I doubt there is another cocktail with as much folklore, wrongly attributed quotes, and alleged creators as the martini. A truly classic cocktail that, if you walk into a bar, anywhere in the world, the bartender will know precisely what you are asking for, gin and vermouth, chilled to perfection. This week I’m beginning my series “30 Martinis in 30 days” to show the historical progression of the drink and the infinite variations.
It took me a while to become a fully-fledged martini drinker. The first martini I had was made with vodka at the Cheers bar in Boston, I don’t think I detected a whiff of vermouth and I was not a fan. Looking back, this was probably not the best place to start, I’d recommend Duke’s Bar in London for a first-timer. The next was a luke-warm gin offering that also did nothing to win me over. I persisted and learnt from the best what makes a great martini – great gin, great vermouth, ratio, dilution and chilled to perfection. (Greg Sanderson from Eau de Vie gave me a great tutorial here.)
Before we begin, I’d like to point out that I’m not talking espresso martinis, appletinis or any of the “-tinis” that emerged in the ‘90s and got their names from the glass they were served in. We’re talking the classic gin martini.
Origins of the Martini
Any one of ten people are believed to have created the martini (including Harry Johnson, Jerry Thomas, Harry MacElhone), and there are almost as many stories as to the origins of the name – the vermouth creators Martini & Rossi, a town in California called Martinez, a musical prodigy named Schwarzendorf who changed his name to Martini, these are just a few of the options.
The martini emerged in the late 1880s and was made with Old Tom gin, the most prevalent gin of the era. As distillation improved and drier gins were achieved, the Martini became drier too. During the 1960s James Bond ushered in the era of the vodka Martini and the classic gin martini was relegated to the sidelines before the new gin craze and the resurgence of the cocktail culture brought about a renewed interest in this classic cocktail.
Choose the best you can afford. A martini really lets a gin shine, so it’s worth the extra cost. I favour a gin with lots of juniper. Tanqueray, Sipsmith, Melbourne Gin Company , West Winds ‘The Cutlass’ and Loch ‘The Weaver’ are some of my regular choices.
French, Italian, Australian? Try to choose the vermouth that you think will work best with the gin you’ve selected. My preference is Dolin, but Noilly Prat, Maidenii and La Quintyre are all in high rotation at GQHQ. Remember to keep your vermouth refrigerated, it’s a popular misconception that it doesn’t go off, but it will eventually and fresh vermouth will make all the difference to your martini.
This depends on the style of martini you are making – dry, sweet, wet, perfect, reverse (I’ll be sharing recipes for these over the coming weeks). For a Dry martini I like a 2:1 ratio, 60ml gin and 30ml vermouth. Some bars will offer 5:1 or higher. The less vermouth used, the drier the Martini. Bone Dry is achieved with a mere rinse of vermouth around the glass that is then thrown away (*cries*).
I guess she likes them dry.
Shaken or stirred?
James Bond popularised the shaken martini when he first uttered “vodka martini, shaken not stirred” in Goldfinger in 1964 (although his preference had been referred to in earlier films).
Shaken or stirred, both methods are using to chill and dilute drinks, toning down the harsh ethanol and allowing the flavour of the gin and vermouth to come through. It’s worth noting that if you are a beginner it is more difficult to gauge the dilution of the Martini when shaking than it is when you are stirring. From an aesthetic perspective, your shaken Martini might be a little cloudy, which is fine, but who doesn’t love the look of a crisp, clear martini?
I always put my glass in the freezer before I begin mixing my martini and I know some absolute perfectionists who also keep their gin in there too. Add your spirits to the mixing glass before adding the ice and stir for 30-45 seconds, or 50 revolutions according to Simon Difford.
With a twist, an olive or an onion?
The garnish is designed to complement the gin you are using, but also the mood you are in. A citrus twist always lifts my spirits (ha!), but I adore the savoury, so a Gibson (with an onion) is often my choice. Recently I visited Maker in Brisbane and couldn’t choose between and olive and a twist, so the bartender made it with a twist, but served olives on the side ~ how’s that for service?
Tools of the trade
A decent mixing glass is a must, and so is a bar spoon. I’m still practising my stirring technique and am some way off being perfect, so I use a hawthorn strainer (shown in the picture on top of the mixing glass) and a tea strainer to make sure no little bits of ice get into the glass. Glassware is a passion of mine and I spend lots of time hunting down pretty coupes and coupettes to serve drinks in. I think it makes all the difference if you are a little in love with the glass you are sipping from.
As Dave Broom says in his fabulous book ‘The Gin Manual’
The Martini is yours in a way that no other cocktail can be…. You see, the barman doesn’t make a Martini; the customer does. What gin? What vermouth? What ratio? Twist, olive, onion or a dash of brine to make things dirty? All the bartender does is have the ingredients at hand and await your instructions.
If you are as fascinated as I am about all things martini, these books are a must.
Shaken Not Stirred, a Celebration of the Martini: Anistatia R. Miller and Jared M. Brown
Imbibe!: David Wondrich
The Gin Manual: Dave Broom