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Hot, isn’t it? Well, don’t fret; I am here to help. This month, I thought I would give you some basic tips and tricks to beat the heat—cocktail-wise, at least.

The most common question I ask guests at the bar is: “Shaken and citrusy, or stirred and boozy?” Why? Well, most people generally think of drinks as sweet or not sweet, which is understandable, based on the checkered history of cocktails in the last 70 years, but not really helpful when it comes to getting you into a cocktail you’ll love. If you went into a restaurant and told the server, “Nothing too salty,” without explaining you have hypertension or something, the server may think, “OK, these people think our chef isn’t good.” If you say to me, “Nothing too sweet,” I get it, but I also can’t help thinking that you think I suck at making drinks. My attitude on my better days is, to paraphrase one famous wine-maker, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

But I digress. Most of the guys (and some ladies) will answer, “Well, I want it boozy!” Of course you do, but you clearly didn’t grok what I meant. Most people, when it’s 105, actually want a citrusy and shaken cocktail—and don’t worry; it will be plenty boozy. That being said, a stirred drink can be wonderful on a hot day if prepared correctly. Let’s take the classic gin martini, for example. For the coldest and best martini, you need ice. That sounds trite, but most home bartenders (and some “pros”) don’t use enough ice when stirring a martini. Fill that baby up—like two-thirds of the stirring glass. Invest in something nice, or order a graduated Pyrex pitcher from your favorite internet monopoly; they look nerdy, and they’re cheap to boot.

Also, never make two martinis in the same pitcher; and have different ice on hand for different drinks. Here comes the science, people.

Ice, depending on how it’s cut, has different properties when used in cocktails. If you make a martini with crushed ice, due to the increased surface area of the ice, you’ll get a watered-down mess. Make a martini with one cube, and you’ll need to stir forever to achieve a properly chilled and diluted drink. What you want are evenly sized cubes, like from a classic ice tray, or in a pinch, the bags of ice from a convenience store. (If you’re looking for extra credit, get a block, and hammer it into 1- to 2-inch cubes.) Fill the glass past half after adding the desired ingredients, and use your senses to know when the drink is ready. A good guide is trusting your stir: When the ice and liquids start settling into their comfortable free states, the drink is ready. It’s as cold as it’s going to be.

Practicing your stir not only makes you look cool, but also helps you make a better drink. When your pitcher gets cold on the outside, and the stir becomes silky-smooth, you’re done. If you do want to use the fancy big cubes, stir your cocktail over smaller ice first to get it colder than a text breakup, and then strain over the big cube. Keep your stemware in the freezer while you prepare your martini as well; it looks great and helps the chill. Some people who come into the bar tell me they keep their gin in the freezer for martinis, which is fine if you want to just drink cold, undiluted gin—but that ain’t no martini, sir. Water is an ingredient. A good compromise is one I read in Japanese bar-hero Kazuo Uyeda’s book: Keep it in the fridge instead. That way, you still get some dilution, but a stiffer and colder drink. The vermouth should always be in the fridge, and you should be using it. These days, when it comes to gin or whiskey, “Skipping the vermouth is uncouth”—copyright me.

Oh, about those vodka martinis: Skip the vermouth; add olive brine; no judgement. If you stir, you’ll get a silkier drink; if you shake, you’ll get a colder, but more-watery finished product. It’s a matter of preference, and the fridge trick still applies.

Now, for the citrusy stuff. The first thing you’re going to need is what I call “basic sour.” Feel free to experiment a bit here. Start with a cup of fresh lemon or lime juice, and a cup of 1:1 simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water by volume or weight), depending on the desired drink. Let’s use lime, and say it’s a daiquiri. Using 2 ounces of rum, add an ounce of lime to the shaker and a half-ounce of the simple. Shake it really well, until the shaker frosts up, and pour. It might taste too tart, so make one with 3/4 of an ounce of simple. Try it with an ounce of simple as well, for comparison; I have seen recipes using that spec, mostly from liquor brands for some reason, but it’s a little sweet for my tastes. Play around with fine sugar, too! We use simple at bars for convenience, but a powdered sugar (not the kind you’d use for frosting with the corn starch, but the super-fine stuff) daiquiri is divine.

