Beefeater that Boulud recommends but with Bombay Original. Does Martini Madness still have greater integrity than the NCAA as an institution? Yes.

10:24 p.m.
Never mind. They were in the fridge.

10:20 p.m.
Oh, no. There are no more lemons.

10:10 p.m.
Poetry Interlude

"Breasts Like Martinis"
By Jill McDonough

The bartender at Caesar's tells jokes we've heard a hundred times.
A shoelace walks into a bar, for example. I whisper
Sarah Evers told me that joke in sixth grade
 and Josey says 
My brother Steve, 1982. A whore, a midget, a Chinaman,
nothing we haven't heard. Then a customer asks
Why are breasts like martinis? and they both start laughing.
They know this one, everybody knows this one, except
us. They don't even bother with the punch line. The bartender just says
Yeah, but I always said there should be a third one, on the back,
for dancing, dancing with the woman-shaped air behind the bar, his hand 
on the breast on her back. So we figure three is too many, 
one's not enough. Okay; we can do better than that. I like my breasts
like I like my martinis
, we say: Small andbruised or big and dry. Perfect.
Overflowing. Reeking of juniper,
spilling all over the bar.
When I have a migraine and she reaches for me, I say 
Josey,my breasts are like martinis. She nods, solemn:
People should keep their goddamn hands off yours. How 
could we tell these jokes to the bartender? We can't. He'll never know.
I say it after scrubbing the kitchen cabinets, and she gets it: 
dirty and wet. Walking in the wind, Josey says My breasts 
are like martinis
 and I hail a cab, know she means shaking, ice cold.

9:45 p.m.
Two at the Most
may have to settle for fourth place in this tournament. But I stand by the concept of putting celery bitters in cocktails—a concept I stole from Vince Keenan, who writes about not only cocktails but also jazz, baseball, and crime fiction on his eponymous blog.

Speaking of genre fiction, I present to you one of my favorite readers submissions that didn't make it into the tournament, Alison DeLuca's "Steampunktini":

3 parts gin
1/2 part dry vermouth
Absinthe
Thin slice of cucumber
Wafer-thin slice of ham
Goggles
Clockwork Automoton
Airship

Have your Clockwork Automoton prepare the cocktail shaker: pour the vermouth over several cubes of ice in the shaker and swirl them around. Pour into a martini glass and swirl around to coat the glass. Discard the ice and vermouth. Add more ice to the shaker, along with the gin and a few drops of absinthe. Shake and strain into the prepared martini glass. Put on goggles and drink the martini on the airship, preferably fighting villains in between sips.

M.F.K. Fisher's Gibson advances to the Championship.

9:20 p.m.
Gibson action is underway.

The clean Arctic cool of M.F.K. Fisher's Gibson is looking strong. "It's a real drink," says one taster, contrasting it with my Two at the Most, which is, I concede, rather busy. Dorothy Parker American Gin is, as Rosie Schaap last week was telling me, really more of a highball gin. 

Gibson action is underway. The hostess is smitten with M.F.K. Fisher's side order of onions. "That's also very Brooklyn, brining your own onions."

"The onions were brined in Harlem," I say.

"May I put them in my drink?" 

"Hey, it's your drink."

9:00 p.m.
My hostess, Kyle's wife, who is preparing to go out to dinner at an Italian restaurant in Fort Greene called Roman's, asks me to clarify the difference between a martini and a Gibson. I say, for the sake of simplicity, that a Gibson is a martini with an onion in it. My hostess presses for further details. I suggest that the people who've sorted through the large and confusing number of drinks involving gin and dry vermouth that emerged between 1880 and 1919 would argue that the earliest Gibsons were distinguished not by the presence of an onion but by the absence of bitters. Incredulous, cocking an eyebrow, she says, "People put bitters in martinis?"

"Go to Roman's. Get a martini," I tell her. "I bet they'll put bitters in it."

"This is Brooklyn. People put bitters in everything," she replies. 

