This is a cocktail with essentially no history, since I can find absolutely nothing about the drink. But it is a gem. The cocktail features many different flavors, is highly complex, with light and delicate ingredients playing together harmoniously.
I went through various books, and various archives trying to find information on the history of this drink. I cannot. In fact, I can find a few websites that list the drink, but it seems listed among dozens of other “classic” cocktails, long and forgotten beneath a bunch of text. The drink is one that features three fortified wines, one curacao, and gin, making it have a lot of different flavors going on at once, and making it an extremely complicated cocktail, in which minor differences in alcohol content would change the harmoniously blending drink into an unbalanced one.
I recently was going through a cocktail book, and actually found a source for the drink. The book in question is the list of Approved Cocktails authorized by the United Kingdom Bartender’s Guild. The recipe pamphlet lacks a date, and seems to be published when Harry Craddock was President of the Guild. The Bartender calls for Martini Dry, may be referring to China Martini, but more than likely it is just another word for Dry Vermouth seeing how it is used in other drinks (Craddock). The drink specifically calls for Grand Marnier, which means that they do not want the use of a lighter flavored orange liqueur, such as Cointreau, seemingly to balance the sheer level of dry ingredients, as well as stand out on the finish.
For this cocktail, we have two ingredients I have yet to use or discuss in a cocktail. Let us start with Dubonnet. Dubonnet comes in two versions, blanc and rouge, with the red version being the more popular of the two (Null). It is an ingredient that is a classic, but many people ignore it, since it is rarely used, and while it is sweet to some extent, thereby being reminiscent of a port, it also contains quinine, which makes it rather similar to the original Lillet Blanc (Ibid). First sold in 1846, Dubonnet was created by Joseph Dubonnet, in order to encourage the French Foreign Legionnaires in north Africa to imbibe quinine, which helps to combat malaria (DoYouDubonnet.com). Quinine, which is the main ingredient used in Tonic water (think Gin and Tonic) is an interesting ingredient that functions both as an anti-inflammatory and has an extremely bitter taste. It comes only in a natural form from the bark of the Cichona tree (Wikipedia). Flavor wise, it has notes of orange and lemon zest, but also a slight smell of cherries and walnuts. The red version is sweet, but countered by the bitter flavors of the quinine, and is traditionally served as an aperitif, since it is an automatized and fortified wine, which encourages and stimulates the appetite of whoever quaffs the substance.
Sherry, the other ingredient which I have not discussed, is a fortified wine from the area of Jerez de la Frontera in Andalucia, which is a southwestern portion of Spain (Robinson 623). The term Sherry is restricted within the European Union, and is a corrupted form of the Spanish word Jerez, which has a French form in the word Xeres (Ibid). There are two main types of Sherry, Pale or fino, which comes from aging under the influence of the yeast flor (Ibid). Any other types are derived from this, and there is one exception, that being Palo Cortado, which is an intermediate type that naturally occurs between the styles of Amontillado and Oloroso. The city of Jerez, is one of the oldest wine-producing cities in Spain, and is quite possible established by the Phoenicians who founded the port of Cadiz in 1110 BC; the imperium shifted to that of the Carthaginians and then to that of the Romans (Ibid 624). After the Romans were removed around 400 CE, “southern Iberia was overrun by successive tribes of Vandals and Visigoths, who were in turn defeated by the Moors after the battle of Guadalete in 711)” (Ibid). Viticulture would continue, and would be expanded upon with the arrival of the Christians; Sherry would suffer many a set back, and would be on the verge of collapse many times since then (Ibid). The popularity of Sherry in England is thanks in part to the trade relationship between England and Spain in the late 15th century, and in the late 16th century, Sir Francis Drake would capture and plunder sherry from the Spanish which helped make it popular in Elizabethan England (Ibid). While Sherry features many different varieties, the kind used in this cocktail is the fino type, which comes only from the bodega located in Jerez, and is based on the appearance of flor which is a veil of yeast that forms on the surface of the wine as a film, and distinguishes fino from other styles of Sherry, which either leave leave the fino to become amontillado or is not found, and thus is a different type of Sherry (Ibid 625-626).
The drink has the flavors of the gin intermingling with the Dubonnet lightly on the background, is sweetened by the Dubonnet and lightly by the curacao, has the taste of Sherry and Vermouth intermingling on the finish of the drink, and has aromas of orange, herbs and juniper. Because of the Dubonnet, and the entire ethos of the drink being utterly dry for the most part, the drink is really an excellent aperitif. I wouldn’t pair this drink with anything, and only enjoy it by itself, since the drink has a myriad of complex flavors, is not too alcoholic, and is is utterly delightful on the tongue. I gave a sample to someone who thought there was some sort of citrus juice in it, and another person who was extremely surprised to learn the drink is completely alcoholic. While a dash of the Cointreau or Grand Marnier is not that noticeable, you can increase it to sweeten the drink lightly upwards of a third of an ounce (half a part) which emphasizes the orange notes and doesn’t seem to throw the drink out of balance.
Why is the cocktail called a Bartender? Who knows. Perhaps it is because the drink is a mixture of various delicate flavors which become even more palatable and intriguing thanks to the efforts of the bartender. The three fortified wines are usually drunk by themselves, so mixing the three is somewhat of a risk. It is the technique of bartender, the efforts, and the daring that creates the new flavor of the cocktail, much like any other concoction. Figuratively, the cocktail represents a bartender, who takes and mixes spirits together to produce a new flavor, to create reflection and thought in the imbiber, a man or woman who hopes that the customer enjoys the cocktail. Personally I feel the drink is called Bartender because it reflects the utmost idea that composes the profession, the lifestyle of bartending, to cause reflection, consideration, and provoke consideration in the imbiber with a new, but yet familiar, taste. Or perhaps, it is the etymology of the word: a bar, being a place to set objects upon, and tender, or gentle kindness. The bartender, who works at the bar, sets upon it with his efforts, a tender, and fascinating ethos that befits the bar. This drink, which is delicate, and yet complex, is something that inspires serenity in the imbiber. At least, it does that for me.
2/3 ounce dry Gin
2/3 ounce dry / fino Sherry
2/3 ounce dry / white / French Vermouth
2/3 ounce Dubonnet Rouge
1 dash curacao (Grand Marnier)
Stir all ingredients together in a glass with ice until chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass.
Craddock, Harry. Approved Cocktails: authorized by the United Kingdom Bartender’s Guild. London: Pall Mall LTD.
Dubonnet. “About Dubonnet.” DoYouDubonnet.com. http://www.doyoudubonnet.com/about.shtml (accessed April 11, 2010).
Milton’s Bar Guide. “Classic CocktailsGin-based (A-Bl).” MiltonsBarGuide.com. http://miltonsbarguide.com/ClassiccocktailsGinbased.html (accessed April 11, 2010).
Nell, Chris. 2008. “Review: Dubonnet.” Originally posted September 7th, 2008. DrinkHacker.com. http://www.drinkhacker.com/2008/09/07/review-dubonnet-rouge/ (accessed April 11, 2010).
Robinson, Jancis. 2006. The Oxford Companion to Wine. Originally published 1994. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Wikipedia contributors. “Dubonnet.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dubonnet (accessed April 11, 2010).
–. “Quinine.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quinine (accessed April 11, 2010).