Martini ClubWe talk to the founding members of Martini Club UK.
Published: 27th March 2021
Gin, whisky, rum, beer, cocktails. You name it, there’s most likely a number of dedicated clubs and groups who all love their drink of choice. And if it’s one thing that can bring people together, it’s alcohol. Social media, including Facebook and Instagram and video apps like Zoom and Skype, have made it easier than ever to have a digital social life, get involved with clubs and groups and share a common passion with other like minded people. In our new editorial series dedicated to gin clubs, we’ll be meeting the people and clubs from across the world that in one way or another celebrate and share their love of juniper based spirit – Gin!
In this feature, we meet the founders and organisers of Martini Club. Based in the UK, the club started off with a number of friends from the gin community meeting up online to discuss, learn and of course enjoy what many consider to be the king of classic cocktails, the Martini. As a cocktail, its place is firmly cemented in pop culture thanks to novelist Ian Fleming and the likes of Sean Connery’s portrayal of Fleming’s British Spy, James Bond (although some would argue it should have been stirred not shaken). With a number of bars and bartenders elevating the Martini to an art like Javier de las Muelas, the founder of the Dry Martini Bars, or Martini maestro Alessandro Palazzi at Dukes Bar, the Martini legacy is in safe hands.
We caught up with the founders, Anthony Brimacombe (below left), Julian Vallis and Sandra Lim (below right), to learn more about what inspired them to create Martini Club, what the club is all about and also what we can expect from the first annual World Martini Day, scheduled to take place in June this year.
Can you tell us what Martini Club is all about?
Martini Club is a bunch of Martini enthusiasts who come together to share the passion and knowledge and learn more about Martinis. We held our inaugural meeting in May 2020, the brainchild of Anthony Brimacombe, Julian Vallis and Sandra Lim who asked members of Negroni Club, sister to Martini Club, whether they’d like to do a similar thing for Martinis. This was also borne out of lockdown, where we had the opportunity to welcome members who are normally not based in London.
The Martini is a drink with almost mythical status, and it’s known as the King of Cocktails, but few understand why. So, we first looked at it objectively by looking back and understanding our own journey to enjoying Martinis.
The first thing we recognised is that Martinis have a perceived high barrier to entry. If you order a Martini at a bar, the bartender will ask you a series of questions of how you like it: dry, wet, dirty, burnt etc, which at first glance is an alien language and rather daunting to someone starting on their Martini journey.
This led to our first goal, which is to help educate everyone about all factors about the Martini. The Martini is a whole family of cocktails… as well as a single cocktail! Martini Club therefore covers Martinez, Marguerite, ‘Club’ Martinis (e.g. Tuxedo, Turf Club, Ford Cocktail) and all direct derivatives of a Martini (Dry, Dirty, Gibson, Vesper, Burnt, Filthy etc). The preparation, method, garnish, ratios of gin to vermouth, what spirit you use (normally gin or vodka), the vermouth and finally the style are the 7 critical ‘knobs’ to twiddle that all play a part in making someone’s perfect Martini, and it’s only by understanding all of these aspects that someone will actually find their perfect Martini. Certain ‘shortcuts’ can be taken, as a Martinez for example, is infinitely more approachable and ‘friendly’ than a Dry Martini.
The second problem with Martinis is that Martini drinkers are very opinionated, and there are many, many pointless arguments as to some liking Martinis dryer than others all the way down to the number of olives you should have on a cocktail stick (Anthony screams: “odd number only”!) and even if you should use a cocktail stick at all.
Our most important rule in Martini Club is remove any and all judgment, and make it very clear that everyone will be on a different stage of their Martini journey, as it’s only natural that seasoned Martini drinkers prefer their drinks dryer while newcomers like them tastier and wetter: it’s just evolution of peoples’ palates. So, while we encourage members to discuss their opinions (after all, variety is the spice of life), we monitor and moderate opinion so it’s stated without antagonism and with merit and most importantly, jovially so that discussion is informed, responsible and interesting and fun!
The next thing we realised is that there’s a huge availability issue of bars serving great Martinis. Londoners (where Sandra and Julian reside) are very spoiled as they have a huge selection of the World’s Best Bars, and finding a genuinely amazing Martini isn’t difficult. We recognised that in other parts of the UK, people aren’t as spoiled for choice, but there are Martini lovers in all the far corners of the UK. So occasionally, some of our meets are prescribed to let a great bar show off exactly why they are considered a ‘world’s best bar’ both from their hospitality and the quality of the drink, as it’s an experience like no other.
But the absolutely core guiding principle of Martini Club is that it’s a social group of Martini lovers and friends all enjoying a common passion. Members are quite discerning having learned from each other about genuinely amazing Martinis, it’s massively rewarding for us (Anthony, Julian and Sandra) to see members grow more and more familiar and confident with this amazing drink.
