It’s hard to think of a pre-dinner drink more respected and sublime than the Dry Martini. Elegant, bracing, strong, and refined, it’s the perfect opening to a steak dinner or other hearty meal, as well as a lovely way to end an evening. But how can you add further depth, richness, and boozy sophistication to the classic cocktail?
The answer comes from bartending legend Dale DeGroff. For his Smoky Martini, the educator, author, and historian replaces the vermouth in the classic with a blended Scotch whisky. In sparing quantities, the spirit’s smoky and savory notes dance beautifully with gin’s botanicals.
In fact, this cocktail has a serious literary pedigree. In Norman Mailer’s 1991 novel Harlot’s Ghost, a character based on real-life CIA agent William King Harvey, who ran the Agency’s West Berlin operations in the 1950s, mixes a Martini by rinsing the ice in a shaker with scotch before adding the gin. Bartenders at the time, according to DeGroff, picked up on the recipe and started referring to it as the Berlin Station Chief.
“I am not sure whether Mailer’s research is so good that he would have wanted a drink that the character would have actually been drinking in 1956,” says DeGroff, “but I was serving Smoky Martinis in the 1970s.”
We can’t be certain whether it was a CIA agent, a legendary author, or a clever bartender who first put scotch in a Martini. But whomever it was, we’re raising a glass to you.
Click Play to See This Smoky Martini Come Together
2 1/2 ounces London Dry gin
1/4 ounce blended Scotch whisky
Garnish: lemon twist
Add the gin and scotch into a mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled.
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Garnish with a lemon twist.
Is Gin or Vodka Best for a Smoky Martini?
A traditional Smoky Martini uses gin, which adds the botanical notes that the drink usually achieves with gin, vermouth, or both. However, as with all Martinis, your choice of spirit comes down to personal preference, and vodka’s neutral base may allow the profile of the scotch you’re using to come through more prominently.
What Kind of Scotch Is Best for a Smoky Martini?
The classic version of a Smoky Martini calls for blended scotch, which is often used for mixing into cocktails, but you can certainly use a single-malt scotch if you prefer. For an extra-smoky version of this cocktail, like the Dreamy Dorini Smoking Martini from DeGroff’s protégée Audrey Saunders, you may opt for a more heavily-peated bottle such as an Islay scotch. However, keep in mind that Saunders uses vodka as the base spirit; if using a heavily-peated scotch with gin’s botanicals, you may choose to reduce the amount of scotch so the ingredients don’t overpower each other.