Grab a glass, have a seat and let me take you back to 2004.
The Boston Red Sox won the world series for the first time since 2018; Ronald Reagan, the 40th President of the United States, died after having suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for nearly a decade and the last Oldsmobile automobile rolled off the assembly line.
In that same year, the last episode of Friends was aired on NBC to an estimated 66 million viewers in Nth America alone; The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King won a record-tying 11 Oscars, and a bar with a red neon Psychic sign and an awning with the words Employees Only opens its doors in East Village.
Back in those days, the cocktail revival was well under way but the availability of product, tools, recipes and skill were far removed from what we see today. And a little red bombshell of a drink, The Mata Hari, appeared on the EO cocktail menu.
A sexy little number, the cocktail showed all who drank her what it was to be a modern classic and gave a sophisticated nod to the resourcefulness of its creators.
“When the guys first made this drink, a lot less of these artisanal liqueurs and products were available,” said Keith Larry a modern-day Principle Bartender at New York’s EO.
“Most bars were still not using fresh juices and even the choice of Vermouths was limited, so they were just trying to find ways to enrich a lot of the ingredients they were working with, so home infusions were a natural remedy for a lot of the more staid options.”
A combination of Brandy, Chai-infused vermouth, Lemon Juice, Sugar Syrup and Pomegranate Juice, The Mata Hari has been a staple on the cocktail menu at Employees Only for the past 15 years. Larry puts its popularity down to the richness of the drink.
“It really is a sexy and seductive drink,” Larry states. “The way that it creates a balance of sweet and sour, with the added spice of the Chai on top of that Pomogranite tartness is amazing. There’s really is something about that spice but also how refreshing it is that makes it stand out.”
When the drink was first created, the bar originally used a Cognac as the base for the drink, but once fellow New York bartender Jeff Bell released his Bertoux Brandy, they found that it worked so much better.
“We found the Bertoux Brandy filled out the drink nicely,” said Larry. “It has a nice buttery richness and some great floral note that works really well with the Pomegranate and the Chai. That really nice balance that the brandy creates gives the drink a great start and finish.”
Larry points out that infusing the Vermouth with Chai is not only easy to do but also well worth the effort, as adds an accentuated spiciness to the mix.
An easy weekend project, Larry instructs that you need to bring 8oz of Vermouth to the boil and then add two heaped tablespoons of Chai Tea, let it cool and then strain.
“You’re looking for a rich Italian Vermouth,” Larry suggests, maybe something like a Cocchi Torino, Antica Formula or even Dolin would work really well.”
The trick with this drink, Larry suggests, is to not allow it to get too diluted. For this reason, the bar uses a sugar syrup with a 1.5 to 1 ratio, as well as being careful in the way that they shake the drink.
“If you are using the standard 1 inch cubed ice at home, I would suggest that you only use about 4 or 5 cubes, “said Larry. “You want to give it a good hard shake but not for very long.
“A hard but quick shake will definitely let you get the air into the drink which helps with getting that wonderful cream coloured head on the drink. When the sugars mix with the acids, it not only adds to the mouthfeel but also plays against the deep red of the drink aesthetically.
0.75oz Lemon Juice
0.5oz Simple Syrup (1.5 to 1 ratio)
0.5oz Pomegranate Juice
1oz Chai Vermouth
1.25oz Bertoux Brandy
Combine all ingredients in a shaker tin and give it a quick, hard shake. Strain into a coupe glass.