Once you have your proportions, you have a tool in your tool-set. Want a Collins? Use gin and lemon with your fancy new techniques, and put it in a tall glass with soda water. How about a mojito? Just add mint to the daiquiri recipe; give it a light shake with crushed ice (for Pete’s sake, don’t abuse the mint too much), and add soda in a tall glass. The list is nearly endless. Margaritas are an important exception: They use a “daisy” template, which is (and, again, play around with it) two parts spirit, one part orange liqueur of your preference, one part fresh lime, and a little sugar or simple. Find your preferred proportions, and have the best margarita on the block—but if you add orange juice, I’ll disown you.

About crushed ice … did you know you can get it at Sonic? Well, you can. Just don’t use it for everything. I know, it’s super fun, and everyone goes nuts when they see it, but it’s not fit for a gin-and-tonic or other highball-style drinks where the carbonation matters. That includes the Collins, but the mojito loves crushed ice. So do tiki drinks in general (and when I finally do a real tiki column, we’ll get into that).

I’ll finish with a shameless plug: I have uploaded videos on my Cryptic Cocktails blog showing you how to make a perfectly cold and balanced martini, as well as daiquiri, featuring two of the best bartenders in Palm Springs, as a companion piece to this column. There is also some stuff on there you might like that doesn’t fit the parameters of On Cocktails; do check it out if you can’t get enough cocktail nerdery!

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..

Published in Cocktails

Bailiff: All rise, for the Honorable Lance Mojito.

Judge: The People vs. Vermouth: Ms. Vermouth, you have been accused of ruining martinis in the state of California, as well as all over the world. What say you?

Defense attorney: Your honor, the defendant pleads “not guilty.”

Gasps from the crowd.

Judge: Very well. You may begin your opening statements.

Prosecutor: Your honor, and ladies and gentlemen of the jury: The defendant looks innocent enough in her pretty green bottle. She even has a fancy European name, and a noble pedigree. Why, then, has she spent so many years destroying perfectly good martinis?! Here in the United States, we know that her place is to be merely pointed at the glass, and perhaps waved over the noble clear spirits within. So I ask all of you: Will you allow this corrupted wine to continue to worm its way into the vodka and gin of decent Americans?!

Judge: The defense may counter, but I will warn you: We won’t tolerate a media circus like the one we had during The People vs. Orange Juice.

Defense attorney: Understood, your honor. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, what you see before you is not a monster. In fact, I would argue that she’s delicate wine, and needs to be treated delicately. Sure, you could argue she’s been fortified with brandy, but that’s no reason to think of her as a hardened criminal! I intend to show that vermouth is merely a victim of mistreatment and slander.

Murmuring in the crowd.

Judge: Order, order in the court! Would the prosecution like to call a witness to the stand at this time?

Prosecutor: I would, your honor. I call Mr. Tito Goose to the stand.

Bailiff: Do you swear, yadda yadda yadda?

Tito Goose: I do.

Prosecutor: You claim to be the victim of shoddily made martinis, costing you lost money and ruined experiences, do you not?

Tito Goose: Yeah. Half of the time, when I order a martini, it comes out tasting funny. That’s when I start to suspect vermouth was involved, and sure enough, every time.

Prosecutor: Do you see the culprit in the courtroom?

Tito Goose: Yes, it’s that green bottle with the screw top and the white label.

Prosecutor: Let the record show the witness pointed at the defendant. No further questions, your honor.

Judge: Does the defense wish to cross-examine?

Defense attorney: I do, your honor. Mr. Goose, how do you order your martinis?

Tito Goose: (Brand name vodka) martini, dry, blue cheese olives, generally.

Defense attorney: So you will put moldy cheese into your vodka, but you have a problem with vermouth?!

Prosecutor: Objection, your honor!

Judge: Sustained. The witness’s personal tastes are not on trial here.

