Do you think M is for the Manhattan or the gin Martini (not the later vodka variation that James Bond made famous)? Bridging these iconic cocktails, the Martinez is a delicious and largely unheralded drink. Was it created in Martinez, California? Did a bartender named Martinez create it? Was it created for someone named Martinez (just like how the Negroni is named for the customer who requested a new drink, not the bartender who made it)? No one knows.
1.5 ounces Old Tom gin
1.5 ounces sweet vermouth
.25 ounces Luxardo maraschino liqueur
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Combine in a mixing glass with ice, stir with a sense of history, and strain into a chilled glass (preferably a coupe). Lemon peel garnish optional.
The Martinez incorporates sweet vermouth like a Manhattan and gin like a Martini. Old Tom Gin is slightly sweeter than the far more prevalent London Dry style, and it is vaguely reminiscent of whiskey. You can see how the Martinez naturally evolved into the Martinis people all over the world know and love.
Despite the Martinez's conflicting origin stories, cocktail historians agree its first known reference was in 1884 in O.H. Byron's book the Modern Bartender's Guide. Byron's version calls for curaçao, a type of triple sec (orange liqueur used in drinks such as the White Lady) instead of maraschino liqueur (used in drinks such as the Last Word). In comparison, an 1887 book from legendary bartender Jerry Thomas calls for maraschino liqueur, but his version uses more sweet vermouth than Old Tom gin. I prefer using equal proportions of Old Tom and sweet vermouth in order to emphasize the gin. The Martinez lends itself to tinkering. For example, you can use orange bitters instead of Angostura bitters, use equal parts sweet and dry vermouth (you are using fresh vermouth, right?), or even use London Dry style gin instead of Old Tom.
M -- it's not just the moniker of James Bond's boss (played over the years by Bernard Lee, Judi Dench, and Ralph Fiennes). It's also the first letter of this important yet mostly unknown cocktail. Have a Martinez and make it known!