As we’ve only operated during the pandemic, we have only hosted online virtual Martini Club meetings on Zoom, but once the bars open again, we will also be hosting Martini Clubs in bars to allow members to experience the full gamut of emotion and hospitality around the Martini.
What are your names and what are your backgrounds?
Anthony Brimacombe (aka @BrimAndTonic on Instagram and Twitter) was born and raised in Kent meaning his early forays in alcohol were beer and cider. Work colleagues introduced him to gin in 2016 and he has since made up for lost time by drinking gin with ‘extreme enthusiasm’. That same year he was taken by his boss to Duke’s Bar where he experienced his first Martini. If your first Martini is a Duke’s Martini, it’s inevitable you’re going to end up being a founding member of Martini Club!
Julian Vallis is a massive spirits, bars and cocktail nerd, sharing his passion with his other half, Sandra Lim, honed over more than a decade. An unorthodox history, having learned from mentors Sarah Mitchell and Adam Smithson at the first ever ‘meet the maker’ sessions in Graphic Bar, London in 2009-10, he then gained a cocktail making passion, sparked at a masterclass hosted by Bombay Sapphire during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee (2012). After years of experimenting and tasting privately, and having long helped with Negroni Club, last year he established the sister Martini Club. He can be found dwelling at most of the best bars around the world, and recently begun to share his cocktails and insight on Instagram and Twitter under his own name @julianvallis.
Sandra Lim, more popularly known as Juniperchick, has been championing gin and cocktails before gin became fashionable, even before she came to London in 2002. A passionate supporter of hospitality, she can also be found propping up some of the best bars around the world with her other half, Julian Vallis. She is one of the founders of Martini Club, and since meeting Julian in 2005, she shares his passion developing their cocktails on Instagram (@TheRealJuniperchick) and Twitter (@Juniperchick).
In all our cases, we’ve learned and keep learning about spirits, cocktails and hospitality with an enormous passion. Martini Club is a natural manifestation of our joint passion to share it with everyone.
How can people join Martini Club and get involved?
Due to our founding principles of trying to democratise the Martini, membership to Martini Club will always be free, at it’s a key aim of ours to get more people drinking Martinis. Some events are chargeable if we’re providing pouches of gin and / or vermouth but it’s not mandatory to buy them – you can join the Zoom and drink from your own collection for free!
You can find us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook (all @MartiniClubUK) and of course our site at www.martiniclubuk.com.
What inspired you to start Martini Club?
It’s a very simple answer: our love for Martinis!
The longer answer is the founders are jointly all massive spirits enthusiasts and love to explore spirits, cocktails and flavours. As you can see from our other answers, we find the Martini is the ultimate way of tasting spirits, particularly gin and vodka to show off exactly what a spirit can do, and given a Dry Martini often has over 85% of pure spirit, it’s one of the very best ways to sample and taste a spirit.
Can you provide some examples of recent Martini Club events?
18 May 2020: Our Inaugural online event
20 July 2020: Martinez and other sweeter styles
21 September 2020: Classic Variations
16 November 2020: An evening with Marian Beke of The Gibson Bar
15 March 2021: Vermouth Special based around Mancino
Why do you think the Martini has had such lasting appeal?
To answer this question, we believe you need to understand why the Martini is considered the King of Cocktails. By really analysing cocktails, you’ll find the Martini is at the root of the family tree of pretty much all cocktails, meaning that almost every cocktail can be deconstructed into a form of Martini.
Take the humble G&T for example and let’s deconstruct the second ingredient, tonic. What is it? It’s a quinine and sugar syrup with added soda.
Some types of fortified wines (and very similar to vermouth) are known as ‘Chinatos’ in Italy or ‘Quinquinas’ in French, which is fortified wine infused with quinine as opposed to wormwood. Therefore, you can ‘reconstruct’ a G&T by adding gin, a Chinato, some sugar syrup and soda water, or you could simply call a G&T a ‘Martini Chinato with Soda’.
The same is true with Negronis – add an aperitif bitter to a Martini. Or a Pegu Club: add lemon juice to a Martini… the list is endless.
So, the Martini is the drink that is the root of the family tree and transcends pretty much all other cocktails. It is the simplest, most elegant, most spirit forward, most exposing and most rewarding cocktail there is, and that’s the reason we believe the Martini is both the King of Cocktails and has such lasting appeal.
How would you describe the Martini for someone who’s never tried it?
A Martini is a spirit-forward drink of white spirit (usually gin or vodka) tempered with aromatised wine (usually vermouth).
