Look on my works, ye Mighty, and designate a driver, for here I give you Slate’s Official Martini Madness Bracket. Behold its pimento-stuffed logo. Admire its roster of potent potables. Click on the names of the drinks to read the full recipes. Try to resist imagining which competitors will advance to the Final Four. Picture me sitting here at my desk wondering what fresh hell I have gotten myself into.
This exercise in experimental dipsography began last week when we presented 80 ways to make a martini and tendered to readers a two-tiered invitation. We asked you “to upvote” and “to downvote” recipes, and you responded by expressing distaste for that which seemed boringly boozy or dull-dishwatery or flashily avant garde or remotely molecular-gastronomical. Au revoir, perfect-martini Jell-O shots …
And also we asked you to submit your own recipes, and you complied to the tune of 200-odd contributions, inspiring in us mild regret that there were simply not enough spots to accommodate all the worthy applicants. It was sharply disappointing that two Japan-themed variations on the classic martini were left by the wayside; this project will be pleased to indulge a wide variety of material of highly questionable taste, but the remotest possibility of The Dirty Japanese Hipster (gin, dry vermouth, and wasabi pickle juice, garnished with “a locally-sourced, hand-crafted pickle spear”) facing off with the upvoted Los Alamos (by J. Robert Oppenheimer, aka “Death, the destroyer of worlds”) proved a bit too much to bear.
Also, we fielded a number of reader submissions for cocktails that had nothing to do with the martini, some of them eminently respectable (Remember the Maine?), some unspeakable, some duplicative of recipes we’d already featured, some calling for an exotic liquor referred to as “vodka.” (It is unsettling for a writer to confront such powerful direct evidence of his readership’s substandard reading-comprehension skills; one should only wish such an experience on one’s favorite enemies.) Further, we rejected some appealing gin-based recipes only because we’re defining the martini in relatively traditional terms: These drinks lacked vermouth (or another fortified wine), so they had to go. We offer personal regrets to one Jeff Carlisle, the Mailer fan who sent in his Berlin Station Chief, and promise to double back to it when it comes time to antagonize whisk(e)y snobs.
Elsewhere among the detritus we discovered a rebuke of our very premise: “Why have Troy do the judging? The crowd knows better!” This reader sketched a scheme to turn over the tasting to the general populace: “With everyone judging, the result is less likely to be the result of some regional or personal bias.” We applaud this populist impulse, but we should think it clear that a martini designed by popular vote would be fundamentally contrary to the spirit of the cocktail.
Or to put it another way: We join legendary vermouth-shunner Winston Churchill in the belief that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried. But you know what hasn’t been tried? Enlightened despotism, as described in Plato’s Republic. You are now entering a philosopher’s kingdom. (Check the comments for Socratic dialogue, and leave some comments of your own to shed light and throw shade.)
Martini Madness exists to pursue knowledge regarding the fundamental reality of the martini. This whole thing is, it should go without saying, ridiculous, of course: The utopian cocktail—the Platonic ideal of the martini—exists only in the abstract realm, and there aren’t any good bars in that neighborhood. But we take our absurdism seriously, and though we usually take our martini with a lemon twist, we will take a rational approach to determining which of these drinks most closely satisfy the highest principles of martini Form. It won’t be easy; many of these 68 cocktails are highly commendable. But only one can win the olive crown.