Driving the Oyster-Martini Experience with Sidecars

by Sean Kenniff
Daniel Kreiger/@danielkrieger
September 2014

Restaurant

A Plymouth gin martini may be the best thing to have happened to shellfish since the Birth of Venus. And the best thing to have happened to the gin martini since Plymouth may be Maxwell Britten, bar director of Brooklyn’s Maison Premiere. This cocktail denizen has redefined “classic” with his drinks den and oyster bar, creating a neo-nostalgic aesthetic not only with his drinks, but also with the bar’s ambience. In October—one of those "r" months indicating prime time for oyster eating—at the 9th Annual StarChefs.com International Chefs Congress, Britten will be mixing honest, pairing Plymouth with oysters and doling out pearls of wisdom on the best ways to pair bivalves and classic libations on a menu.

Wine, beer, or cocktails? Britten is making the argument that “the gin martini is the truest, most classic pairing for oysters because of the parallels between’s oyster cultivation and gin distillation,” the bridge being terroir. Plymouth gin is a spirit with an appellation: a Protected Geographical Indication that assures the life-water was distilled in Plymouth, England. The heritage gin has been produced there since the 18th century, infused with angelica root, cardamom, coriander, juniper, lemon and orange peels, and orris root. Britten’s approach to pairing is to “treat the martini the same way I treat an oyster.” It’s all about the accoutrement, except in this case, cocktail sauce or mignonette will be swapped out for sidecars filled with martini garnishes that contrast or complement the species of oysters with which it’s paired. Britten’s martinis are mostly classic preparations, with variations on the vermouth and vermouth component.

Bar Director Maxwell Britten of Maison Premiere

Bar Director Maxwell Britten of Maison Premiere

Gin Martinis at Maison Premiere

Gin Martinis at Maison Premiere

Depending on the time of year, there are up to 30 oyster varieties on the menu at Maison Premiere—and Britten knows everything about all of them (history, terroir, even the species name … in Latin). Come October, Britten will be pairing martinis with four species of oyster: East Coast (Virginia to Prince Edward Island), Pacific (Pacific Northwest), Kumamoto (Pacific Northwest and Japan), and Olympia (Pacific Northwest). Just like at Maison, Britten's playing up or playing down brininess, sweetness, minerality, and gaminess, using the martini and his elaborate sidecar elements not only to enhance the sip-n-slurp experience, but also to wipe the palate clean with the final guzzle, so guests can move on refreshed for the next course or another martini.

The Officers Martini contains a seaweed-infused olive brine, dry vermouth, and gin with a sidecar of fennel fronds and a sardine. The Stag Hound mixes lemon bitters, oloroso sherry, and gin with three skewered castelvetrano olives and an earthy oyster leaf in riding sidecar. “Much of what I've done best in my career, so far, is just finding new and interesting ways to capture and define what is classic, creating timeless things and challenging them and being progressive,” says Britten. “Taking some classic ideas and finding away to make them work together, so that other people will fall in love with them.” Britten is at the center of a love triangle between gin, oyster, and guest. At this year’s ICC he’ll be shucking the secrets of being a modern matchmaker. East meet Pacific Northwest, gin meet oyster, bartenders meet new tactics for classic pairings.