|"I'll have a Kangaroo. Shaken, not stirred."|
The most well known tipple 007 is known to quaff, is of course, the "Vodka Martini". It is probably insufferably pretentious of me but I'm one of those irritating folks who believes there are only three drinks in the world that may be called a Martini and they all have gin and vermouth, dry, sweet or a combination of the two. Change the garnish from a lemon peel or olive to a cocktail onion and the drink becomes a Gibson despite the fact that it is really just a Martini with a different garnish. Swap out the gin for another principle spirit, such as bourbon, and you're just one dash of bitters (and a cocktail cherry) away from having yourself a Manhattan. By this logic, exchanging the gin for vodka should result in a drink with its own name; either a Vodka and Vermouth or something more exotic. In fact when vodka and vermouth were first mixed together in the 1920's, they did have an exotic name; they became: The Kangaroo Cocktail. Why that name didn't stand the test of time, one can only imagine.
I am the first to admit that making a Martini is infinitely easier than learning to appreciate one. The dry Martini is an acquired taste which is part of what gives it that enduring air of sophistication. Once you develop the taste, you feel almost as if you have earned your way into an exclusive club of men and women who know how to live and live well. Not everyone can or will develop a taste for the Martini and that only adds to the exclusivity of it all. It is snobbery, plain and simple but snobbery about the things we like is, perhaps, the only justifiable snobbery to embrace.
I suspect this is why people who love the Martini bristle at the Kangaroo (which is how I will refer to it from here on, so as to avoid confusion) being called a "Vodka Martini". Not only does it make it more complicated to order our beloved Martini, it seems like a cheat; a weak drink that does nothing to challenge the palette or earn the cache of sophistication but has, thanks in no small part to the popularity of James Bond, encouraged bartenders the world over to ruin our dry Martinis by shaking the life out of them. It is bewildering to me how anyone, once appreciating a Martini would prefer a Kangaroo and from what my entirely unscientific research reveals, most people choose one or the other while it is a very rare breed drinks both. Those who favor the Kangaroo, generally do so because they do not like gin. Those who favor the Martini do so because we have learned to appreciate gin and vodka seems like weak tea in comparison. James Bond is that rare specimen that drinks both. Which begs the question: When and why does one choose a Kangaroo over a Martini?
A friend of mine, who has nothing in common with 007 whatsoever beyond her appreciation of both drinks explained that, for her, the difference is analogous to choosing a lager over a stout; both may be delicious but sometimes something light and refreshing is more desirable than something challenging and complex. She also mentioned the importance in the garnish; preferring olives in her Kangaroo and a lemon twist in her Martini. In fact, the garnish (be it an olive, a lemon twist or black pepper) defines the kind of experience you can expect from a Kangaroo, simply because the vodka brings so little to the table in terms of flavor. This, I thought, might be a way for me to appreciate this drink more fully. After all, a Martini is either good or bad, depending on the execution. The garnish adds a dimension but it is the interplay between the botanical ingredients in the gin and the vermouth that really defines the experience. But a drink you can influence so strongly with just the garnish? Now that's interesting!
James Bond prefers his Kangaroo to be called a "Vodka Martini" and for them to be made this way:
- 3 oz. (or six parts) vodka
- .5 oz. (or 1 part) dry vermouth
Shaken (not stirred) with ice, strained into a chilled cocktail glass with a large slice of lemon peel which is best twisted over the top to express the oils across the surface of the drink.
|"I've never had a Kangaroo before."|
With an olive as the garnish the vermouth and small amount of olive brine dominated the drink with a faint but pleasantly savory vegetal flavor with an almost creamy finish and smooth mouth feel. I enjoyed the drink but found myself wishing I was drinking a Martini instead. With a lemon twist, the drink becomes entirely lemon flavored (albeit dry) with the vermouth playing a supporting role by lending only a hint of sweetness and complexity to the finish. This certainly made for the more refreshing drink and made me yearn less for a Martini. Shaking the drink instead of stirring it made it quite a bit colder than is customary in a Martini (which is best stirred) but also watered the drink down quite a bit. Since what flavor there is in vodka is not particularly to my liking, the cold and dilution came as a kindness. The lighter flavor profile as enhanced by the citrus was refreshing in the summer heat in a way a Martini would never be. And once I was able to appreciate the Kangaroo on it's own terms instead of as an ersatz Martini, I enjoyed it very much.
I do still find myself tilting at the windmill of the "Vodka Martini" moniker. Calling a Kangaroo a Martini diminishes it by forcing it to compete with a completely different cocktail when it should stand on its own; apples to oranges and all that. It occurs to me that what Ian Fleming did by popularizing vodka and vermouth as a "Vodka Martini" was set up a perpetual cold war between England and Russia, fought not with human lives but with the spirits most closely associated with each country. And with vodka rather winning the day, it makes one wonder whose side he was on...