Add all ingredients to a mixing glass
Shake with large ice and strain into a coupe
Garnish either with lime or garlic clove
* * *
It may seem like every drink we feature here at 12 Bottle Bar is our favorite. The simple truth is: we only include the drinks that we think stand the test of time, and many drinks we’ve initially considered just haven’t made the cut. What determines the cut? First and foremost, a drink must be tasty. It also must be exciting on some level; we have to want to write about it. Typically, we like things that have some historical significance — whether it’s the lineage of a key ingredient or that the finished combination so clearly captures a specific place and time. It’s on these latter merits that the Vampire makes the list. Besides, how could we not do it during out Halloween celebration?
On the surface, the Vampire isn’t an exciting drink, and if you hate Vermouth, I’ll advise you to stay away. Gin and Vermouth — it’s a Martini, right? Not so fast, we need a little preamble first. Vermouth was created in the late 1700’s and less than a half-century later was trickling into America. It was then — and throughout Europe, still is — considered an apéritif. Cribbed from Wondrich is the following passage from Bonfort’s Wine and Liquor Circular (1871):
If we must have an appetizer before dinner, Absinthe or Vermouth deserve the preference over the antiquated and fiery cocktail.
But we Americans like our Cocktails, and we responded with typical melting pot aplomb — we threw the Vermouth into our Cocktails (or our Cocktails into the Vermouth), and invented the Manhattan. By the end of the 19th Century, the Martini was also on the books, but it wasn’t the bone dry, as-little-vermouth-as-possible drink we know today. An 1890’s Martini was composed of equal parts Old Tom Gin (a sweeter style) and Sweet Vermouth as well as the bitters retained from the Cocktail. It was also a very short drink, like the Cocktail before it — just 1.5 oz before stirring. By the 1920’s, the modern dry Martini had begun to take shape — more spirit than Vermouth and with Dry Vermouth in place of Sweet.
The Vampire dates from somewhere around 1908, and it presents a link between the old style — equal, small parts Gin and Vermouth — and today’s Martini — Dry Gin and no bitters. For those reasons alone, I find it compelling. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I was unable to pinpoint the exact origin of the Vampire, but the earliest mention I have found comes from the recent re-issue of Cocktail Boothby’s “American Bar-Tender” (1891), not only a fabulous book but also an exquisite restoration. The Vampire doesn’t reside among the recipes of the book, however. Rather, it’s included in a collection of scanned pages “written in pencil and ink by an unknown hand or hands” found tucked into the California Historical Society’s original copy of the 1891 book. When Boothby’s was updated in 1908, the Vampire was among its addenda, so it’s reasonable to think that the hand written pages came from an owner of the original edition who wanted the new 1908 recipes without having to buy the whole new book.
Why the name Vampire? Much like today, when we find ourselves surrounded by screaming throngs of tween Twihards, the latter half of the 19th Century was rife with spiritualism and vampires. Inspired by the netherworld “communications” of men such as Emanuel Swedenborg and Franz Mesmer (inventor of hypnotism), a new breed of spiritualists and occultists sprang to life in the late 1800’s.
In 1873, Madame Blavatsky, the famous Russian psychic, arrived in New York and shortly thereafter founded the Theosophical Society, which set the stage for New Age beliefs. In the late 1880’s, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn rose in London as a splinter sect of Masonry. Unlike the spiritualist, who postulated that spirits were deceased humans, occultist groups like the Golden Dawn subscribed to the belief that the universe contained hidden knowledge which they alone could unlock. By 1898, the “Great Beast” Aleister Crowley had joined the Golden Dawn, alongside fellow member (and enemy) poet W.B. Yeats.
Of course, Yeats wasn’t the only Irishman of the time with a vested interest in the occult. In 1897, a London Daily Telegraph newspaperman named Bram Stoker published the novel “Dracula”. Stoker wasn’t first on the vampire scene, however. Joseph Le Fanu, a former employer of Stoker’s, had published the teen lesbian vampire novella “Carmilla” a quarter century prior, but it’s Dracula that cemented vampires in the public consciousness. The British critics lauded Stoker’s work even above that of Emily Bronte, and when the novel appeared in the United States (1899), praise was equally high.
With the spiritualism and occult movements in full force through the 1920s, it’s easy to see how a bartender seeking a populist name for his spin on the newly hot Martini could appropriate the Vampire. I did a quick Google search for “Twilight inspired cocktail” and returned more hits than I hoped I would. Fortunately, unlike modern Frankensteining of too many liqueurs, the original Vampire is a drink that truly captures the spirit of Vlad Dracul. Dracula has a certain savoir faire matched both in literature and on screen only by one James Bond, so it’s only appropriate that his drink should also be a Martini — a Martini redolent of Vermouthy funk, sure, but one which still looks just as good a century later.
I’ve kept the original proportions here because, with all the Vermouth, this works best in the size specified. I like a drier Vermouth, like Dolin, here over our standard Noilly Pratt. The garnish shown in the picture was supposed to be only for irony — garlic and twin wooden “stakes” — but after I shot the picture, I dunked the garlic into the drink and found myself enjoying something quite different and wonderful. Obviously, not a move I’d recommend if you’re looking to hook-up shortly thereafter. But, if you should find yourself alone one night, waiting out the centuries in the keep of an old Transylvanian castle, it might be just the trick. Provided you’re not a vampire, of course.