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16 Dec 2019

On Cocktails: As 2019 Comes to an End, Let's Examine the Year's Most-Googled Drink—the Pornstar Martini

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The Pornstar Martini at Clover in Las Vegas. The Pornstar Martini at Clover in Las Vegas. Kevin Carlow

The most-searched cocktail in 2019 was the Pornstar Martini, according to Google.

Take that in for a second.

I mean, it is the internet, so I guess that is fitting, but I hope people were actually searching for the cocktail, and there isn’t some new glassware-related fetish out there … Rule 34 and all.

This revelation was a bit of a synchronistic, as just a week or so before I learned this, I tried the Pornstar Martini for the first time in Las Vegas, which seemed like an appropriate place for such a venture. Mind you, I have been behind the stick for a long, long time, and I have never made one, or had a guest ask me for one. Ever. So I am guessing there must be some part of popular culture that is outside of my sphere of attention bringing this drink a boost in recent popularity. But seriously: How does a drink have that much hype without my being blasted with orders for it? Either way, it’s a fun drink for New Year’s, and it’s considered a modern classic, so that’s good enough for a spotlight, in my opinion!

The nice thing about “modern classics” is you don’t need to search very far to get the history. This drink was invented in 2002, or 2005, or … well, scratch that. OK, at least it’s easy to get the correct recipe … wait … never mind. What we do know is that it was invented by Douglas Ankrah, a London bartender, for the opening menu of his bar, Townhouse. It was named originally after a South African club he hung out at while writing his cocktail book, but he later renamed it the Pornstar Martini. He has claimed in multiple interviews that he isn’t a fan of porn, necessarily, but wanted a fun and provocative name for his cocktail. (This is the era of bartending that gave us martinis that aren’t martinis; middle-age ladies out on the town still ask, “What kind of martinis do you have?” But I digress.) The reason I don’t get requests for this drink is probably that it never really got out of the United Kingdom, where it is still a top-seller, and that very few craft bars carry passion fruit in any form, aside from tiki bars—and this ain’t tiki. Feel free to order one at your local tiki bar, but only if you want them to show you the door.

If you can get past the puerile name, and (for me) the fact that it is vodka-based, I must say: The Pornstar Martini is pretty delicious. The ingredients must include vodka, passion fruit and vanilla; some recipes call for lime, while others call for lemon. The other necessary component is sparkling wine, preferably Champagne, although some recipes call for prosecco. Now, how you work in these flavors is kind of up to you; you can use passion-fruit liqueur, passion-fruit puree, or both. Some recipes call for vanilla vodka and passion-fruit liqueur, and while that might work for a bachelorette party, I want nothing to do with it. Instead, first, let’s make a vanilla syrup:

  • 1 cup of white sugar
  • 1 cup of water
  • A couple of vanilla beans (or vanilla extract)

Heat the sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, stirring. Turn off the heat; add the vanilla beans, scraped (or 2 teaspoons of extract, to taste), and stir. Allow mixture to cool; strain through a fine strainer (if using beans); and keep in a jar in the refrigerator. This is great for many uses, especially coffee!

As for the puree, I recommend getting a quality frozen one, as the shelf-stable ones in the plastic bottles aren’t as punchy and taste a little artificial. If you have access to fresh passion fruit, scoop the insides into a blender with a little water—and there you go. Reserve a few of the fruit, as the traditional garnish is half a fruit served seed-side-up floating in the drink.

OK, so going off an article in Punch, here is what seems to be Ankrah’s actual recipe, in case you want to give it a whirl:

  • 1 1/2 ounces of vanilla vodka
  • 1/2 ounce of passion-fruit liqueur
  • 2 ounces of passion-fruit puree
  • 2 barspoons of vanilla sugar (vanilla beans and white sugar in a blender instead of a syrup)

Shake with ice; strain into a coupe; and top with half of a passion fruit. Serve with 2 ounces of Champagne on the side.

I am assuming he is using a shelf-stable passion-fruit puree for this; that much fresh passion fruit would be a lip-puckerer, to say the least. Considering he works for the big liquor companies these days and markets his own “ready to drink” version, that would make sense; also, in the early days of the drink, that would be easiest to find. I am sure this recipe is good, and who am I to know better than the inventor? (He apparently isn’t happy about the citrus element later added by other bartenders.) Still, I thought I would try to replicate the version I tried at Cleaver in Las Vegas.

Being that I was in Las Vegas, my memory is a bit hazy, so rather than try to get the actual recipe they use (state secrets and all), I will go off my memory and general drink-making experience:

  • 1 1/2 ounces of vodka
  • 3/4 of an ounce of vanilla syrup
  • 1/2 ounce of lemon juice
  • 3/4 of an ounce of fresh passion fruit puree, to taste (it’s tart!)

Shake; serve up in a coupe; and top with passion fruit, if available. Serve with the “sidecar” of Champagne.

I definitely recommend the Champagne on the side; it’s easier for toasting that way, since the big chunk of fruit will splash the drink over the sides of your glass (and I say that from experience). Feel free to serve a little spoon for people to eat the tart fruit, as I did.

Whether you make the original or the more-recent style, enjoy ringing in the New Year with the scandalous cocktail everyone is apparently Googling—and feel free to tell your mom it’s a Maverick Cocktail, or a Passion Star, two early names for it that are a little more “family friendly.” She doesn’t need to know that the Maverick Club was a seedy strip bar in South Africa. That can be your little secret.

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Truss and Twine, and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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