Drink This: Cleansers & Exciters

A few years ago, we commandeered a steam train, filled it with bright sparks, plied them with gin and watched magic happen. Dreaming of the day when we can make more happenings happen and spurred on by the end of the darkest dry January on record, we enlisted Tarquin's Gin’s Rory Colborne to whet our whistle and spill some cocktail secrets, from getting your ice right to why Martinis are most definitely better stirred not shaken.

By: Jon Denham,   6 minutes

I’ve chosen three cocktails that all use gin and vermouth and are based around the classic Martinez – the most popular cocktail from the Strangers on a Train event.  One being heavier and more bitter, while the other is a clean, crisper variant. They’re all great pre-dinner drinks: the Martini is the perfect palate cleanser, the Negroni a palate exciter.  Enjoy.

1. The Tarquin's Martinez

Providing a historical nod and a vintage taste profile, the Martinez may not often be seen on a modern menu, but is undoubtedly deserving of classic status.

The birth of the Martinez takes us back to mid 1900s America, where the original cocktail, the ‘Old Fashioned’, saw the addition of Italian sweet vermouth, creating the Manhattan (which, if you’re familiar with it, is a good reference to the flavour of this classic serve).

First recordings of the Martinez saw bourbon switched out for gin, or to be more precise ‘Genever’ (the original gin invented by the Dutch made with a heavier malt-based spirit). As time passed, this was replaced by Old Tom, a sweetened, sometimes aged gin and, in later years, juniper-heavy London dry styles. Some variations started to use dry French vermouth, either in addition or in replacement of the sweet, which set the drink off in a new direction, creating the most iconic of cocktails: the Martini.

The zesty aroma from the orange oils hits your nose first before the warming syrupy liquor brings a rich, dried fruit sweetness, with a hint of herb and spice. Vermouth and gin are both made with an impressive number of botanicals, so it’s no surprise that this drink delivers huge complexity, whilst maintaining a delicate balance of bitter and sweet dancing in tandem over your taste buds.

This recipe uses the Tarquin’s limited edition Mulled Cranberry gin, which adds a delicious lightly spiced twist to the classic dry gin, making for a perfect winter drink to sip in front of a crackling log fire. I’ve stuck with the classic combination of Antica Formula Vermouth, as it is one of the best I have ever tasted (so rich and velvety), with Luxardo Marachino liqueur, which despite being the sweetener also adds to the depth of flavour and character.

Method: Carefully measure all the ingredients into a chilled stirring glass. Then fill it with large ice cubes and stir gently to chill everything down and add a level of dilution to open up the flavour notes (approx 20ml per serve). This method is easier and more accurate than shaking and gives the liquid a pleasing viscous quality. Strain the mix into a chilled coupe glass. Express the oil from a thin slice of fresh orange peel over the drink’s surface by squeezing the sides together and then wipe around the rim of the glass before placing it on the side to garnish.



50ml Tarquin’s Mulled Cranberry and Tangerine Gin

30ml Antica Formula Vermouth

1 Bar spoon Luxardo Maraschino liquer

1 dash of Angostura Bitters

1 dash Regans’ No6 Orange bitters

Orange twist for oil and garnish

2. The Tarquin's Cornish Martini

The Martinez is widely respected as the precursor to the Martini, where gin is at the forefront of the drink and the vermouth is switched to a dry, clear style. This creates the gin lover’s favourite serve, where the amount of vermouth is as hotly disputed as the method of cooling and dilution.

I have news for you; it’s definitely stirred not shaken – for the same reasons as the Martinez. It has nothing to do with the pretentious barman’s excuse for bruising the botanicals in the gin and everything to do with achieving the sweet spot of dilution and temperature. Another old technique is the pouring method where the drink is strained between two vessels, giving the liquid more aeration, while keeping dilution under control. For me the addition of 20ml of water through stirring is perfect, but you’ll need to practice how much stirring is needed with your chosen ice, to deliver this. Ice is such an important ingredient in cocktails and is often the most overlooked, presenting a lot of variables, which can throw a drink out of sync very quickly.