To demonstrate the effect of bitters, I kill the Bombay Sapphire to revisit the vanquished It's the Vermouth, Stupid: one precisely according to recipe, one with a dash each of Fee's and Regans', which I suppose makes it an It's the Vermouth, Stupid, and Bitters, You Idiot.

She compares the martini with bitters to "a bad gin and tonic."

8:33 p.m.
The evening's first tasting panel convenes. I rendezvous with my martini kit, which I'd stowed at Kyle's house after transforming his Saturday night poker game into a game of gin.

I check inventory: 1/2 bottle of Hayman's Old Tom Gin, 1/2 bottle of Dorothy Parker American Gin, 1/3 bottle of smooth and delicious Plymouth gin (and it's one of these handsome, heavy new bottles, too), a couple of drinks' worth of Bombay Original, a wee bit of Bombay Sapphire, assorted bitters, B&G Manzanilla olives, Crosse & Blackwell silver skin cocktail onions, B&G pearl cocktail onions, and J. Bryan Lowder's homemade Saveur cocktail onions. The state of the vermouth is strong. And I'm apparently the kind of person who goes around town carrying four-ounce Art Deco cocktail glasses and a barspoon with a bowl ever so slightly bent for more efficient stirring.

8:11 p.m.
The first stop of the evening was Boat Bar in Cobble Hill. The preceding sentence has been true of many, many, many evenings of my social life—but never before had I ordered a Boat martini. I requested a Contemporary Standard with Plymouth gin and vermouth from a freshly opened bottle of Cinzano dry. The bartender, an actress gabbing about an impending Law & Order audition, asked if I wanted it shaken or stirred. Her paring knife was dull, and she wanted a second shot at her clumsy lemon twist, but I had places to be. That martini was totally not bad, though. It was cold. 

Though I asked for a half size, I received a full size. I tried to figure out how to ditch the too-large drink without offending the barmaid, but I got distracted and ended up finishing it.

I report now from the home of Kyle, my erstwhile Negroni-drinking buddy. My first task: to make M.F.K. Fisher's Gibson.

7:00 p.m.
Tonight, after weeks of harrowing competition, Martini Madness will reach its conclusion. Three and a half weeks ago, Troy Patterson presented to readers a roster of 80 martini recipes from six categories: proper martinis, extra-dry dry martinis, Gibsons, dirty martinis, sweet-ish martinis, and martini variations. Readers were invited to vote on their favorites and to submit their own recipes. The most popular 60 martinis were seeded in a bracket, and Troy’s favorite reader submissions competed in a play-in round for spots on the bracket. Finally, the single-elimination tournament began in earnest, and surprise wins and devastating losses ensued.

Join Troy this evening as he live-blogs the Final Four and Championship of the cocktail tournament. If you’re just now joining the tournament, catch up by reading all the installments below and reviewing Slate’s Official Martini Madness Bracket.

Qualifying Round

Opening Round

Round of 64

Round of 32

Sweet 16

Elite Eight

If you'd like to play along at home, gather the following for each martini recipe, plus a mixing glass, a barspoon or cocktail stirrer, and plenty of ice.

Two at the Most
1 ounce Dorothy Parker American Gin
1 ounce Plymouth gin
½ ounce Noilly Prat dry vermouth
1 dash celery bitters
lemon peel for oil
1 cocktail onion

M.F.K. Fisher’s Gibson
3 ounces gin
¾ ounce dry vermouth
onion brine (to taste)
lemon peel for oil
onions on the side

The Contemporary Standard
2½ ounces gin
½ ounce dry vermouth
1-2 dashes citrus-y bitters (optional)
lemon peel for oil (optional)
1 or 3 green olives or a lemon twist

The Nick & Nora
3 ounces Beefeater gin
1 ounce Dolin dry vermouth
1 dash orange bitters (recommended: Bitter Truth)
lemon twist

Update, April 10, 2013: The ex-poet acquaintance has requested a clarification; the fact that she is young bothers him much less than the fact that she is a poet: “I’ve slept with her tons of times—it happens, among adults—but romantically there’s nothing going on there.” (Return to the relevant sentence.)

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