Defense attorney: OK, well, sir, are you aware that the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a martini as “a cocktail made of gin and dry vermouth?”

Prosecutor: Objection! The vodka martini has been long established and far outsells the gin martini! Also, the dictionary isn’t known for its cocktail information.

Defense attorney: Your honor, I am merely trying to establish the semantic confusion that leads to my client’s mistreatment.

Judge: I’ll allow it, but tread carefully.

Defense attorney: Were you aware that the “dry martini” is a specific cocktail containing 1/2 an ounce of vermouth, to 2 1/2 ounces of gin?

Tito Goose: That can’t be right. That doesn’t sound dry at all.

Defense attorney: Well, it’s certainly dry compared to the original martini, which contained a full ounce of vermouth.

Shouting from crowd.

Judge: Order! Order in the court! Where does the defense get its proof of that?

Defense attorney holds up a copy of Imbibe! by David Wondrich.

Defense attorney: Right here, your honor, and in many other tomes of bartending lore, which if the witness had bothered to peruse …

Prosecutor: Objection! The witness is not an industry professional and cannot be expected to read nerdy manuals on drink history!

Judge: Sustained.

Defense attorney: No further questions, your honor. The defense calls to the stand Mr. Will Shaker. Mr. Shaker, what is your profession?

Will Shaker: I tend bar.

Defense attorney: How long have you tended bar?

Will Shaker: For several years now.

Defense attorney: So you’re a pretty good bartender by now, I would imagine.

Will Shaker: Yes, sir, I like to think so.

Defense attorney: Well, then, where do you store the defendant at your establishment?

Will Shaker: We keep our vermouth in the well for easy access, like most bars. Some keep it on a shelf.

Defense attorney: On a hot, dusty shelf, with the common spirits?! Or in a well?! Tell me you at least put the vermouth in the reach-in cooler at the end of service.

Will Shaker: I’m supposed to refrigerate vermouth? My bar manager never told me that.

Defense attorney: Vermouth is a wine—fortified with alcohol, yes, but still a wine. It will spoil and oxidize over time. When was the last time you tasted your vermouth for freshness?

Will Shaker: I never thought to taste it, honestly.

Defense attorney: There you have it, ladies and gentlemen—gross mistreatment of the defendant!

Will Shaker: Well, I didn’t know!

Defense attorney: It’s not your fault alone; my client is mistreated in nearly every bar in the country, it seems. How do you make a dry martini?

Will Shaker: Well, I pour a little vermouth in the shaker, then a lot of vodka, and then I shake and strain it. I add olives or a twist of lemon, or an onion for a Gibson.

Defense attorney: Are you aware that shaking a drink adds air, making it effervescent? The ingredients in vermouth, which often include citrus peel, coriander, marjoram and many other herbs and spices, then taste more bitter and astringent—and just, well, off. Really one shouldn’t shake vermouth at all.

Will Shaker: But my guests like their drinks “extra cold,” and the only way to get them that way is shaking them!

Defense attorney: Yes, well, have you ever thought of asking the guest if they even want vermouth in their vodka? Asking specific questions can avoid situations like the ones that have left my client in her current predicament.

Will Shaker: They sometimes say “just a little,” so I rinse the shaker with it and dump it.

Defense attorney: Well, next time, try rinsing the serving glass, to avoid aeration. Might I also advise recommending to guests who don’t care for vermouth to simply order “vodka, up, olives,” but only if they can do so respectfully and not like a jerk? No further questions, your honor.

Prosecutor: The prosecution calls Mr. Spike Easy to the stand. Mr. Easy, you refrigerate your vermouth, no?

Spike Easy: We refrigerate our whole selection of craft vermouths, the defendant and all of her cousins.

Prosecutor: How do you make a martini?

Spike Easy twists his mustache and grins.

Spike Easy: With two parts gin to one part vermouth, and a dash of orange bitters. Lately, I have been using equal amounts of gin and vermouth, with some housemade decanter bitters.

Prosecutor: Well, how do you make a vodka martini?

