Martin Cate

This is the Fourth in an ongoing series of bartender features on the Underhill-lounge.

Previously, I had experimented by asking the bartender at Montgomery Place to make me a Bombay Cocktail No. 2, but this just seemed to result in a grumpy bartender.

To make it less of a shock, I thought I would contact some local bartenders and give them a choice of the dozen or so Savoy Cocktails that might be coming up in the book.

Surprisingly, some actually were game.

Continuing from Flora with the out of town bars, I traveled to Lincoln and Sherman to meet up with Martin Cate at the bar he co-owns there, Forbidden Island.

Now, it’s true that the Tiki phenomenon really didn’t take off in the US until after World War II, but, a lot of the philosophies Martin takes with the bar fit in with Pre-prohibition ideas of bartending. Home made ingredients, (Falernum, Arrack Punch, etc.) fresh juice rather than mix, really hard working bartenders. In fact, should you feel like a sidecar or Martini, you can be sure it will be made with the same care the bartenders put into their exotic, complicated tiki creations.

This Tiki guards the door…

And Martin Cate guards the bar.

Martin Cate is co-owner, designer, and chief mixologist of Forbidden Island Tiki Lounge in Alameda, CA, the first new tiki bar in America to be dedicated to recreating vintage exotic cocktails with authentic ingredients, premium spirits, and fresh squeezed juices.  Martin and his original cocktails have been featured in San Francisco Magazine, Imbibe, Sunset, Food & Wine, the San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today, the Today Show, and more.  Martin trained as a bartender at Trader Vic’s flagship San Francisco location and is a member of the United States Bartenders Guild.  He is also a passionate rum collector, bar consultant, and columnist for the Difford’s Guide.

First off, I have to apologize for the quality of photos here. Tiki bars are very dark and I should have brought along an auxiliary light. As Martin explained to me, the philosophy of the bar is all about escape. Pretending you are on a tropical island, not just on the way home from work, you don’t want to see the laundromat or nail salon across the street.

Also, I don’t know what it is about the Regan’s Orange Bitters, but it seems like every time Gary Regan’s face is in the frame the camera chooses to focus on him instead of the cocktail. Must be his magnetic personality, even just in picture!


East Indian Cocktail

Equal parts of French Vermouth (Noilly Prat) and Sherry, with a dash of (Regan’s) Orange Bitters.

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

Not much to say here, we tried this other than it tastes like Sherry and dry vermouth. A nice aperitif cocktail, would probably go well with food. We tried it with an Osborne Fino and a Manzanilla. We both preferred the Fino.

Eclipse Cocktail

1/3 Dry Gin. (Plymouth)
2/3 Sloe Gin. (Plymouth Sloe Gin)

Put enough Grenadine (Forbidden Island Home Made) in a cocktail glass to cover a ripe olive. Mix the spirits together and pour gently on to the grenadine so that it does not mix. Squeeze orange peel on top.

An interesting experiment in physics and very difficult to get a photo of especially in a dark bar. The olive floats to the top of the grenadine and hangs at the intersection between it and the mixture of sloe and dry gin.

Martin was good enough to bring in his personal stash of Plymouth Sloe Gin for me to try and I brought along the bottle of Lindisfarne Sloe Gin I scored the last time we were in England. The Lindisfarne is much more tart and bitter than the mellower Plymouth.

I was surprised that the Sloe Gin really does provide enough tartness to make this a pretty interesting combination. Martin’s comment was, “there’s a good cocktail in this somewhere.” The olive, though, is a bit odd. Some comparison between the floating olive and a finger came up. Maybe a good Halloween cocktail?

Eddie Brown Cocktail

2 Dashes Apricot Brandy. (De Kuyper)
1/3 Glass Kina Lillet. (Lillet Blanc)
2/3 Glass Dry Gin. (Plymouth)

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass. Squeeze lemon peel on top.

This Martini variation proved to be the most popular cocktail of the evening with much of the staff. It is a fine sophisticated cocktail.

East India Cocktail

1/8 Pineapple Juice.
1/8 Orange Curacao. (DeKuyper)
1 Dash Angostura Bitters.
3/4 Brandy. (Missed the brand)

Stir well and strain into cocktail glass.

This isn’t an unpleasant cocktail, but it didn’t it really stand out. Missed its photo op, unfortunately.

Eagle’s Dream Cocktail

1 Teaspoonful of Powdered Sugar.
The white of 1 Egg.
The Juice of 1/4 Lemon.
1/4 Crème Yvette. (Hermes Violet Liqueur)
3/4 Dry Gin. (Plymouth)

Shake well and strain into medium size glass.

My friends Anita and Cameron over at Married…With Dinner were kind enough to loan me their bottle of Hermes Violet Liqueur for this cocktail. The Rothman and Winter Violette is a little too austere to be an appropriate substitute for Creme Yvette.

Also, interesting to taste just how different the Hermes and R&W violet liqueurs are. The R&W is clearly all about the violet and the Hermes has quite a few adjunct flavors. Some citrus, maybe vanilla.

Martin’s comment was, “This tastes like Brunch.” I felt like it tasted like brunch for blue haired grandmothers. The first few sips are good, but it’s a little much for me after that.

At about this point, I began to realize that instead of choosing a couple of cocktails out of a dozen, Martin had decided to plow through all 12 (well, 11, we didn’t have an appropriate substitute for “Prunelle”.) Well, goddamn, that helps me get some speed on this thing!

In an evening of special treats, this treat was the real stand out. Martin convinced Lance Winters of St. George/Hangar One to part with a small sample of his then soon to be released Absinthe for us to taste. I was impressed with how well distilled this product was. Very smooth and easy to drink. He’s using a good portion of star anise instead of simply going with green anise, giving it a bit more of a bite and a modern flavor profile. He’s also got some unusual herbs in there that stand out in the aroma and early flavors. Still, all in all, a very solid Absinthe.