I love the taste of gin and the vermouth in a Martini rounds out the drink to fill the palate. I always encourage people to experiment with ratios of gin to vermouth, as it’s really down to personal taste rather than fashion, as to how wet you like it.

I’ve chosen Tarquin’s flagship dry gin as it has everything I want from a classic gin for this serve; a well-balanced citrus-forward profile with the delicate florals from the violets and smooth mouth feel from the almonds. This pairs so well with the Cornish dry vermouth from Knightor vineyard, that has a subtle spice and herbal quality. The grapefruit oils need to be held right back as it can overpower the whole drink, but their addition, in the right quantity, adds a delicious sherbet aspect when you take your first sip and builds on the fruity aroma of the gin’s fresh citrus botanicals.

Method: Stir down the gin and vermouth in a mixing glass with large cubes of fresh ice to get a nice 20ml of dilution and a deep chill. Then strain into a chilled martini/coupe glass and express the oils from red grapefruit peel, with just one pinch, and leave the garnish on the side and not in the drink (or the flavour will be too much).


60ml Tarquin’s Dry Gin

10ml Knightor Dry Vermouth

Red Grapefruit Twist for oil

3. The Oak Aged Sea Dog Negroni

If the Martini is a cleaner exploration of the gin element of the Martinez, the Negroni explores those deeper, bittersweet complexities. It wasn’t developed from the Martinez, but invented by Count Negroni as a longer, stronger version of his favourite tipple, the Americano, which features the sweet Italian vermouth balanced with the Italian orange bitter amaro, Campari.

This drink is not for beginners. Not because the technique is difficult – far from it – but because the taste is not for everyone. To begin with, I found the strange bitter flavour confusing over the big sweetness you get in one mouthful. But it taught me a lesson on the Italian palate: why they enjoy such dark, bitter coffee with so much sugar, and their use of so many complex, bitter herbs.

Recently, I’ve been experimenting with a variety of ingredients to create different Negronis such as using Suze, a French bitter made from gentian roots, with clear vermouths to create a ‘white Negroni’, or trialing different Italian amaros – even experimenting with the addition of cold brew coffee. I found Rinomato amaro offers the familiar notes and deep rouge colour, but also offers more of a rich, rounded depth of flavour. This is a perfect replacement for the humble yet original classic Campari, for which I still have a soft spot.

The gin has to be Sea Dog. It’s such a big gin, with an awesome orange sherbet and peppery profile, which not only compliments the notes in the amaro, but holds its own in the mix of big flavours. It’s cut at the magic number of 57% ABV, otherwise known as proof, navy strength or gun powder gin – owing to the fact that it’s the lowest ABV strong enough to still spark gunpowder when doused in the liquor and ignited with a match (how naval officers proved it hadn’t been cut with too much water).

The classic Negroni shares equal parts of its three ingredients, either built in a rocks glass with ice and a wedge of fresh orange or, as many prefer it, stirred down first in a mixing glass and then served in a rocks glass with large chunks of ice and an orange twist.

One addition I’ve made in the last few months is creating a batch of the cocktail, which I’ve added into a mini oak barrel, tapping off and tasting a small amount each week for six weeks to see what difference it has made. Boy is it worth the effort! The results create a much more rounded serve, with the spiky notes pulled into line, and the welcome addition of the oaky tannins and vanilla. I’ve found that many people who don’t normally like the bitterness of a straight Negroni find this a lot more palatable – even a drink they can enjoy.

Method: You might find that adding a small percentage more of sweet vermouth will help as the oak ageing does create a slightly drier finish. This can always be added one part at a time at the end so you don’t mess up six weeks of hard labour!


25ml Tarquin’s Sea Dog Navy Gin

25ml Rinomato

25ml Sweet Vermouth

Orange twist to garnish



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