Have you ever wondered what it takes to create a million-dollar idea? Well, for legendary mixologist and creator of the Pornstar Martini, Douglas Ankrah, it took a combination of a visit to the right place, a timely inspiration, and just the right amount of sunlight.
The idea came to him on a warm, sunny day in 1999. He’d travelled to Capetown, South Africa and was on his way to a bar called Mavericks. This was where he’d often written his upcoming book at the time, titled “Shaken” Douglas Ankrah’s Cocktails. But his trip to the bar on that day sparked a fascinating thought. It made him wonder. What would happen if he combined the most popular flavours at the time – prosecco, vodka, and passionfruit – into one drink?
Within fifteen minutes of the idea, Ankrah had a good idea of his first recipe. And since his inspiration was connected to Maverick bar, he called this new drink Maverick Martini. But his creation was still incomplete. He had to perfect the measurements and experiment with additional ingredients—like passoa, lime juice, sugar—to create the perfect drink. So, it wasn’t until he returned to London that his cocktail creation properly materialised.
In London, Ankrah owned the LAB Bar which was located in the heart of the Soho district. He’d founded it three years earlier as the London Academy of Bartenders in 1996, an academic institution that produced some of the top bartenders in London. The LAB Bar was transformed into a proper bar in 1999, quickly becoming one of London’s top drinking spots at the time. It was also where Ankrah first sold his Maverick Martini. But the cocktail didn’t gain proper commercial success until Ankrah introduced it in another bar he opened in 2002. This was Townhouse, located in Knightsbridge, London.
Ankrah soon noticed though that the drink’s name wasn’t quite right. In an interview with The Buyer, he admitted that ‘Maverick Martini’ didn’t quite capture the spirit of the drink. He wanted something catchy. Something exciting. Something that exemplified the three things an ideal bar scene should be. Bold. Sexy. Playful.
And few other names capture these three things better than the word, ‘Pornstar’. So he renamed his cocktail, ‘Pornstar Martini’.
There are some theories on the real reason Ankrah chose this name. Some say he was inspired by the whiff of a provocative perfume. Some others claim he had a favourite pornstar at the time. Ankrah debunked all these in his interview with The Buyer, asserting that he chose it simply because he thought it was something a pornstar would drink. He also believed it was an effective way to pique people’s attention. And he was right. The drink’s new name undeniably drew a lot of interest at first and continues to do so today. It’s the only reason many people even taste it in the first place.
The Unique Taste
To attribute the success of the Pornstar Martini purely to its name would be doing a great disservice. There are other unique factors, like its launching environment, taste and special method of service, that deserve some credit. First, Ankrah’s LAB Bar and Townhouse were both prime, popular partying spots at the time. Together, they attracted some of the finest crowds in London. They were arguably two of the best locations for any drink to have its introduction to the world. Particularly, LAB Bar was a haven for aspiring bartenders at the time. Among other things, these students learned the original Pornstar Martini recipe under Ankrah’s tutelage. When they graduated, they popularised the cocktail in their spaces, spreading it farther across London.
Equally, the taste of the Pornstar Martini was unique at that time. Its combination of passionfruit, vanilla vodka and brut champagne gives a fresh, evergreen flavour was enough to simultaneously stun and satisfy even the pickiest taste buds. It owes its freshness to the passionfruit which is flown more than 6,000 miles from South America to the UK. The passionfruit is split in half and placed on the martini, giving a direct taste of its sweet tartness with every sip. Additionally, the fruit’s strong citrus scent makes the martini even more pleasant to smell. This is why the Pornstar Martini is sometimes called Cocktail with Passion.
Another special attribute of the Pornstar Martini is in the way it is served. The champagne or prosecco is served in a shot glass alongside the martini. This near-theatrical service adds a splash of grandeur to the cocktail’s je ne sais quoi, making it the only drink that has another drink as a garnish. But for first-time drinkers especially, it also raises some interesting questions. For instance, do you drink one glass after the other? Or gobble both at the same time? The key is to remember to savour it. Sip it in bits. First the martini, then the prosecco. One after the other. This leads to a heightened drinking experience and is one more reason the cocktail became so popular when it was first introduced in the early 2000s.
Now, nearly two decades later, it is still the most popular cocktail recipe search on Google in the UK, enjoying an average monthly search volume of 165,000, beating the Espresso Martini's 110,000 by a considerable margin.
But its journey has not been without controversies – especially because of its name.
Controversies of the ‘Pornstar Martini’
One notable example of this is the 2019 complaint brought against retail giant Marks & Spencer (M&S). M&S had previously released its bottled version of the cocktail, giving it its original name, ‘Pornstar Martini’. But a member of the public complained that since the word ‘Pornstar’ widely referred to people paid for their sexual performances, M&S was encouraging such by naming its drink so. The Portman Group represented the complainant before the Independent Complaints Panel. The Panel agreed with M&S that nothing except the drink’s name was sexually suggestive. Yet, it ruled that the company could change it to something less provocative. Since M&S was a co-signatory of the Portman Group, it had to follow the Panel’s ruling. So, it changed the drink’s name to Passion Star Martini.
This controversy may even impact buyers’ likelihood to purchase the cocktail. Research by Travel Republic revealed that one in three Brits disapprove of sexually suggestive drink names, like Sex on the Beach and Pornstar Martini, and are less likely to order such while on holiday. But this has not stopped other retailers from cashing on the drink’s popularity over the years. They simply change the name to Passionfruit Martini to avoid any controversy.
Pornstar Martini recipe
There are many variations of Pornstar Martini recipes, in fact it's quite difficult to find two the same! During our 'Pornstar Martini workshop' at MicroBarBox, we found this variant to be the most delicious:
- 50ml Vanilla Vodka
- 15ml Passionfruit Liqueur
- 25ml Passionfruit Puree
- 15ml Sugar Syrup
- A splash of fresh lime juice
- Half a passionfruit to garnish
- A shot of Prosecco/Champagne
Note: If you’re out of vodka, you can substitute with white rum, dark rum or tequila. The taste will be slightly different but nonetheless refreshing.
- Put the vodka, liqueur, puree, sugar syrup and lime juice in the cocktail shaker and mix vigorously until smooth.
- Strain the mixture into the martini glass.
- Slice the passionfruit in half and float one half in the martini.
- Pour the bubbles in a shot glass and serve them together.