Very cool that the first legally distilled American Absinthe since the ban is a good one.

The Earthquake Cocktail

1/3 Gin. (Plymouth Gin)
1/3 Whisky. (Cutty Sark Scotch)
1/3 Absinthe. (St. George Absinthe)

Shake well and serve in cocktail glass.

Note: So Called because if there should happen to be an earthquake when you are drinking it, it won’t matter. This is a cocktail whose potency is not to be taken too lightly or for that matter, too frequently!

I would say, it shouldn’t be “taken too frequently” mostly because it is just not a very good cocktail. Having made the Bunny Hug, I knew what to expect. Maybe there is some magical combination of particular brands of Gin, Whisky, and Absinthe where this doesn’t just taste like a big glass of booze, and maybe there are some folks who enjoy it. Mostly I felt a bit sad to be using a fine Absinthe in this cocktail which seems like nothing more than something to get you as drunk as possible as quick as possible. About the only thing I could think of to speed the path of the alcohol to your cortex, would be to top it up with Champagne.

East and West Cocktail

1 Dash Lemon Juice.
1/4 Bacardi Rum. (Cruzan White)
3/4 East India Punch. (Forbidden Island house made Arrack Punch)

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

Note: Created to mark the arrival in London of a Ruling Indian Prince.

Cocktaildb indicates that the now defunct East India Punch was likely, “Likely to have been a brand or other descriptive designation for a Swedish Punsch-style liqueur.”

I brought my Swedish punch, but Martin has been making an Arrack Punch in house with lemon, cardamom, and sugar, so we used that instead. Whoa! Nice stuff, but that Arrack goes straight to your head.

Amusingly, even though Martin digs it, the Batavia Arrack has not been overly popular with some of the staff. I forget the exact words they used to describe its flavor, but they were not very complimentary. However, we did get a few grudging, “that’s not bad,” and, “pretty good,” comments for this cocktail and they seemed to come back and try it again after the initial taste. Unfortunately, I also missed getting a photo of this one. To me, one of the more enjoyable cocktails of the evening.

Elk’s Own Cocktail

The White of 1 Egg.
1/2 Canadian Club Whisky.
1/2 Port Wine. (Ruby Port)
The Juice of 1/2 Lemon.
1 Teaspoonful Sugar.

Shake well, strain into wineglass and add a slice of pineapple.

I kind of liked this one, though some felt it tasted a bit like “watered down wine.” Certainly, there are not many modern cocktails with a similar flavor profile.

Elixir Cocktail

1/2 Kola Tonic. (Rose’s Cola Tonic)
1/2 Calvados. (Calvados Cardinal)

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

This was surprisingly tasty. The funk of the Calvados and the flavor of the Kola Tonic combined nicely. Not going to win any modern cocktail contests, but quite an interesting combination of flavors.

Empire Cocktail

1/4 Apricot Brandy. (DeKuyper)
1/4 Calvados. (Calvados Cardinal)
1/2 Gin. (Plymouth Gin)

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

Pleasant, light, and not too sweet, this was good, but didn’t win any popularity contests.

E. Nos Cocktail

1/3 French Vermouth. (Noilly Prat Dry)
2/3 Nicholson’s Gin. (Anchor Junipero and dash of simple)
3 Dashes of Absinthe. (St. George Spirits Absinthe)

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

From what I can tell, Nicholson’s Lamplighter was an Old-Tom style gin, so I asked Martin to use the Anchor Junipero (he was doubtful) with a dash of simple. I really liked this cocktail, the touch of sweetness really brings the Gin and Absinthe to life. Probably, my favorite of the evening. I love the slightly translucent hint of the Absinthe louching out its oils.

The line up of dead soldiers above and Mr. Cate’s original cocktail below:

The Dead Reckoning

2 oz Cockspur 12 year rum
.5 oz Navan Vanilla Liqueur
.5 oz pure maple syrup
.5 oz tawny port
1 oz fresh lemon juice
1 oz pineapple juice
dash angostura bitters

shake/strain into a hiball glass over fresh ice and top with 1 oz soda water.  Garnish with Pineapple wedge, mint spring, and lemon spiral.

As always, it’s a lot of fun to taste these vintage cocktails with bartenders and see and hear their reactions. I had a great time, and was certainly treated with that famous generous Tiki hospitality. Not only that, but in a single evening, Martin helped managed to kill just about all of the “E” cocktails. Holy crap.
Interestingly, the next day my friend’s Theremin Lounge band, Project Pimento, played a gig at Forbidden Island.

Late Saturday afternoon had been pretty quiet, with all of us in the bar having a chance to chat, bullshit, and try the Savoy cocktails.

Forbidden Island with Project Pimento playing was an entirely different matter.

The place was packed, standing room only with patrons lined up several deep at the bar. It was totally impressive to see the Forbidden Island machine going full tilt. Martin greeting guests, placing orders, and serving. The two bartenders at their stations making those incredibly complicated Tiki drinks non-stop. The other server carrying trays of huge drinks out to the tables and standing guests. I have to give a shout out to the bartenders Melanie and Lara, along with the server Stephanie. Not only were they incredibly personable and pleasant to talk to, but those girls kicked ass. Anyone who doesn’t think bartenders work hard or that a bar can’t do both quality and volume hasn’t seen Forbidden Island in action.

This post is one in a series documenting my ongoing effort to make all of the cocktails in the Savoy Cocktail Book, starting at the first, Abbey, and ending at the last, Zed.