Make Your Espresso Martini With Mezcal...Or Scotch?
Bring your favorite 90s fad party drink into the modern era.
Amongst cocktail enthusiasts, the Espresso Martini can be a somewhat divisive drink.
The case against it tends to go something like this:
It’s made with vodka! This just adds booze. It doesn’t really taste like anything.
It’s not even a Martini! It’s just an artifact of a time when lots of cocktails that had nothing to do with Martinis were given a ‘tini/Martini moniker because some bartender or bar owner thought1 it would sell better.
It’s a dumb 90s scene drink that’s been brought back as part of some sort of 90s revival trend that I don’t understand, because get off my lawn.
Come on, really? Really???
The case for it, meanwhile, tends to go something like this:
It’s boozy and caffeinated, and thus it will keep you both buzzed and awake, which is what I want from a cocktail when I’m out trying to have a good time.
It’s also pleasing to look at and deliciously creamy, with a great big head of foam that makes this drink a pleasing textural experience.
It also tastes great — when made well, it’s coffee-bean bittter and gently sweet like a bite-sized baked good. So what if the vodka doesn’t add much in terms of flavor? It makes space for the other ingredients to shine. Not everyone wants a cocktail that tastes strongly of booze.
Dude, who made you the Martini Police? Don’t be so condescending.
For my part, I think both sides have some valid points.
On the pro-side, one shouldn’t dismiss the drink’s foamy, creamy texture. As cocktail qualities go, texture continues to be underrated.
I don’t think anyone is obligated to appreciate any drink, and everyone’s preferences are going to be different, I do my best to try appreciate cocktails on their merits as drinks rather than on the cultural baggage they might come with. A good drink is a good drink.2
On the against side: I still don’t care much for conventional vodka-based versions of the drink. I just don’t think vodka brings much to the party.
But as I wrote last year, I think you can solve that problem by making it with gin. So while I don’t quite love the classic Espresso Martini — typically vodka, coffee liqueur, either espresso or cold brew concentrate, and maybe a bit of syrup — I do think it is quite obviously a good idea for a drink. The bitter, roasted, chocolate-and-fruit notes of coffee and quality booze go exceptionally well together.
What this means is that you can take the basic template and alter it in any number of ways.
Not only can you make it with gin, you can also make it with mezcal, the earthy, smoky cousin to tequila that has become a staple of modern cocktails. Like the Mezcal Last Word we looked at last year, this is a drink that demonstrates that most any drink made with gin can also be made productively with mezcal.3
Using mezcal instead of gin or vodka:
Gives the drink an earthy, smoky character
Provides an entry point for people who may not love gin
Brings the drink out of the 90s fad zone and into the modern era.
Suggests other easy riffs.
So this week, we’re going to make an Espresso Martini with mezcal. And then, at the end, we’ll make another one — but with smoky, peaty Scotch whisky.
I Like My Cocktails Like I Like My Coffee: Extremely Good, and Somewhat Over-Thought
The original Espresso Martini created in the 1980s was an ever-evolving drink that required a freshly pulled espresso shot — which makes it somewhat difficult to replicate at home, unless you have access to an espresso machine.
But my favorite way to make a gin-based Espresso Martini is a dead-simple three-equal-parts recipe that requires no espresso machine and no difficult-to-find ingredients.