Spike Easy: Vodka martinis weren’t popular until the James Bond movies and their sponsorship with Smirnoff. We would never serve vodka in our bar.

Defense attorney: Objection! This is defamation of my client by association with hipsters!

Judge: Sustained.

Defense attorney: Your honor, I request a recess to bring experts to the stand to give vermouth a better name.

Judge: Recess granted.

Until court reconvenes, please try a few of these recipes to find out whether your favorite martini is really your favorite martini.


“ORIGINAL RECIPE” MARTINI

2 ounces of London dry gin

1 ounce of dry (French) vermouth

Dash of orange bitters

Stir, serve up; lemon twist, pickled hazelnut optional


DRY MARTINI

2 1/2 ounces of London dry gin

1/2 ounce of dry vermouth

Stir, up, with olive or twist; add a cocktail onion for a “Gibson”


50/50 MARTINI

1 1/2 ounces each of dry vermouth and gin

Dash of orange bitters (optional)

(Feel free to switch dry vermouth for Lillet or Kina or Italian vermouth—or any other fortified wine)

Stir, up, twist

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Truss and Twine, and can be reached via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. The author confesses to being like Will Shaker for many years, and tries hard to not be too much like Spike Easy.

Published in Cocktails

I think the martini, sadly, has lost its way.

Sure, three or four ounces of shaken vodka will probably get you nice and drunk, but it lacks the … shall we say, elegance of the drink’s original recipe.

A purist will tell you a martini has two components—gin and dry vermouth—and it should always be stirred. This purest agrees.

Some amateur comedians ordering a martini with vodka come up with clever catch phrases like, “Shake it until your arms get tired,” or, “I want to skate on the top of it,” or, “Just wave an unopened bottle of vermouth over it.” These people, in my opinion, are missing out on what was once a beautiful, sexy, delicious cocktail. My hope is they’ll give the original a try.

For those who enjoy the history of things, the origin of the martini is muddled. No, I don’t mean muddled with cucumber or blackberries or avocado—it’s just a figure of speech. What I mean is many different stories abound about who created the first martini, why, and where it came from. Some believe the martini was named after Martini and Rossi vermouth, which was created in the mid-1800s. Another theory—my favorite—asserts the martini originated in New York’s Knickerbocker Hotel in 1912 by bartender Martini di Arma di Taggia, made for John D. Rockefeller.

The Knickerbocker’s “Original 1912 Martini” blends two parts gin and one part dry vermouth with orange bitters; it is then stirred and zested with a lemon peel, and garnished with an olive.

Sure, there are those who say Rockefeller didn’t drink, and that the real martini predates 1912. However, this doesn’t really matter: The Original 12 Martini is one of the best drinks I’ve ever had, and one everyone should try.

Another theory, which makes some sense, is that the martini is a derivative of the martinez—a classic gin and vermouth cocktail which was first made in the 1860s and documented in Jerry Thomas’ 1887 edition of his Bar-Tender's Guide; How to Mix All Kinds of Plain and Fancy Drinks. The martinez came about during a vermouth craze in the latter half of the 1800s and was likely a variation of the Manhattan: Someone, at some point, got the idea to mix gin instead whiskey with sweet vermouth, a couple of dashes of bitters, and a little maraschino liquor. Voila, you have a martinez. It’s obvious how the evolution to the first martini wouldn’t be much of a leap.

One thing is clear, however: A martini should be stirred, not shaken. Though I adore James Bond, we can blame him and author Ian Fleming for the shaken martini.

There are reasons we shake some drinks and stir others—and they’re based on science. In general, cocktails containing citrus—like margaritas, daiquiris and sours—should be shaken, while cocktails which are all spirits with no citrus—like Manhattans, negronis and martinis—should always be stirred. The reason of this is thermodynamics, but I’m not going to bore anyone by getting too far into that. Basically, the idea behind both techniques is to cool, mix and dilute the cocktail—and both do so. However, shaking dilutes the cocktail faster than stirring. Shaking also creates tiny air bubbles which brighten a citrusy drink, but ruin the silky texture of a straight spirit. So if you want a bubbly, slushy martini, go ahead, and order it shaken. It’s a free country. But it’s your loss.

