Ah, the venerable martini. Clear as water, flammable, and with a reputation for elegance and purity.
However, for many men, it remains an intimidating beverage choice because they simply don’t know how to order one without looking foolish. Telling a bartender that you’d like a martini will prompt a cascade of follow-on questions: vodka or gin, shaken or stirred, up, or on the rocks…?
Let’s break it down so that the next time you can walk up to the counter like a pro and order the Don Draper staple.
The key thing to remember is that the martini is basically like drinking pure vodka or gin. Sure, there’s a little vermouth in there and a touch of olive flavor, but really, it’s a whole lot of alcohol. Consequently, a martini isn’t for everyone.
Let’s begin with the rather polarizing topic of whether a martini should be made with gin or vodka. The classic martini is one made with gin. And stirred, so as not to bruise the spirit, which does happen. Remember, gin is made with botanicals, so different brands can taste very unique.
Vodka, on the other hand, is a little bit more robust. It has a far different taste and mouth-feel than its British counterpart.
Dry or wet refers to how much vermouth you want in your martini. Vermouth is a type of botanical wine, and a dry vermouth will be somewhat bitter. Ordering a dry martini means that you’ll have only a splash of vermouth – sometimes with no more than just enough to wet your glass.
Conversely, a wet martini is one made with more dry vermouth. This cocktail will cut through the sharp vodka taste and give you a more bitter and therefore, vermouth flavored cocktail.
Historically, martinis were nearer to a one-to-one ratio of vodka/gin to vermouth. Over the years, the proportion of vermouth has receded and our glasses have been filled more with vodka or gin. Today, a modern martini is dry.
I’m sure you know what James Bond likes to order, but what’s the difference between the two styles?
Martinis shaken in a cocktail shaker, aside from being a bit theatrical, end up with small ice pieces floating on top. So, part of the allure of ordering a shaken martini is that for the first couple minutes, you have the texture of floating ice pieces with each sip.
Remember, don’t shake gin, only vodka. Gin will bruise and you’ll compromise the integrity of the drink.
Ordering a martini on the rocks is a little weird, kind of like buttoning your bottom button on a suit – sure you can do it…but just don’t.
Order your drink “up” for a clean and classic look.
As I’m sure you already know, the default garnish for a martini is with an olive. However, asking for one with a twist with get you a thin lemon peel for a bit of citrus taste (try this with a wet martini).
Made with a splash of olive juice (or a big splash depending on your inclination).
Just a different garnish – with a small pearl onion in place of the olive.
Courtesy of Ian Fleming via James Bond, the Vesper martini is made with one measure vodka, 3 measures of gin, and a half measure Kina Lillet – a wine aperitif. Kina Lillet has been discontinued, but a fine contemporary substitute is Cocchi Americano.
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