Three Ways: Lychee Martini

Born of the oft-maligned era in the late ’90s and early aughts when everything became an overly sweet ’tini, the Lychee Martini is most often credited to New York City “clubstaurants” like Lot 61 and Korean restaurant Clay. But whether due to pure nostalgia or the fact that bartenders are a group that tend to love a challenge, the Lychee Martini is back and—at the risk of cliché—it’s better than ever. From stripping the drink down to its barest essentials, to taking the flavor profile in a whole new direction, here are three versions worth breaking out the Martini glasses.

Lychee Martini

Leaning into a contemporary vision of retro New York glamour, West Village restaurant Holiday Bar chose to make the Lychee Martini their signature cocktail. Created by beverage director Simon Sebbah, Holiday’s version is crisp, clean, and crystal clear, with a healthy pour of vodka providing a backbone to the lychee liqueur, while manzanilla sherry adds some complementary floral complexity, and a dash of saline rounds it all out. “It’s a perfect balance of what you would expect a Lychee Martini to taste like, and a different riff on a fruity, refreshing version by just staying in a clear, cold, standard Martini recipe,” says Sebbah. “It just took off—it’s like 90 percent of sales on the drink menu.” 

2 oz. vodka
1 oz. lychee liqueur
1 oz. manzanilla sherry
2 drops saline solution (1:1)

Tools: mixing glass, barspoon, strainer
Glass: Martini
Garnish: speared lychee fruit

To mix the drink, combine all the ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Stir until well chilled, then strain into a frozen Martini glass and garnish.

Simon Sebbah, Holiday Bar, New York City

Another Lychee Martini

Contrary to its tongue-in-cheek name, this version from beverage director Mona McAllen at Brush Sushi in Atlanta gets creative with layers of flavor and texture, utilizing fresh lychee purée, elderflower liqueur, and adding body to the vodka base with a nigori sake. “The sweetness of lychee purée plays really well with the floral notes of elderflower and the richness of nigori sake, which imparts a soft creaminess and a little body to the cocktail,” says McAllen. For balance, she includes fresh lemon and a black tea syrup, made by brewing the tea extra strong at a 4:1 ratio, then adding an equal amount of sugar. (McAllen uses a lychee-infused black tea, but notes that plain black tea works fine.) “Black tea syrup gives a touch of tannin, and the lemon helps to brighten the cocktail without overpowering the lychee flavor.”

1 1/2 oz. vodka
3/4 oz. lychee purée (such as Perfect Purée)
1/2 oz. Nigori sake
1/4 oz. black tea syrup
1/4 oz. elderflower liqueur
1 barspoon fresh lemon juice

Tools: shaker, strainer
Glass: Martini
Garnish: fresh lychee fruit and spritz of rose water (optional)

To make the cocktail, in a shaker with ice add all the ingredients. Shake well and strain into a chilled Martini glass and garnish.

Mona McAllen, Brush Sushi, Atlanta

Madeline’s Lychee Martini

At Madeline’s Martini, a new bar in Manhattan’s Alphabet City dedicated to the art of the drink, putting a Lychee Martini on the menu was a given. More surprising, perhaps, is the fact that “it’s become one of our most popular cocktails at Madeline’s,” says owner Robert Ceraso. Eschewing the traditional vodka base, recipe creator Peter Canny instead reaches for tequila and a house-made salted lychee syrup. “The change of spirit to tequila adds an earthiness that really comes through with the addition of the salt in the syrup,” says Ceraso. “The combination creates a really unique flavor that reminds you of the original but with a more complex profile.”

2 oz. blanco tequila
1 oz. salted lychee syrup
3/4 oz. fresh lemon juice
1/4 oz. simple syrup (1:1)

Tools: shaker, fine-mesh strainer, strainer
Glass: Martini
Garnish: lychee fruit

To mix the cocktail, in a shaker with ice combine all the ingredients. Shake well, then double strain into a chilled Martini glass and garnish.
Salted Lychee SyrupTo make the syrup, in a blender combine all of the syrup from a 20-oz. can of lychee fruit, and half of the fruit (reserving the rest for garnishes) plus 2 oz. of ume plum liqueur and 1 oz. of saline solution (2 parts water, 1 part salt). Blend well, then fine strain and bottle for use within one week.

Peter Canny, Madeline’s Martini, New York City

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