What is in a name?
That is an excellent question when it comes to the Kangaroo. There is not much history on this cocktail. It is know that when vodka hit America, it was a soft, glancing blow. The popularity of the Moscow Mule helped, but it was not until the discovery that you did not smell like liquor after a night of drinking that it really took off. The Sminoff "It Will Leave You Breathless" campaign helped put vodka on the map. And as before, every bartender of the era started adding it to existing cocktails to see what worked and what did not. The Martini took well to it, but the dry vermouth had to be dialed back. Changing the spirit makes it a different drink, and so the Kangaroo became the name given to it in a handful of cocktail books.
It did not stick. It was not long after that people would ask for a Vodkatini, or then a Vodka Martini. Then just a Martini, requiring the bartender to ask if they wanted it with vodka or gin. And the choice of spirit is a big deal. Gin has some body. It can hold its own against something with strong flavor and get away with it. Vodka, on the other hand does not. As David Wondrich once described it for Esquire, "Vodka is whiskey with low self-esteem. It'll mix with anything." It is completely bowled over by even a small amount of vermouth. To make a Kangaroo taste of anything other than vermouth you almost have to get rid of it, thus making every Kangaroo a very dry Martini.
2.5 oz./ 75 mL vodka
1.5 tsp dry vermouth
Garnish: Lemon twist or Olive
Combine the vodka and vermouth in a mixing tin. Stir the ingredients until chilled, then strain into the cocktail glass. Twist the lemon peel over the drink and add.
The vermouth in a Kangaroo is a difficult balancing act. Even the ten to one ration used in this cocktail left a good deal of the fortified wine on the palate. Most places do not even bother to add the vermouth to a Kangaroo, and I can see why. I can also see why olives, normal or stuffed with goodies, are added to the cocktail. It gives little bursts of flavor to the drink without being overpowering. Vodka is a blank canvas, but also a delicate one, to add flavor to.