Last weekend I had some lychees sitting on my kitchen counter, threatening to be fresh and delicious, really just begging me to muddle them. And what can I say? I caved in. I was in a similar situation with a bottle of Hayman’s Old Tom gin, and between the three of us, we had a little soiree. Old Tom gin, as you are probably aware, tastes like slightly sweeter London Dry gin. If you don’t have any, you can add a dash of simple syrup to two ounces of gin and come away with much the same product. Moreover, Hayman’s is a very fruit-forward gin, so it blends especially well with fruit flavors.
Now I know what you’re thinking: lychee-based drinks suck. I’m sure we’ve all seen the sad lychee “martinis” that many sushi shops lower themselves by serving. They invariably use vodka and sake and lychee liqueur, perhaps with some simple syrup. It’s true, you can use sake much like a fortified wine, as the proof and the flavor profile are both about right, but I think sake muddies the flavor of lychee — or maybe the other way around. And lychee liqueur? Skip it. A big part of the reason to make a liqueur out of a flavor is to preserve its aroma while losing any bracing qualities that come from a high acidity. Lychee is neither particularly acidic nor fragant, so we can get a much richer flavor by muddling a fresh, whole fruit.
I searched for “lychee cocktail” and “lychee martini” just now, and the summary of my extensive research suggests that the internet wants you to make a “lychee martini” consisting of vodka, possibly dry vermouth, and the syrup from canned lychees. As a bonus, you can use a couple of the canned lychees as a garnish! That could be a lot worse, but it could also be a lot better. If you were a bit more discerning, you might happen upon this substantially better lychee drink which uses white wine as the base. I am a big fan of Darcy O’Neil and I am sure his recipe is excellent, provided you use fresh lychees. I think white wine sounds like a great match for this fruit, and I will be sure to try his drink soon.
In the meantime, I was just winging it, and I came up with this:
Unnamed Lychee Drink
1.5 oz Old Tom Gin (Hayman’s)
.5 oz Dry Vermouth (Dolin)
.25 oz Lemon Juice
.25 oz Simple Syrup
2 lychees, skinned and seeded
Muddle the lychees in the simple syrup, and then add the other ingredients. Shake and then double-strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon.
Some lychees are a lot sweeter than others. Taste your drink as you’re making it, and decide if you like the ratio of sour lemon to fruit and syrup. You may find that you want it to be a little dryer, in which case, add just a dash more lemon. And please, don’t call it a lychee martini.