The Breakfast Martini is not a drink named in irony. Its creator, Salvatore Calabrese, was inspired to create the drink in 1996 after an unplanned breakfast nosh, when his wife insisted that he take a break from his hectic morning and have a slice of toast slathered in orange marmalade. The flavor compelled him to experiment with marmalade at Library Bar, the London hotel bar where he was working at the time. He eventually hit on a winning formula: A bar spoon of orange marmalade, 1 and a quarter ounces of gin, a half-ounce ounce of Cointreau, and a half-ounce of lemon juice, shaken and strained. “Breakfast” was served.
Calabrese’s creation was an instant hit. While it was offered all day, it was a particularly popular tipple in the morning. “It was so unique and unusual that it sparked the customer’s interest,” Calabrese is quoted as saying in Robert Simonson’s book “Modern Classic Cocktails.” “So much so that people were asking for it as soon as we opened the bar at 11:00 a.m.”
In the decades since, the Breakfast Martini has built a solid status as a crisp, refreshing brunch staple with a flavor profile that rests comfortably between the sweetness of a Mimosa and the heft of a Bloody Mary. In a way, the drink has also become increasingly timeless. Thanks to the growing proliferation of weekday brunch and breakfast spots with cocktail programs, the Breakfast Martini has been able to grow into its name even further.
Still, the drink’s interplay of marmalade’s bittersweet notes, gin’s botanical essence, and citrus’ acidity gives it plenty of depth for evening consideration. Its composition also gives it great potential as a late-afternoon patio quaff, particularly with summer rapidly approaching. This versatility leads us to the notion that there is really no bad time for a Breakfast Martini — but is there a best time to enjoy the cocktail?
It’s a day drink…
The Breakfast Martini’s impeccable daytime bona fides were evident from the moment Calabrese dropped it on Library Bar’s all-day menu. Then again, the cocktail likely would have emerged as a popular daytime delight even if Calabrese hadn’t christened the drink with the beverage name, primarily due to the drink’s specs. “A Breakfast Martini caters toward breakfast and brunch exploration because it has this crisp citrus component that’s less spirit-forward,” explains David Colgate, lead mixologist at ARLO in San Diego. “This gives a person more cushion when paired with a meal like brunch, which can be heavier.”
“The cocktail doesn’t suddenly lose its status as a refreshing alternative to spirit-forward drinks when the sun starts to set.”
Even without the benefit of a dense plate of French toast or a hearty serving of eggs Benedict, the light refreshing nature of a classic Breakfast Martini can make it an ideal beverage to consider when engaged in a bit of day drinking. “A Breakfast Martini is a great example of a citrus-based morning drink,” explains Adam Montgomerie, bar manager at the Tales of the Cocktail-nominated bar Hawksmoor in New York City’s Flatiron District. “It works well in a breakfast or brunch situation, but it also works well as a reviver.”
Montgomerie also notes that the Breakfast Martini’s easy-drinking properties place the drink in a classification dubbed “anti-fogmatics.” These are drinks that, according to Hawksmoor’s menu, are pick-me-ups to be drunk “immediately on awakening, or at farthest, on getting out of bed.” Hawksmoor bases this classification off the rules established by a 19th-century document dubbed Toper’s Timetable. Created in 1874, the document describes the ideal drinks for corresponding hours of the day to help people quench thirst without interfering with their intended mood or mindset. It was a list somewhat built from necessity: “Toper’s Timetable was created during the Victorian era,” Montgomerie stated. “Water during the Victorian era was not that good to drink.”
…but it works so well beyond breakfast.
Toper’s Timetable strongly suggests breakfast and brunch as the best time for Breakfast Martini indulgence. That said, the cocktail doesn’t suddenly lose its status as a refreshing alternative to spirit-forward drinks when the sun starts to set. This can make ordering a Breakfast Martini an excellent idea well after you’ve stuffed the remaining cinnamon rolls and frittatas in to-go containers. “Since a Breakfast Martini is so crisp and refreshing, it’s a great drink to have at a casual social setting, the beginning of dinner, or even just starting off a night of drinking.” Colgate says.
“When it comes to determining the best time to indulge in a Breakfast Martini, your best bet may be to treat the “breakfast” in a Breakfast Martini as arbitrary and drink one whenever the mood strikes.”
The cocktail’s ingredients also allow its food-pairing ability to be perpetual. “I’d treat a Breakfast Martini in the same way I’d treat a Sauvignon Blanc,” Colgate explains. “The citrus notes can go very well with fish or shrimp, and it can also cut through a rich pasta dish like an Alfredo or a mushroom risotto.”
A Breakfast Martini’s complementary nature can also take it to some unexpected places around the clock. At Hawksmoor, Montgomerie offers a slightly more bitter, Aperol-spiked riff of the classic as part of their Sunday Roast. The afternoon feast stars a dry-aged, slow-roasted rump accompanied by crispy potatoes doused in beef dripping, bone marrow in onion gravy, veggies, and massive Yorkshire puddings, creating an experience that’s less Sunday brunch and more Thanksgiving feast. Pairing a marmalade-flavored Martini with this beefy meal may sound unorthodox, but it works. “You may think of the flavors of a Breakfast Martini as just being for breakfast, and it does have refreshing flavors,” Montgomerie states. “But it’s also a shaken gin cocktail. Any shaken gin cocktail can work with dinner.”
The Best Time Is Whatever Time You Like
The Breakfast Martini is distinctive, versatile, and delicious as hell. As such, when it comes to determining the best time to indulge in a Breakfast Martini, your best bet may be to treat the “breakfast” in a Breakfast Martini as arbitrary and drink one whenever the mood strikes.
Regardless of what time you choose to indulge in the concoction, one question remains: Is it actually a Martini? “Strictly speaking, no,” Montogomerie says. “But the Martini is king now, and more people know about what a Martini is and isn’t. So, I have no problem using the term ‘Breakfast Martini’ even if it isn’t one. If I did, I’d be taking myself too seriously.”