The Kangaroo Cocktail is among the most popular cocktails in America; however, it is rarely called by this proper name, which originated when vodka was first being imported. Instead, it is confused with other names and terms and is frequently grouped with adjectives like "dirty" and "bruised." Perhaps the reason the name "Kangaroo Cocktail" became so unpopular is that nobody wants to walk up to a bar and order an abused, smelly Australian marsupial.
It is confusing that so many are content with the "dirty, bruised vodka martini," which, more often than not, does taste like Aussie road kill. Those who order "dirty vodka martinis" should know that the term "dirty" is usually used to describe a cocktail assumed to contain "olive juice." Real olive juice is actually olive oil, which does not mix well into cocktails. Instead, bartenders commonly use olive brine, a mixture made of water and salt - and, in most major brands, other chemical preservatives. So a "dirty martini" is actually a cocktail consisting of vodka, olive-flavored salt water, and several chemicals and preservatives. Frequently, bartenders pour the brine out of jars more rapidly than they use the olives. To prevent waste, these exposed olives are frequently placed in warm garnish trays and kept outside of the brine for several days. These olives function as a bacteria resort. And like what happens at all extended resort stays, the guest bacteria eventually consume more alcohol than they can handle - namely when they are dunked into your drink.
If you are the type of person who orders a vodka martini dry or without vermouth, you are basically asking for the most flavorless cocktail possible. The purpose of vodka as a spirit is to be odorless and tasteless. Thus, ordering this type of "martini" is tantamount to purchasing the effects of alcohol without flavor. Sure, some will argue that you can taste the differences in different brands of vodka, but when diluted with ice, this is next to impossible. This is because "quality" vodka tastes just like other "quality" vodka - nothing. If someone does possess these highly skilled senses, one wonders why they would waste it on flavorless vodka when there is an entire world of interesting spirits, cocktails, wines and beers that would surely be intriguing to such an advanced palate.
Vodka martinis are also frequently shaken to be as cold as possible and create an "ice crystal" effect on the top of the drink. First, ice of any type is an ice crystal. But these small pieces of ice floating on top of the "vodka martini" won't last for long. Instead, they rapidly melt, watering down the cocktail. If the cocktail had been stirred, as all cocktails without juice should be, the straining process would have removed the ice, as it would not have been obliterated into thousands of small shards. Stirring for the appropriate amount of time, especially with large ice cubes intended for cocktails, manages to create a cocktail nearly as cold as shaking. It just takes time, and the person making the drink has to actually care about the quality of the cocktail.
Our recipe for a gin martini, after the jump.
Combine all ingredients in a glass and stir with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist.
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Note: For information about vermouth, its shelf life and freshness, please read the Vieux Carre post in this ongoing series here. http://blogs.houstonpress.com/eating/2010/02/bobby_heugels_weekly_cocktail.php
For the record, a martini is a cocktail that consists of gin, vermouth and bitters. It is not a type of fruity cocktail served in a cocktail glass, commonly referred to as a "martini" glass. There are lots of great citrusy and other fruit-influenced cocktails out there, but these drinks are not martinis.
Again, if you enjoy vodka martinis, please continue to order them and drink them contentedly. But if you order these cocktails because they are safe or comfortable options, please consider opting for an actual martini. Or consider trying other cocktails that exhibit full-flavored spirits and are made with fresh ingredients over the Kangaroo Cocktail.
If you've been turned off by these types of drinks in the past, reconsider your options in one of Houston's bars or restaurants that cares about cocktails. If this still fails, at least use the name Kangaroo Cocktail when ordering your drinks in the future; you'll sound so much cooler than the guy ordering the latest flavor-of-the-week vodka.