The Dunhill: Reverse Another way

How many mixed drinks besides the Martini that are garnished with an olive can you think of? How many Martini variations do we need? And what makes Sherry a secret weapon for long nights?

If you stepped into a cocktail bar recently, chances are you observed the following: Inspired by the most recent iteration of James Bond, a young man, ostensibly not versed in the ways of the cocktail, orders the driest Martini the world has seen. The tragedy unfolds as he takes the first sip: He realises that to drink cold gin on an stomach filled with nothing but popcorn wasn’t the smartest of moves. But in the meantime he has staged himself as a connoisseur and first-class Bond and he can’t turn back. So he orders another Martini, made on polish vodka as it should be, and the evening comes to an end before it had a chance to unfurl.

Secret agent goes cold turkey

A case for a low-alcohol Martini: Enter the Dunhill. Coincidentally, this is also the name of an English men’s luxury brand, which offers everything from tobacco to watches to lighters. Fun fact: Sean Connery, the first and truest of Bonds, used such a Dunhill lighter in Dr. No.

But let talk about the drink itself: The problem with low-proof mixed drinks is that they are not particularly complex, use an unhealthy amount of sugar to carry the flavour and are still very easy to drink. Sherry is a blessing here, because it offers the same intensity of aromas as a spirit, but halves the ABV.

Bless the Sherry

The Dunhill is basically a Reverse Martini which splits the vermouth with Sherry, and adds Absinthe and Curaçao for complexity. In fact, it is much more interesting to drink than a Martini: The nose is lead by the absinthe, and in the first sip the gin starts off with its citrus aromas, leading to the more nutty notes in the Sherry.

This recipe is based on the Dunhill’s Special in the Savoy Cocktail Book from 1930. No recommendation for the kind of Sherry to be used is made here, but for the sake of balance the use of a dry Sherry, such as a Fino or an Amontillado, is advisable.

A Dunhill made with Fino Sherry is more similar to a Martini; made with Amontillado Sherry it’s closer to a dry Martinez. The author prefers the latter, and recommends to use the Star of Bombay Gin, which features almonds as one of its botanicals and fits in particularly well.

The Olive Affair

We still haven’t touched on the olive. The cocktail would be incomplete, it would lack this certain something, if you omitted the olive. If it’s the residual brine, or the association in the mind of the beholder, the olive brings out the maritime notes in the Sherry, which balances the light sweetness of the drink. This is also a good opportunity to invest in some nice olives.

Let me mention a last oddity: The Savoy Cocktail Book instructs you to first stir the drink, and then shake it. The experiment confirms the suspicion: That’s not a terribly good idea. The cocktail turns remarkably cold, but is overdiluted, becomes dominated by the Absinthe and one-dimensional. In general, drinks with Sherry taste best when thrown, and the Dunhill is definitely one of them.