Many imbibers also miss out on the beauty of a martini by forsaking gin in lieu of vodka, and/or by skipping the vermouth. The herbs and botanicals of the gin, and the lighter, floral notes of the vermouth balance each other out and create magic in a glass. Vodka, on the other hand, is pretty basic and doesn’t have much flavor or depth—especially when you don’t mix in some flavorful vermouth.

Vodka became so popular, in part, because of advertising in the Mad Men era of the “martini lunch.” A fledgling vodka company marketed its product by saying it would “leave you breathless”—meaning your boss, client or co-workers wouldn’t smell the booze on you. The campaign worked: Vodka first outsold gin in the U.S. in 1967, then whiskey in 1976. Personally, when I’m out tippling, I’m not trying to hide anything.

Speaking of going out tippling, I took a spin around the desert trying martinis. What I found was, basically, what I thought I would find. Every bar I went to had some sort of “classic martini” on the menu, and each one I tried was basically the same: shaken vodka in some sort of martini glass with an olive, or maybe an olive stuffed with blue cheese, and/or a twisted lemon peel. Now, that’s not the worst thing to drink; it’s just not what I was looking for. Like I said, I believe there’s a better way.

During a recent stop at Mr. Lyons in Palm Springs, I found the martini on the menu—“The Honest Martini”—was made with either gin or vodka and vermouth, and stirred, unless otherwise specified. I ordered mine with The Botanist gin from Scotland, and it was just what I wanted alongside my steak tartare. The bartender said the martini was the most-ordered cocktail at Mr. Lyons, and it was 50-50 between patrons who ordered vodka, and those who ordered gin.

At my bars—Workshop Kitchen + Bar, and Truss and Twine—we don’t have a standard martini on the menu, but every bartender on staff knows how to make the Original 1912 Martini. So, next time you’re in, I’ll more than happily stir one up for you.

Patrick Johnson is a journalist and head bartender at Truss and Twine. He can be emailed at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Cocktails

I was feeling a bit nostalgic. Perhaps it was due to a post-holiday malaise; maybe I was simply succumbing to the general trend in popular culture.

Whatever the cause, I began reminiscing on my first experiences drinking in public places: a smoky blues club, Chinese restaurant lounges, fancy dinners out with family, etc. While I was unable to locate a smoky blues club here in the Coachella Valley (send me suggestions!), I did visit two analogues of the other places to see how they matched up with my first memories of drinking.

I had never been to Melvyn’s before, but I felt like I had: So many people have told me about the place that I had a pretty good mental picture before walking in for the first time—and that picture was pretty spot-on. It was busy for a weekday (judging by the comments of the regulars surrounding me), but I managed to snag a prime barstool. I usually can; it’s kind of my superpower.

Surrounded by pictures of faces of celebrities living and deceased, I settled in and made friends with a couple of Canadian teetotalers next to me. They said they came here all the time, and were wondering if I was here to see it before the new ownership possibly changes things (which is apparently a big concern among regulars).

The bartender, Michael, was working the whole restaurant alone. I got anxiety just watching him, but he kept his cool. The maître d’ made the rounds and knew the guests by name. I asked the maître d’ what time the music started, and he pointed at the piano player: “At 7, or whenever the spirit moves him.” A minute or two later, the tinkling of ivory floated out from the corner. I guess the spirit was moving him—as it was beginning to move me.

I got a dry martini … what else am I going to put on a napkin featuring Frank Sinatra’s face? I ordered Bombay gin—craft gin’s not an option here. Shaken lightly, giant olives, hardly any vermouth … yeah, this is not the way you’d get it at my bar, but there are eras to cocktails, and they need to be acknowledged. For a place from this era, the tinkling of chip ice against the thin walls of a three-part shaker was a sound of success. I’m sure even Dale DeGroff was shaking plenty of gin martinis once upon a time. (That said, if you work at any place built in the last 20 years, and you shake my gin martini … well, let’s not go there.) Cold gin, a shrimp cocktail, piano music, Old Blue Eyes regarding me warmly from his paper prison … how much more old Palm Springs does it get?