It is not a drink to quench thirst, but one that is infinitely complex to savour. Despite it only having two ingredients, it exposes or embellishes the quality of both spirit and aromatised wine to maximum effect, and we believe is one of the best ways to truly evaluate, experience and savour any spirit.
While a ‘Martini’ without a prefix is always made with gin, you can have ‘Vodka Martinis’ made with vodka, and in fact any combination of white spirit and aromatised wine. While the IBA (International Bartenders Association) define it as a minimum 6:1 gin:vermouth, we also embrace derivatives using any white spirit and aromatised wine.
Whiskies have their own class of cocktails that precede the Martini, and the ‘Whisky Martini’ is a Manhattan. In general terms as above, we would always term any aged spirit like whisky or cognac as a derivative of the Manhattan instead, a drink of equal if not more revered status than the Martini.
What do you think makes a good Martini?
Any good quality spirit and aromatised wine.
There is nowhere to hide in a Martini, and it will reward any virtue as much as it will expose any defect of either the spirit or vermouth. Thus, never be afraid to use extremely good quality spirits and vermouths in your Martinis as more quality is most definitely more in the resulting Martini.
Likewise, with Manhattans, Martinis are the one cocktail that you can use even the most precious ingredients in to appreciate the brilliance of a spirit. This is why you often see $1,000 Manhattans served in bars using extremely rare ingredients.
But there is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ Martini that we or anyone can say as the definitive article. The ideal, perfect Martini is the best Martini you’ve personally had, and even then only in a particular moment. It is a journey for each and every drinker through trial and error to discover theirs.
Do you have any tips on making a great Martini at home?
This is a long, fraught and very opinionated question to answer!
For a quick pointer: freeze your glass, stir only until just cold enough with loads of ice, use really good quality ingredients and most importantly: enjoy it!
Martinis hide nothing, so all the little details matter:
All these factors matter, and it’s no coincidence we identified each of these as chapters in our comprehensive guide for ‘How to find your perfect Martini’, which we update regularly as we continue to learn. Read it here. If you’re looking to really get into Martinis, we strongly recommend everyone to take some time to read it, as it helps us and anyone else help you develop your Martini passion.
What’s your ultimate Martini?
We don’t have one!
The perfect Martini is only the perfect Martini in a particular moment in time or occasion and your mood. Sometimes you want an extremely approachable Martini after a meal, in which case we will probably indulge in a Martinez. Sometimes you need to clean your palate, and an extremely clean Dry Martini is called for. Sometimes we just want the lusciousness of orange, so we add orange liqueur to make a Marguerite. And other times, you just want to assess what a spirit or vermouth can do, so you experiment with making a Martini.
It all depends on the mood and moment. Martinis are very personal to you, and only you, so there’s a lot of emotion invested in the cocktail.
What is always true however is we will ensure we at least try pair the ideal vermouth with the spirit or vice versa to ensure the style of Martini we choose is the best it can be.
But if we’re pressed for our favourites: Anthony would go for a 10:1 Plymouth Gin to Dolin Dry vermouth stirred with a lemon twist (8:1 with Plymouth Navy). Julian is in love with a Procera and Sacred Dry with a lemon twist, served direct per Alessandro Palazzi’s way, and Sandra adores a Tanqueray 10 with Dolin stirred at 6:1 with a grapefruit or lemon twist.
You recently established and launched World Martini Day, what can we expect and how can people and bars get involved?
World Martini Day is held on the third Saturday of June every year. Traditionally it was held on June 19, but in 2021 since June 19 is the third Saturday, we are rescheduling to be one week after World Gin Day. Thus the week between the second and third Saturday is therefore a huge industry-wide celebration of gin and its cocktails.
There are a few things we’d love to see in the run-up to the day and on World Martini Day. The day is for everyone and we welcome everyone to be involved.
As a Martini drinker, please share your Martinis you’ve enjoyed from participating retailers, bars and brands for World Martini Day using the #WorldMartiniDay hashtag.
As a brand, the aim of World Martini Day is help you allow consumers to experience your products in a Martini and to embrace and create more Martini drinkers. We encourage you to work with your on-trade accounts, particularly bars and retailers to promote Martinis and make them as approachable as possible, with an emphasis on guiding and educating consumers to discovering their perfect Martini.
As a bar, this is your day to show off the ultimate manifestation of the industry in a cocktail, the atmosphere of your bar and your hospitality. You are the ambassadors of the Martini, and by representing it to your customers, you will hopefully gain a loyal customer base that is enthralled by this amazing cocktail.
Retailers, please work with your spirits and aromatised accounts together to pair spirits and vermouths or any other aromatised wine to create ‘Martini packs’ so people who are unable to visit bars and experience great Martinis at home.