The 2009 May Martini Mix-Off is officially under way with one of the largest pre-event ticket sale tallies during the kick-off pub crawl two weeks ago. Every Thursday in May, a quintet of judges will sip, slurp, savor and suck down creative and classic libations at three different participating bars. As in years past, categories include the classic and the original martini, but new this year--with a somewhat scandalous divergence from the world of martinis--is the addition of the sponsor's Absolut Cocktail Category.
"But I thought all drinks with alcohol were cocktails and that the martini was a type of cocktail," you say.
While you may be right in the circles of less-seasoned palates, scholars of lascivious libations, on the other hand, find neat little categories in which to place alcoholic drinks. But unlike taxonomists in the scientific world reigning over the animal or vegetable kingdom, no central committee maintains consistency. Hence, we have confusion.
When it comes to a worthy taxonomic chart for alcoholic beverages, I look to Gary Regan, an old comrade from my Spirits & Cocktails Magazine days. He divides families of beverages (listed on his Web site at ardentspirits.com) into Bottled Cocktails, Bucks, Champagne Cocktails, Cobblers, Cocktails, Collins, Coolers, Crustas, Daisies, Duos and Trios, Fixes, Fizzes, Flips, Florida Highballs, Frappes, French-Italian Drinks, Frozen Drinks, Highballs, International Sours, Jelly Shots, Martinis, Milanese Drinks, Muddled Drinks, Neat Drinks, New Orleans Sours, New England Highballs, Pousse Cafes, Rickeys, Sangarees, Slings, Smashes, Snappers, Sours, Sparkling Sours, Swizzles and Toddies.
Regan goes on to list two definitions of a cocktail: a pre-21st century description and a modern description. Before the 21st century, a cocktail was defined as spirits, sugar, water and bitters served straight up. The modern definition, by Regan's standard, is any drink served straight up in a V-shaped glass, which is what martinis have now become known as. This is one of my biggest pet peeves.
In modern jargon, the definition of the martini has evolved--nay, mutated--beyond the simple gin, vermouth, olive or lemon peel garnish definition and now includes anything served in a V-shaped, stemmed glass. To call me a "classic martini guy" is an understatement. What has been done to the martini's good name, sir, is wretched and decidedly bourgeois. But I digress.
So, what is a cocktail and how does it differ from other alcoholic beverages? I predict that for the May Martini Mix-Off, the definition most likely will be interpreted as "anything with alcohol NOT in a martini glass." However, by my own definition of what constitutes a cocktail, it should contain two or more types of spirits, a non-alcoholic modifier such as fruit juice, dairy (milk, cream, etc.) or fancy water and could also include herbs and spices in liquid (bitters) or dry form (muddled mint for example). It could be served neat (no ice) or with ice. Or, it could be blended.
"How does this differ from all other mixed drinks," you ask.
Simple, the amount of alcohol in ratio to the other non-alcoholic elements (sans ice cubes) should be above 50 percent. There you have it.
This Thursday evening, the judging quintet will consist of BW publisher Sally Freeman, cocktail aficionado Dean Martin (a great name for a man who likes cocktails), NPR commentator and Idaho Statesman food critic Guy Hand, and seven-time returning judges Doug Alley and myself. This year, there will be no traveling bar-to-bar via limousine, but instead via the downtown trolley. And, if you're lucky enough to find a seat, you, too, can make the rounds on the trolley with or without the judges.
Thursday, May 14, the trolley will stop around 7 p.m. at Red Feather, where returning bartender Mark Allen (first place in the savory category last year and Boise's Best Bartender two years running) will craft the classic martini "Quintessence," the original martini "Tolerance Juice" and the uniquely named cocktail "Dejabrew."
Next, the judges will visit Bonefish Grill, where a team of mixologists, including John Davidson, Shannon Jones, Russel Wolfe and Dylan Martin, will serve up classic martini "The Smokey," original martini "El Pepeino" and "The Bandid" cocktail.
Finally, we'll wrap up the evening with Angell's Ty Hollister and Sean Small deftly mixing "The Blissful Angell" classic martini, "The Fallen Angell" original martini and "The Hot MaMaCita" cocktail.
Tickets, which include a coupon for a martini at every participating bar and entrance into the gala on Saturday, June 6, (location to be announced) can be purchased for $50 at any participating bar (Angell's, Bonefish Grill, Red Feather, Pair, Tablerock Brewpub & Grill, Piper Pub & Grill, Chandlers Steakhouse, The Bouquet and Bardenay) or by calling 280-761-5918. For those who've already bought their tickets and noticed that Bonefish Grill's coupon was not included, you can use the front cover of the ticket book for your martini. New ticket books have the problem corrected.