A Summer Ode to a Wintry Drink
We sent our critic north to review a martini and we got this poetic runner’s ode to the season. Must have been a good one.
We are running slowly up a long, steep stretch on Black Mountain Road in Jackson. The early morning sun washes the green-dappled mountain flanks in golden highlights and splashes through the leaves to spread rippling shadows on the faded asphalt. As we top a rise, the Knoll, an emphatic 2,010-foot summit, is framed before us by fields and farmhouses. It’s a cool summer morning in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, perfect for running off any lingering effects of the expertly made martinis we drank in the Mistletoe Pub the night before.
We’ve set out on this 5-mile loop from the Christmas Farm Inn, the resort that had drawn us northward with descriptions of signature martinis on its website. It’s not a single inn building, but a collection of historical oddments, the oldest dating to 1771. Among them are the first church in town, a working farmhouse, a jail and a barn, as well as a newer building full of comfortable suites and a collection of small cottages. The inn acquired its holiday name in the 1940s when a Philadelphian received it as a Christmas present from her father. She sold it not long after. The next owners reopened it as an inn, but kept Christmas in the name. For anyone wondering if a Christmas theme in high summer might feel like overkill, it doesn’t. There are the occasional boughs of greenery and bows, and suite names for the 12 Days of Christmas (room number “Eight Maids A Milking”) and statues and pictures of Father Christmas tucked here and there, but the overall sensibility of the place is fittingly historical.
It was not, however, historical interest that provided the initial catalyst for the trip, but rather, simple thirst. A highlight of the Christmas Farm Inn’s menu is its martini selection.
The seasonal cocktail menu at the Christmas Farm Inn has plenty of charmingly named creations, some of which ended in the letters, “tini,” as well as good assortment of single malt Scotches, but I was after the classic. A gin martini (is there really another kind?), up, dry, with a twist. My companion tested an equally classic martini-derivation: vodka, dirty (includes a bit of briny olive juice), garnished with olives.
Bartender John Paul (so popular he’s often mentioned in the inn’s Yelp reviews) was the perfect mix of attentiveness and discretion, and he applied those same characteristics to his cocktails. A failing of some martinis I’ve had in restaurants is to take the instruction “dry” to mean that I don’t want any vermouth, rather than simply a smaller-than-typical amount. Granted, the amount of vermouth used to mix a standard martini has declined since the drink’s invention. When I was in my 20s, it was popular to take the minimalist approach of simply shaking the unopened vermouth bottle in the direction of the cocktail, but this extreme denies the drink its subtlety. John Paul nailed it. The only thing that could have improved mine was an hour in the freezer for my glass before the drink was poured. The drinks lived up to our expectations and compared favorably to some of the best I’ve had. That’s how one turned into another as the cozy little pub filled up with pre-dinner conversation, traditional jazz and a huge bowl of mussels and garlicky butter (all of which I hoped was storing itself as fuel for our early morning run in the mountains).
We follow Black Mountain Road until it intersects with Moody Farm Road, which, after all that climbing, happily drops away to the west. The timeless geological elements that made Jackson and the surrounding region so appealing to our forebears still exist there, just up the street from Story Land, traffic jams and bustling outlet shopping in North Conway. The almost vehicle-free back roads that wind up and down mountainsides, the shadows of the pines, the austere peaks that seem to kindle and ennoble one’s spirit just by their existence.
Another left brings us to Carter Notch Road, running back south along Wildcat Brook and Jackson Falls. I imagine Henry David Thoreau picnicking just a few miles to the south when he toured Jackson. We are running almost pell-mell now, letting gravity pull us down the last steep descent. We are spurred on by the cool air, the bright sun, the exuberant freedom of moving your body through the mountains, and the thought of the good strong coffee they serve with breakfast at the inn. For as Thoreau said, “On tops of mountains, as everywhere to hopeful souls, it is always morning.”