Stir with ice and strain into two coupes.
Makes two drinks
Note: The original version of this post accidentally included Sweet Vermouth instead of Dry Vermouth. An absolute gaff on our part — but, at least, that drink is tasty too.
* * *
Why do we blog? By “we,” I mean 12 Bottle Bar specifically, but more to the point, the populace in general. Some, those quite successful at their craft, do it for money – advertising revenue or for the entrée into more traditional media work. Some, like Perez Hilton, do it for personal fame and glory. But what about the rest of us that have a loyal, yet niche, following? For what do we exchange countless hours of writing, photographing, recipe testing, or reviewing products? I decided to beat the internet rushes with a stick and see what I scared up.
Microbiologybytes.com maintains a blog in order to have “a place where I think, plan, reflect… a place where I play with technology and ideas.” Outofmygord.com finds that blogging “helps me take some of the ideas I’m exposed to and give them an intellectual workout” and that “when I blog, I simultaneously learn.” A dear friend of ours blogs because it’s a way for her to work through a divorce – for a newly single, forty-year-old mother of a toddler to recalibrate her relationship with the world. All fair and reasonable reasons. For us, at 12 Bottle Bar, blogging is a meditation.
For the bulk of my professional career, I have enjoyed the safety and teamwork found in a corporate environment. With those benefits also comes the compromises inherent to working in a group. When you’re a cog, you’re expected to play nicely with the other cogs to produce the desired result. Raw creation is filtered through focus groups and cost analyses, resulting in something that, in the end, is the least offensive, most cost effective, and most risk adverse solution possible. And, I’m fine with that. For me, constraints are fun. As when working within the confines of the haiku structure, boundaries are prone to sharpen and hone us. But it also produces results which are patently “safe”.
Coming from a movie business perspective, Lars likes to point out that the best and most successful films are most often the product of a singular artistic vision. Consider the Top 5 All-Time Grossing Films in the US – Avatar, Titanic, The Dark Knight, Star Wars, and Shrek 2 – with the exception of Shrek, anyone reading this can name the artist responsible for the success of each of those films. Even in the case of The Dark Knight – the eighth film in the franchise, if you count the Adam West version and Catwoman – it took Christopher Nolan’s unique perspective to not only produce the most profitable movie in the series but one which also shook the very structure of what is considered the year’s “Best Picture.”
The question, of course, is how all of this is germane to 12 Bottle Bar. Coming from the corporate world of committee, 12 Bottle Bar provides me (and Lesley and Lars, in turn) with a platform from which to explore unbridled creation. Sure, cocktails are the medium; the answer to the “why blog” question is that the site allows us all to work within self-imposed boundaries and constraints, like the limitation to the twelve bottles. Beyond that, if we want to dedicate a week to a pomegranate dinner, so be it. It’s as if we’ve left the structure of the band to go solo and, hopefully, discovered our own unique sound in the process.
As always, this all comes around to the drink at hand – the Third Degree. This one’s from the Savoy Cocktail Book (1930), and it’s important because, recently, it has proven to be something of a symbol for why 12 Bottle Bar exists. If you’re here just for the recipe, we can tell you that the Third Degree is a shining example of an early 20th century Martini, with a bigger part vermouth that we’re used to today. Although Erik Ellestad, in his invaluably annotated copy of the Savoy (which he was kind enough to share) doesn’t indicate an earlier origin for the drink, it certainly exists under one name or another. A cousin drink, the Fourth Degree (which uses both Dry and Sweet Vermouth) has an earlier provenance, but the Dry Vermouth-Gin-Liqueur formula dates back to early variations on the Martinez.
The importance of the Third Degree, however, is what it has come to symbolize about 12 Bottle Bar. A few years back, knowing that my friend Brian comes from a long line of Martini drinkers, I presented the drink to him for his birthday. By presented, I mean, I gifted him the required bottles and included the recipe in his card. In Las Vegas, hitting the town with foreign business partners, I’ve coerced casino bartenders into whipping up a round. On my recent visit to Mr. Ellestad’s Savoy Cocktail Night at Alembic in San Francisco, when offered the opportunity to choose any drink from within the fat and vast Savoy book, I countered to Erik with “bartender’s choice.” His choice? The Third Degree. If you’re not seeing the through line here, let me put it this way: it’s a drink people like to share.
And, that, I realized is really what we’re doing here at 12 Bottle Bar. Sure, the intellectual rationale is that the site is a sandbox that allows us to create outside of the corporate structure, but really – really – what we’re doing here is saying “these things are good, and we’d like to share them with you.” We may not all be able to live in sprawling estates, drive Italian supercars, or summer on Lake Como – but, dammit, we can drink well. And that is why we share cocktails. Think about it – when a friend comes over, the first question of hospitality is typically, “Can I get you something to drink?” A glass of water will certainly quench the thirst, but a well-made cocktail says “Make yourself comfortable.”
As I examined the question of “why do we blog,” I realized that the answers we typically see are more to the question “why did we start blogging?” and not “why do we continue to blog?” The latter is the more relevant question, I think. Why do millions of people – single and married, young and old, from every race and nationality under the sun – commit so many hours each day to what are little more than demanding, non-paying jobs? Because each of us is passionate about some idea that we desperately want to share. Because, every time you click on a link and summon up one of our posts, we want you to feel welcomed. In the case of 12 Bottle Bar, it’s drinks like the Third Degree that we love to bring to you – drinks that have been passed along for the better part of a century, from barkeep to patron and from friend to friend.
If you notice the recipe above, it makes two drinks, which is always the best way to mix cocktails. One for you and one to share.
Esoterica: “In Masonic lodges there are three degrees of membership; the first is called Entered Apprentice, the second Fellowcraft, and the third is master mason. When a candidate receives the third degree in a Masonic lodge, he is subjected to some activities that involve an interrogation and it is more physically challenging than the first two degrees. It is this interrogation that was the source of the name of the US police force’s interrogation technique.”
– The Phrase Finder