How to order the perfect martini
Why the classic martini is still the best cocktail around
Words— Kate Dingwall
Right now, the craft cocktail movement is stronger than ever. Bartenders across the world are constantly reinventing classics and crafting new cocktails, looking to elaborate garnishes and flashy ingredients to stun imbibers. Mixologist’, or worse yet, bar chef, are now careers as highly regarded as a Chef, and tea infusions, rose syrup, and even bacon-infused bourbon are used just as commonly as ever. Even your local pub probably boasts a cocktail menu of three-,four- and five ingredient cocktails.
Though we have no qualms with today’s innovative offerings, there’s one cocktail that always keeps we keep coming back to the martini. Three ingredients, no elaborate garnishes, no out-of-the-ordinary tinctures or syrups. It can be made in under a few minutes and doesn’t require any prep time.
The martini seems to transcend the test of time and trend. Martinis appear on cocktail menus of all calibre the world over and is household verbiage in even alcohol-abstaining households. But for as ubiquitous as a Martini is, ordering a Martini can be somewhat confusing. Shaken! Stirred! Dry! Dirty! Vesper? For a three-ingredient cocktail, ordering a Martini requires a hell of a vocabulary.
Where did it come from?
The oriGinal oriGins of the martini have been up for debate for ages. There are three main schools of thoughts: those who believe the Martini is simply named after Vermouth brand Martini & Rosso, those who point fingers at bartender Martini di Arma di Taggia at the Knickerbocker Hotel in New York for the drink’s creation, and those who believe the folk tale of a Mr. Martinez. Rumour has it, that during the gold rush, in the small mining town of Martinez, California, a fella had struck it rich. When he went to his local watering hole to celebrate his riches, they were out of Champagne. The barkeep whipped up a concoction of Gin, Vermouth, bitters, and maraschino liqueur thus dubbed the “Martinez Special”. The first-ever publication of the drink was in Jerry Thomas’ 1862 manual The Bar-tender’s Guide, and as the story goes, the miner stopped by Thomas’ bar and introduced him to his “Martinez Special”. While the Martini was called the “Martinez Special” in the book, no one has proven this is the story.
So it’s 2018, and no one puts maraschino in a Martini now, but the base spirit of a Martini is still polarizing. While it may be commonplace to order a Gin or Vodka martini, as history has it, a “Martini” is traditionally Gin, not Vodka. The Vodka take is actually known as a ‘Kangaroo”, though you probably just as well order a Vodka martini.
So that's the basics. But part of the sexiness and elusiveness of a martini comes with how you order it. Exhibit A: Cue Sean Connery uttering “Shaken, not Stirred’ and exhibit B: Everyone who has tried to copied Connery over the years. Half the appeal is knowing how to order one correctly and with confidence.
So that brings us to the question, shaken, or stirred? This question is the cause for many debates amongst serious imbibers. Though Bond would disagree, many people believe shaking ‘bruises’ the alcohol and that the violent shaking shards up the ice and dilute the spirits with water. By rule of thumb, booze-forward drinks (think Manhattans, Martinis, and Negronis) should be stirred to reduce dilution and create a spirit-forward cocktail with perfect clarity while anything with citrus or egg-whites should be given a good shake. As a Martini has neither citrus or egg-white, a stirred martini is more appropriate.
To properly stir a martini at home, fill a pint glass with ice cubes (the larger the better) and build your martini over it. Spin a bar spoon around the edge of the glass for a minimum of thirty seconds, or until the outside of the glass is thoroughly chilled and cloudy.
Dry, wet, perfect, dirty? Any of these phrases can easily veer X rated, but this is the standard requests to ask for when ordering a Martini. While you may think ‘dry’ hints to dry Vermouth, ordering a Dry Martini actually means you want less Vermouth. Vice-versa, a wet Martini means you’d like more Vermouth. When the Martini first grew to popularity, the ratios were a perfect 1:1, Gin to Vermouth. The amount of Vermouth in the standard recipe has diminished over the years, till it’s more customary for a bartender to rinse the glass with Vermouth. The phrase ‘perfect’ Martini points to a Martini with a perfect ratio of sweet and Dry Vermouth while ‘dirty’ means the bartender will heavy hand the olive juice or brine.
Up or on the rocks? While your standard Martini is served up - meaning in a stemmed glass - there are a few folks who prefer their martinis on the rocks.
With a twist? While Olives are standard fare for most martinis, lemon peel is a perfectly acceptable finale. Ask for your martini ‘with a twist’ if you’d like a hint of citrus.
The master class
So you can order a martini and you can order one you love. Ready to take it up a notch? The following are elevated riffs on the martini formula that you can ask for at your favourite craft cocktail den or try whipping up at home. Names aside, tiny tweaks in a classic recipe can make way for big flavour profiles. Feel free to play around with the recipe to find one that suits your fancy. Keep in mind, many a bar is in the habit of dubbing a cocktail a ‘tini’ just because it’s served in the triangular glass. Though the suffix ‘tini’ may tip its hat towards a Martini, an Appletini is not a Martini.
- The Gibson - Leave behind the olive garnish in favour of a petite cocktail onion
- The Vesper - James Bond’s personal favourite, a Vesper looks to a combination of equal parts Gin, Vodka, and a white Lillet Vermouth
- The French Martini - For the person who wants the sophistication of ordering a Martini, but can’t stomach the heat of the alcohol, a French martini looks to Vodka, raspberry liqueur and pineapple juice, topped with a lemon peel.
- The Espresso Martini - For a potent mix of coffee and liquor that is, albeit, quite far from an actual Martini, Espresso martinis introduce espresso and cream to make a frothy, Irish coffee-forward sipper. The recipe will sway depending on who makes it but usually looks to Vodka, espresso, coffee liqueur, and sugar.
- The Fifty-Fifty - This martini riff makes Vermouth the star by splitting the base between dry and blanc Vermouth
- The Reverse Martini - Speaking of Vermouth, the Reverse Martini flips the Gin and Vermouth ratios to make a Vermouth-heavy martini
- The Tuxedo (No. 2) - A bone-dry updated Martini riff that uses Maraschino and an absinthe rinse, alongside Gin. Look to this and the following Obituary for those who don’t find the traditional Martini complex enough.
- The Obituary - Not for the faint of heart, the Obituary calls upon Absinthe to add a punch of wormwood
Bond was not the only member of the Martini fan club. John F. Kennedy and many other folks of his era were notorious for taking ‘three martini lunches’. While Hemingway’s heart lay with Daiquiris, he oft opted for his own Martini, dubbed the Montgomery after Sir Bernard Montgomery, a British general who wouldn’t face an opponent unless the odds faced him 15 to 1. His ratio, accordingly, was fifteen parts Gin to one part Vermouth. Julia Child could be found sipping Reverse Martinis on the rocks, while Hitchcock liked his martinis extra dry. Franklin Roosevelt notoriously travelled around with a Martini kit, as one does. Now we’ve given you some food for thought (drink for thought?), take a page from these folks and stir (or shake) yourself up a cold one.