Tuesday Happy Hour — the Astoria
A gin Martini in reverse proportions.
In last week’s newsletter, I argued that a Martini — gin, dry vermouth, and (in many cases) orange bitters — is the best way to test drive a new gin.
So what’s the best way to try out a new dry vermouth?
One answer is...you don’t have to: As I wrote last week, unless you are extremely committed to exploring the category, you really only need one bottle: Dolin Dry.
Dolin Dry simply defines what dry vermouth is and should be. You will never go wrong using it in any recipe that calls for dry vermouth without specifying a brand. And many recipes that do specify some other brand are just as good with Dolin Dry. It’s a (near) universal substitute, and most people won’t need to go much further.
But if you do want to experiment with other bottles, or you just want to get the hang of how Dolin Dry works without sipping it straight, you might try a lovely old drink that is essentially an upside-down Martini: the Astoria.
The drink, which appeared in the Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book in the 1930s, takes the usual proportions for a Martini and flips them. It’s the same relationship, except the power dynamic is reversed. You might think of it as a Foucauldian Martini.
Of course, the usual proportions for a Martini vary from person to person and book to book. Not coincidentally, so do the proportions for an Astoria.
Look around at recipes and you’ll find any number of ratios — often 2:1 but occasionally something else, like 10:3. I strongly prefer this cocktail at a 3:1 dry vermouth:gin ratio, but as with all Martini-adjacent drinks, your personal preferences may vary.
Some recipes also call for Old Tom gin, which is sweeter and gentler than a typical London dry. But I like the extra bite that dry gin provides here; otherwise the drink is just a bit too soft. Both a Martini and its inverted variant should be a little like Klingon beds — sure, you can sleep in them, but they should never be too comfortable.
Even if you’re not out to explore the weird realms of lesser-known bottles of dry vermouth, this is a good cocktail to make simply to get to known the particular flavor of Dolin Dry. Dolin Dry, of course, goes quite well with Beefeater (it works in everything!). In an Astoria, the combination produces a drink that is curt and to the point without being unfriendly.
If nothing else, the Astoria makes a great Martini comp. The drinks represent different poles of the same idea, and you can test them against each other accordingly.
Trying Making a Beefeater/Dolin Dry Martini, then following it with a Beefeater/Dolin Dry Astoria. It’s a great way to teach your taste buds about the interaction between dry gin and dry vermouth.
But if you want to experiment with other combinations, I’ll give you two places to start: Trincheri Dry, a somewhat more robust and floral dry vermouth, which goes exceptionally well with Tanqueray No. 10; and Carpano Dry, which pairs quite nicely with mellower, fuller bodied gins like Fords and Plymouth.
2 dashes orange bitters
¾ ounce dry gin
2 ¼ ounces dry vermouth
Combine all ingredients in mixing glass.
Add ice, then stir until chilled.
Strain into a chilled coupe or Nick & Nora glass.
Garnish with a lemon peel.
Bonus recommendation: If you’re ever in the Washington, DC, area, one of my favorite cocktail bars is, funny enough, Astoria, on 17th Street NW. Among other things, it’s a great teaching bar: The most recent menu I encountered had pie charts showing the proportions of each cocktail.
Sometimes they have a secret tiki menu, but of course one never knows what will be on offer on any given night these days. In any case, ask for the Sherry Mai Tai, if they’ll make it that night. You won’t be upset. The pandemic hours are obviously somewhat limited, but there is plenty of comfortable outdoor seating, and the meal-sized snack bites are excellent.
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