Martini Test Drive: Muddle Bar
by The Editor
To be honest, we’ve never really got Muddle Bar. When it opened, some time back in the early 2000s, we thought it would last a year at best. The cocktails were terrible, and with a position on the wrong side of Northbourne Avenue for a late night venue. Now, almost a decade down the track and despite our assumptions and doubts, the bar seems to be kicking along without any sign of slowing.
This evening Ben is the bartender. He isn’t the more extroverted of the two on duty, but has been shovelled the task of preparing tonight’s martini due to either his superior skills or junior rank. Regardless, Ben looks confident with the task I have set for him, and on my signal sets up to make the Muddle Bar martini.
He commences by placing a glass shaker on a cocktail napkin on the counter. With a lidless Boston shaker, Ben scoops ice from the machine under the counter and fills the glass to the brim. It’s whole ice, not shaved. Once filled, he reaches for the vermouth that, strangely, is in a plastic squeeze bottle – the kind you’d use for tomato sauce at a barbeque. The Canberran is pleased to note it is Noilly Pratt, but am surprised to discover he has added only about 10mls of vermouth into the ice. It will be most interesting to see how the flavour develops.
“This martini,” Ben begins to explain as he places a stirring spoon into the glass and wedges it hard against the lip with a spring strainer, “is the sort of martini that would suit a male or female palate.”
With that, Ben starts stirring the vermouth through the ice with a rather unusual technique. The strainer only allows the spoon to move across the bottom of the glass in a back-and-forth motion. Ben, with not insignificant effort, hammers the spoon across the bottom of the glass, moving the ice through the glass with a churn rather than a stir. It looks and sounds quite brutal, and I haven’t seen such violence used as a technique when preparing a martini.
After thirty seconds or so, the assault on the vermouth completed, Ben pours some of the liquid into the sink. I’m very curious given there was only 10ml in the glass to begin with, and the aggravated stirring must have produced a significant amount of water as well. So, how much are you pouring out?” I ask.
“About half.” Ben replies. So, we’re now down to 5mls of vermouth, plus water.
It’s time for the gin. It’s Bombay Sapphire, the standard type. Full of botanic flavours, Bombay is certainly one of the softer gins and typically suits the beginner. “I’m adding 60mls to the glass now.” And he does, with a fairly accurate free pour. More stabbing ensues, and with the gin in the glass I find it hard to stop myself from wincing. Once questioned, Ben is happy to explain his technique. “It suits the ice better, given it is so large and tends to ‘brick’ in the glass. “ I could be convinced on this, but am reserving judgement for the final product. The thrashing lasts another thirty seconds.
Once finished, a chilled double martini glass appears from the fridge, frosting over barely before hitting the bar. Extracting the spoon and leaving the strainer in place, Ben pours the martini mix into the glass. A sliver of lemon peel prepared earlier is dropped into the glass, and Ben presents the glass for my consumption. It took only a couple of minutes. I’m not sure I’m feeling the love.
Sitting with the martini for a moment, there is the slightest sign of oils sitting on top of the gin. A little, but not much. Happily, there is no sign of ice shards that may have snuck through the strainer. After a few sips my palate has opened up, and the true flavour of the Muddle Bar martini has no place to hide.
It’s very bitey. The citrus peel and botanicals of the Bombay have no counterpoint, so my initial concerns were justified – the lack of vermouth is glaring, and all the way to the bottom the taste is just too sharp. It’s a shame really, because with just a little more of the Noilly Pratt, this could have been a real crowd pleaser.