Espresso Martini at Food Cellar in Reykjavík, Iceland (image: Elva Ramirez)
In September 2015, Reyka vodka brand ambassador Trevor Schneider wandered into Employees Only, the famed bar in Manhattan’s West Village. He wasn’t sure what to order. EO’s principal bartender, Dev Johnson, recommended an Espresso Martini. Schneider waffled, unsure if he wanted a drink with a reputation for being heavy or overly sweet. Johnson convinced Schneider to try his version. And then, as the kids say, it became a thing.
Johnson’s drink recipe is simple, with just three ingredients: two ounces of Reyka vodka, 1 ounce of fresh espresso and 3/4 ounce of simple syrup, shaken briskly with ice and served up. The drink is full of flavor and mouthfeel, yet it’s also crisp and surprisingly dry, especially when compared with most variations on this theme.
Trevor Schneider, left, talks to Dev Johnson at Employees Only. (image: Elva Ramirez)
“Historically, the cocktail has been overcomplicated by adding liqueurs and creams,” says Schneider. Johnson’s version “is unbelievably light but has texture, and you can have more than one.”
“The sugar ties the vodka and espresso together, and it helps carry the flavor of both,” Johnson says of his recipe, which is inspired by his lifelong love of coffee ice cream. “[The sugar] takes the edge off the espresso, and it also ups the flavor of the vodka.”
Instantly smitten with the drink, Schneider has been single-handedly exporting Johnson’s recipe all over the world since fall of 2015. As he travels for work and pleasure (approximate domestic and international miles flown as of July 2017: 82,000), he finds himself asking for the drink in a lot of the cities he visits.
Trevor Schneider at Employees Only (image: Elva Ramirez)
“I usually start with ‘Do you guys make Espresso Martinis?'” says Schneider. If restaurants are amenable, Schneider politely requests for the bar to make the drink the Employees Only way. “It’s very easy to replicate this drink based on those three ingredients. I’ve taken it to California, Iceland, Barcelona, Atlanta, Boston and Florida, to name a few.”
It was in Reykjavík, Iceland, in late March 2016, that Schneider set a personal benchmark for his Espresso Martini quest. He was with a large group from William Grant & Sons, the conglomerate that owns Reyka. At dinner, someone ordered two Espresso Martinis. Schneider saw his chance to evangelize his beloved cocktail in, of all places, the birthplace of Reyka.
The group numbered 28, but Schneider upped the tally to account for a few double orders. So he ordered 37 drinks—at the same time.
Dev Johnson (image: Elva Ramirez)
Aware that this was a massive undertaking, Schneider offered his services to the lone bartender on duty, who gratefully accepted. “I rolled up my sleeves and said, ‘Treat me like a bar back,’” he says. “I chilled glassware, he started making the espresso shots, I batched out the Reyka in tins, and then we had trays and trays of Espresso Martinis—37—in Iceland.”
In late June of this year, he single-handedly beat his own record, batching 40 Espresso Martinis to close out a morning sales meeting in Atlanta. He played his audience a two-minute video and had trays of drinks ready by the time the clip ended.
Espresso Martinis at Food Cellar in Reykjavík, Iceland (image: Elva Ramirez)
Schneider often returns to where his obsession started. A February 2017 outing to Employees Only resulted in 27 Espresso Martinis in one sitting. (Schneider was with a group of friends that evening and also gifted some rounds to fellow customers. He personally did not drink anywhere close to 27 Martinis.)
As he introduces Johnson’s recipe to a mix of bars and restaurants, Schneider’s hope is that a preference for the drink develops organically across a range of locations. “Maybe a bartender falls in love with it as well, and then they use it,” says Schneider. “Then they tell a story or they say, ‘I make it like this …’”