After a lifetime of drinking martinis, Jared Brown shares the secret to a perfect cocktail.
Perched over the bar at Kettner’s in London’s Soho, Jared Brown apologises for sipping his Martini before GQ even has a chance to pose a question. “Forgive me for not waiting, but as Harry Craddock once said, ‘A drink should be drunk while it’s still laughing at you!'” As a cocktail historian, New Yorker Brown has been studying the perfect Martini for over two decades – during which time he’s published 30 books on the art of mixing drinks – but he is still fascinated by the endless variants on the components. “It is the simplest and yet the most challenging of drinks to balance perfectly,” he explains. “Anyone in this world can mix a good Martini. Few can mix a great one”. Currently working as master distiller at London gin company Sipsmith, Brown has recently created a list of 100 Martinis for a drinks showcase at Kettner’s. GQ caught up with Brown to discuss cocktail mistakes, fictional favourites and how to cope with a monstrous Martini hangover.
GQ: What’s the cardinal sin of Martini making?
Jared Brown: The first thing that can go wrong is the use of cheap gin and vermouth. Because it is such a pure drink and there’s no juice or soda to mask the alcohol’s flavour, what you mix with is crucial. Also you couldn’t do anything worse than pouring a Martini into a warm glass. Why would you go to so much effort to perfectly chill the drink, and then warm it back up before it hits your lips?
Other than the English, who makes a really good Martini?
One of the best bars in the world for martinis is in fact Bar High Five, located in the Ginza district of Tokyo. You can generally find an amazing martini at Barcelona’s Boadas too.
Other than Kettners, which other bars would you recommend?
In London, I would definitely recommend Duke’s in Mayfair; The Savoy, because their head bartender, Erik Lorincz has more than inherited the great Harry Craddock‘s post and studies his classic work extensively; and because I must, The Artesian at the Langham.
Out of the 100 variations, what are your personal picks?
I absolutely love the original Martini, which so few people have actually tasted. Everyone thinks that it was originally created with dry vermouth, but it wasn’t. The original martini was made with equal parts gin and sweet or Italian vermouth, a dash of orange bitters and often a drop of absinthe.
Second would have to be Julia Child’s reverse Martini, which is mixed with three and a half parts sweet vermouth to one part gin in a wine goblet that’s filled with ice and topped with a lemon twist.
Lastly, a dry gin Martini with olives. When I was in school and on a very low budget, there were days when my lunch would involve going into a bar, ordering a Martini and a glass of olives. I would pour the drink over the olives and that was my meal. A very nicely marinated olive salad.
What do you like served with your Martini food wise?
The Martini is a wonderfully versatile drink to pair with food and honestly for me, cocktail pairing is easier than wine pairing. With wine, the best magic often happens several years prior and hopefully somewhere in France. With a cocktail, the magic happens here and now. They can be tailored, balanced or tweaked with any different additions or garnishes. I once designed one specifically to go with steak, which featured gin, vermouth, fresh tomato, Tabasco sauce and garnished with a blue cheese-stuffed cherry tomato. It was really quite phenomenal.
What trend in cocktails needs to die out?
Bartenders telling customers how they should have their drink. The rise in consumer sophistication has allowed for better interactions and it’s wonderful to see when customers give instructions that are respected. By all means, ask for a shaken Martini if you want one.
Other than Bond, what’s your favourite cultural reference to Martinis?
The Thin Man. Hands down. It was a four film series which did so much for the Martini. Myrna Loy’s character, Nora walks into the bar and asks her husband Nick, who is played by William Powell: “How many have you had?” To which he replies, “Six Martinis.” “Well waiter, line up five more Martinis for me!”
What should no man ever order at a bar?
I believe that in a good bar, anything can be as amazing as the person behind it. Unless you really need a beer or you’re desperate for a glass of wine, have a mixed drink because you’re missing the opportunity to take advantage of the great talents of many bartenders. Leave it up to them. Ask them what they are working with and give them some direction. There is no wrong order – when you let a good bartender build on their inspirations, you get that much more love and care in the drink.
What is your hangover cure?
Firstly, always have a good-sized glass of water for every cocktail you have. Secondly, have a vitamin before bed to replace what has been depleted. Lastly, if you really think you’ve had too much, then purging might just be the answer. In fact you will be more functional in the morning if you take that drastic step. I absolutely do not recommend a “hair of the dog”, either. It simply postpones your hangover at a great cost. Not only are you putting it off, but you’re also banking it!