A Martini from Paris

Martinis are likely the most traditional and simplest of all cocktails.  An ounce of spirits, a touch of vermouth – or none at all – and you’re set.  These few simple ingredients create a classic cocktail that may be indefinitely customized according to taste: the base liquor, either gin or vodka; the amount of dry vermouth; the method of preparation, shaken over ice or stirred in the glass; and to finish, the garnish – cocktail onions, olives, olive juice, or a twist of lemon.

David Wondrich, Esquire’s resident cocktail historian, recently suggested an interesting alternative to the traditional martini – the Parisian Cocktail.  I had not heard of this drink before; Wondrich’s brief yet descriptive synopsis of the cocktail’s history provided context.  “As originally served in the early 1920s at Harry’s New York Bar, then and now a Paris institution, it was a nearly undrinkable blend of equal parts gin and vermouth and crème de cassis…In the 1930s, Frank Meier of the nearby Ritz fixed that by cutting the cassis back to a mere barspoon.”

While the inclusion of crème de cassis distinguishes a Parisian Cocktail from a common martini, Wondrich also recommended adding a little lemon juice.  That left me puzzled.  Why spoil a cocktail with such a storied legacy?  The Parisian has nearly a century of experience being poured in Paris’s salons and cafes, during times of boom and bust, war and peace.  Why tinker with history and simplicity?

Perhaps this final question is too strong; each drinker may prepare his drink as he wishes.  So I tried the cocktail both ways – with and without lemon juice – to determine which tasted best.  To me it was clear.  I prefer the Parisian as it was originally intended: an ounce of gin, an ounce of vermouth, and a spoonful of cassis – enough to taste but not so much as to imbalance the liquor’s herbal flavors.  A Parisian made with lemon juice, on the other hand, contrasted sharply and distastefully with the gin, overwhelmed the cassis, and gave the cocktail an ugly, grayish-cloudy appearance in the glass.

Regardless of how you take your Parisian Cocktail, I must thank Wondrich for his words, as they introduced me to a uniquely French twist on a traditional cocktail.

Published in: on February 11, 2011 at 12:09 am  Comments (3)  
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  1. It sounds good. Where would one procure cassis in the District? I’ve had no luck locating it since returning from Paris last summer.

    • You can find the Dekuyper brand cassis in most any liquor stores. It’s nothing fancy, but it does the trick. If you’re looking for higher quality, I’d have your friends back in Paris ship some over to you.

  2. I myself am just getting into scotch and whiskey. I don’t have any favorites other than McCallan, but I’m working on it!

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