On the surface of it, the question of ‘what’s a Martinez’ seems pretty self-explanatory; after all, you can walk into any good bar, order one and be pretty confident about what you’ll get in your glass. The chances are you’ll get a lot of sweet vermouth, a little bit of gin, a splash of maraschino and a dash or two of bitters. Occasionally there might be a bit more gin and a little less vermouth, or you might get Boker’s bitters or orange bitters; you might even get a splash of curacao instead of maraschino, but all in all you’re likely to receive a sweet vermouth and gin cocktail, with a splash of liqueur and a dose of bitters.
Over the years there has been much debate about the intertwined history of the Martinez cocktail and the Martini, with speculation about whether the Martinez might be the forefather of the Martini or, if in fact they were once the same drink, known by similar names but got confused over the years. The truth is we’re never likely to know, but somewhere along the way the two drinks have diverged to become completely different cocktails. It’s now accepted that the Martini is made with dry vermouth and the Martinez with sweet, the former has no liqueur added but the latter is usually enriched with a barspoon of maraschino. The Martini is heavy on gin, with vermouth playing a supporting role, whereas the Martinez is a vermouth-led cocktail. In other words they are only connected in as much as that they are in the broad family of gin and vermouth based drinks.
A couple of weeks ago I was invited to join the great and the good of the bar industry to help honour Joe Gilmore, the former head bartender of the American Bar at The Savoy, and celebrate his lifetime achievement award. Originally I had intended to post an update about the event immediately, but after attending I realised that there was more to this story than simply talking about Joe. You see The Savoy has a special place in the history of cocktails, and it seemed to me that Joe’s award was just one piece of a extensive and ongoing legacy that The Savoy has built over the years.
The Savoy is probably most ingrained in cocktail culture through its famous cocktail book, masterminded by Harry Craddock and first released in 1930. To this day it's one of the go-to books for bartenders to expand their knowledge of cocktails and learn how to balance drinks. But even with such a great legacy as The Savoy Cocktail Book, there is much more that makes this bar particularly special. Sitting in the American Bar, there’s a sense of history: the bar has played host to celebrities, royalty, the wealthy and the infamous; generation after generation. The cocktails created by The Savoy's bartenders live on as a list of classics, beloved by bartenders around the globe and is the largest of any other bar I can name. The characters who have worked there have become legends, be they long passed away or alive and still influencing the industry.
So while I do want to salute Joe Gilmore for a lifetime of contribution to our industry, I want to frame that within the extraordinary history of this remarkable cocktail bar. A history that dates back to the Victorian era, but that is still being written today.
A few days ago a friend unexpectedly got me thinking about corpse reviver cocktails. You see I was looking for suggestions for some new drinks using Fernet Branca and he (admittedly in a half awake stupor) mentioned the Corpse Reviver #2. Now as any cocktail geek will know, the #2 doesn’t have Fernet in it, but between us we were pretty sure that one of the Corpse Reviver recipes did. And thus a small obsession with that family of drinks began!
Bartenders are often familiar with Corpse Revivers #1 and #2 from The Savoy and their famous Cocktail Book, as these are generally considered to be the first listed examples of this family of drinks, but from time to time people mention others. Within minutes of posting a few queries on Twitter and Facebook, suggestions came pouring in as to where I might find Corpse Reviver recipes listed in various cocktail books, but no one I talked to was clear about whether any of them were numbered or bore any resemblance to those from The Savoy. So my vague curiosity turned from an interest in finding a few recipes into a quest to list the Corpse Revivers in chronological order.
I should probably backtrack a little bit here and explain what a Corpse Reviver actually is. The name is highly evocative and relatively self-explanatory, as they are drinks designed to help you recover from the night before. It seems in days gone by that drinkers where made of pretty stern stuff, as they would stop into a bar for an ‘eye opener’ to get them back into gear for the day ahead. Sure we still have the trusty Bloody Mary, but it was commonplace once upon a time to have a stiff drink that would shock your system back into shape and get you going, hence the Corpse Reviver.