The classic martini is a timeless drink for a reason. Starring high-quality gin and vermouth, with room for a salty olive or bright lemon twist, martinis are ubiquitous in every bartender’s repertoire.
But the Ford cocktail? That’s a little more obscure. While its recipe looks familiar – equal parts gin and dry vermouth with a citrus garnish – the Ford invites a couple of curveballs in the form of Bénédictine and by specifically requiring Old Tom gin.
What sets the Ford apart from a standard martini? Keep reading to find out more about the drink’s ingredients, history and how to make one for yourself.
Herbal and complex, the Ford cocktail is like stepping into a time machine. With equal parts Old Tom gin and vermouth, it’s strong on flavor but slightly lower in terms of ABV (alcohol by volume) than a standard martini. With some roundness and weight on the palate (brought by both the Old Tom gin and Bénédictine), the cocktail demands to be savored. Subtle orange offsets the herbal, lightly bitter notes for a refined, almost high-brow finish.
While Old Tom gin must contain juniper (like all other gin), all other rules around it are a little more lax, with a multitude of variations. What is consistent, however, is that when recipes call for Old Tom gin specifically, they’re relying on the gin to be a maltier, more viscous pour than, say, London Dry.
It’s also drier than Genever, providing a stepping stone between London Dry’s austerity and Genever’s richness. In the Ford cocktail, using Old Tom provides a sophisticated round palate without leaning syrupy. It leaves room for our next friend, Bénédictine.
Reminiscent of the more familiar classic martini, the Ford cocktail introduces Bénédictine for some added richness.
With 27 herbs and spices, and most of them a secret, Bénédictine’s plush, aromatic flavors are multilayered. Known ingredients include saffron, cinnamon and juniper, creating a honeyed, spicy liquor that can be used as an aperitif or an accent note in a cocktail.
Entirely unique, it pairs well with dark and light spirits alike depending on the ratios and desired effect. With gin, as we see in the Ford, just a touch of Bénédictine goes a long way. In this play on a hot toddy, Bénédictine is the star with some bourbon backup.
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While many attribute the name to automaker Henry Ford, it predates the inventor and is likely named for Malcolm Webster Ford, a famous athlete of the time.
The Ford (Adapted from Modern American Drinks by George J. Kappeler, 1895)
More than a basic martini, the Ford cocktail captures a slice of a more sophisticated time in a glass. Equally at home in an art deco lounge or a garden party, the Ford is a fanciful twist on an old favorite.
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The New York Times described Ridge Monte Bello as “America’s greatest Cabernet Sauvignon.”
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