The bartender suggested a Maker’s Mark Manhattan next, as though he were reading my mind; this drink was a mainstay of my early-to-mid-20s. Just like the ones I drank in my early-to-mid-20s, it was also shaken and light on vermouth, with nary a bitters bottle in sight. I didn’t come here for a Death and Co. Manhattan; I came for the kind my dad made at his bar—and I got it. (Again, bartenders: Don’t you dare do this if your clientele is younger than 75, on average.)

All and all, it was a lovely journey back to an era that we will never see again, since modern restaurant philosophy has changed so much—and so irreversibly.


So … there’s craft tiki; there’s tiki; and there is what I grew up drinking at the (long-gone) Aloha and other lounges that once peppered the Northeast: a sort of tiki/American-Chinese chimera with sour mix galore, and with loose interpretations of recipes by Trader Vic and Donn Beach (the creator of Don the Beachcomber), along with lots of greasy pork and noodles to sop up the ample booze. Oh, and ID checks were lenient, too. It was heaven. Luckily for me, some pockets of California held on to tiki in its more-or-less-original form. I’d heard that Tonga Hut, with a location in Palm Springs, was one of those places. I went to investigate.

First of all, it totally looks the part, aside from a balcony overlooking Palm Canyon Drive, but that’s a nice touch my Aloha could never have had. Everything was just as I imagined. I ordered a mai tai, which was made according to the Trader Vic recipe. (With all due respect to Donn Beach, I prefer the Trader Vic recipe, too—mostly because it’s way less complicated.) It was tasty and citrus-forward, with plenty of rum and a backbone of orange liqueur and almond—thankfully nothing like the pineapple-juice-and-rum versions of my youth! They had crab rangoons and beef teriyaki, and these dishes were actually much lighter-tasting and way less greasy than what I grew up eating (although I am not sure how I feel about that).

Next, I had bartender Josh make me a painkiller, one of those rarely seen tiki concoctions which was actually trademarked by Pusser’s Rum. It is a tasty mix of rum, pineapple juice, orange juice, coconut cream and a garnish of nutmeg. Because glassware is crucial to proper tiki, Josh even served it in a classic Pusser’s enameled metal mug. If you haven’t had one of these, give it a try: The ample nutmeg may seem a little odd at first, but once you get used to it, it really makes the drink feel festive. It has the DNA of a piña colada, but ends up tasting very different; the orange juice and nutmeg offer it a unique flavor.

Tonga Hut is definitely a good spot for those seeking a classic tiki fix, or for those, like me, who are just trying to scratch that itch for nostalgia.


Nostalgia cured, I went back to work.

I felt like I left the Bloody Mary debate a little unresolved last month, so I set about trying the drink at various places around town, despite my aversion to it in general. I felt it was my duty to know where the best one was; call it a sense of journalistic integrity, if you’d like.

I had been hearing over the last few months that Sparrows Lodge was a nice place to grab lunch, so when a friend called me up on a sunny afternoon, we decided to give it a go.

I had been to Sparrows once before, for an evening event, so I already knew the environment is unreal: You literally cannot take a bad picture here. I have tried. I ordered the Bloody Mary, knowing it could make or break my experience. It was wonderful, light and almost refreshing, with a sensible garnish of pickled okra. There seemed to be chili oil floating on top; I tasted mustard seeds and citrus. The vinegar was bright but not overpowering, with no congealed horseradish chunks in sight. While I would not have a second one in succession, because it’s still a Bloody Mary, I was impressed—so impressed that I am calling it the best one in town (at least that I have had so far).

So … goodbye nostalgia (and goodbye, Bloody Marys); time to move on and explore some new ground, even though it has been a fun trip down memory lane.

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Seymour’s/Mr. Lyons and can be reached via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Cocktails