The Smoky Martini is a mad little classic which mixes the best elements of a Dry Martini with a smoky Scotch whisky. To many people (including myself) that sounds both overpowering and frankly revolting. And it is certainly more of a niche cocktail than a crowd pleaser. But for the many people out there who do really like both Dry Martinis and smoky Scotch, this is a truly amazing cocktail.
The idea of mixing a little Scotch into a Martini seems a simple enough idea. Simple enough that I would have expected it to have been tried over a century ago. And maybe it was, but no record of it seems to have survived. Instead, the Smoky Martini just seems to have emerged at some point during the cocktail revival of the 1980s and 90s. It started appearing in cocktail books soon after the turn of the millennium, but without any background story.
Surely there has to be at least a creation myth about it somewhere. But if there is, I’ve never found one.
The Smoky Martini introduces the flavours of Scotch to the Dry Martini. That sounds simple enough. Until you stop to realize just how much Scotch there is out there. And how vast a difference there can be in the final flavour of the end product of different Scotches. Even between ones which were distilled seemingly next door to each other. It’s quite mad, and the more you learn about it the more you will realize how little you actually know.
Rather than wade into this vast topic I’m going to keep it simple. The Smoky Martini uses smoky Scotch to achieve its goal. Though there are very many of these, the two I am most familiar with are Laphroaig 10 y/o and Lagavulin 16 y/o. These tend to be the commercial standard for smoky Scotches, easily available in large quantity across the world.
But there is no good reason not to try using other Scotch instead. Or indeed substitute the gin for vodka. Or also use vermouth rather than omitting it entirely. For someone who loves Scotch and Martinis, this would be an excellent topic for further research and experimentation. But since that person is not me, I’ll just stick to the basics.
In a regular Dry Martini, vermouth is used to open up and complement the subtle botanicals of a top quality gin. In the Smoky Martini, a smoky Scotch fills that role instead, so vermouth is typically dropped from the recipe. As stated, the smoky Scotches I am most familiar with are the Laphroaig 10 y/o and Lagavulin 16 y/o, and both work well for this cocktail.
As usual, I’d recommend using a top quality premium gin to make a Martini. However, in this case I’d make a further suggestion to use The Botanist Gin. My reasoning is that this gin is made in Islay, one of the top Scotch producing regions of Scotland. And as such is likely to complement Scotch better than other gins.
Actually making a Smoky Martini is simplicity itself. Simply pour two shots/50ml gin and ~10ml smoky Scotch into a mixing glass. Stir with ice for 45 seconds to a minute. Then strain out into a Martini glass (or equivalent) and garnish with a twist of lemon.