The Classic Martini

MartiniThe Martini is the quintessential cocktail, truly a Rock Star among cocktails, and unfortunately greatly misunderstood today. It is amazing how many “upscale” establishments make somewhat mediocre Martinis.

Gin, Vermouth, and a Garnish

A Martini is Gin, Vermouth, and a Garnish – yes, there are some “allowable” variations (even if you are not James Bond), and we’ll discuss those below.

First I will not allow digressing by clearing the air: I am all for funky mixtures, alcoholic or not, served in cocktail glasses. They are NOT Martinis.

No such thing as a Pomegranate Whipped Cream Martini or an Apple Macaroon Martini

You might call something a Pomegranate Whipped Cream Martini or an Apple Macaroon Martini or even a Suffering Sassafras Rusty Ball Bearing Martini, and that’s fine, but they are NOT Martinis!

Tree Frog

This is a Pine Barrens Treefrog. It is neither a puss nor a martini of any type!

I can also call a Great Dane a “Puss” and a Pine Barrens Treefrog a “Puss” but they are not; they are respectively a canine and an amphibian!

A Martini is traditionally served straight up, but can be served on the rocks – it’s OK I guess.

Around 1900, a Martini was about half dry Vermouth (white Vermouth) and half gin, but by the 30s and 40s were commonly 3:1 or 4:1 (ref:Wikipedia), but basically gin has gotten better and Martinis today usually have far far less vermouth.

The International Bartenders Association says 6:1 which seems about right for a “standard” Martini, although I like mine extremely dry, and usually order them as “scorching dry” or “horribly, terribly, miserably dry” or “unreasonable and excruciatingly dry” or even as a “scorching dry martini, straight up, extra olives, two cocktail napkins and a bag of Doritos please” (I believe Claude Funston tried to order one this way at the Persian Aub Zam Zam Club and was thrown out by Bruno by the bartender/owner in the comic Zippy the Pinhead – side note: Bruno never threw me out but we came close at least a couple of times).

My Martini Technique

Fill a glass or shaker with fresh ice (no stale shit from your freezer) made from decent water. Tap water is fine if it’s tap water you would drink. Add a wee bit of vermouth, swish, and pour out the vermouth. A fair amount will have stuck to and flavored the ice.

Add ample gin – a couple of shots. Stir (a bar spoon works well, that’s what it is designed for, although a chopstick works well too) 20-30 times to the right and 20-30 times to the left. Strain into cocktail glass. If it’s hot (75+ degrees Fahrenheit) chill the glass beforehand.

Bar spoon

A bar spoon

Deaths Door Gin MartiniThe Garnish

Traditionally green olives. You could argue whether they need to be just olives or olives with pimento or whatever. I’ve got a Martini with blue cheese stuffed olives to my side, greatly slowing down but enormously improving my writing. Some would argue this is sacrilegious or even apostasy, but to me the choice of garnish is personal.

Usually for me it’s a Spanish green olive stuffed with pimento, but I’m open minded. Sometimes I prefer a twist of lemon (that means a piece of lemon peel, usually cut with a channel knife – thin and manually twisted to help release flavor). With Hendricks Gin I prefer thin slices of cucumber. In San Antonio recently at a SANS conference I had numerous renditions of Martinis with various hot pickled veggies that all simply worked well.

Stirred NOT DAMN SHAKEN!

Opinions are strong here, but I believe gin Martinis should be stirred. A competent bartender will ask. Few do.

A martini is stirred or shaken with ice to cool it down. Shaking gin makes it cloudy and “bruises”it. I haven’t done double blind comparisons to absolutely confirm I prefer shaken Martinis, but I’m pretty sure I do. And yes, I probably will do a blind comparison some day – I do things like that.

A vodka martini on the other hand I prefer shaken, but I don’t don’t really think it matters. Speaking of vodka . . .

Variations

I love vodka Martinis, but a vodka Martini is NOT a “Martini” – it is a “Vodka Martini.” A traditional Martini is Gin. Bruno, the original owner and famed Martini Mixologist at the Persian Aub Zam Zam Club called them “fake martinis” – Bruno was always a bit harsh.

Vodka: I love Grey Goose Martinis and Ketel One Martinis (distinctly different, Ketel One makes them spicier and definitely less smooth).

Gibson: A Gibson is a Martini with a cocktail onion (or two) garnish.

Dirty Martini: A Martini with some olive brine added. I like dirty Martinis made with Absolut, which of course makes them dirty vodka Martinis

Credits

Two Martinis, one Tanqueray and the next one Bombay Sapphire, as well as 1 1/2 cups of coffee the next day were used in the production of this article.

Also my favorite Federal Judge in DC for introducing me to Hendricks Gin and making me simply glorious Martinis!


7 Responses to “The Classic Martini”

  1. Harvey Stein says:

    Awesome, another Martini fan who truly understands them. Stirred damn it, that’s the way!

  2. John Brock says:

    Ted, the best martinis we ever drank together were concocted at UNH’s The New England Center. They came in tiny carafes. But the one you made for me and The Dolt this spring was pretty awesome. Great write up!

    • Ted Demopoulos says:

      They did make superb ones there.
      I do remember I made a great one for you this spring, very early in the AM.
      Thanks!

  3. John Brock says:

    Next you need to perfect “The Brown Cow”.

  4. Harold says:

    I’ve tried all your drinks on the – guess I’m just not a Martini guy. The Breakfast Martini and Aviation have wowed me though!

    • Ted Demopoulos says:

      That’s why we have variety – we all have different tastes and preferences, and that’s great. Glad you were “wowed” by the otehrs – me too!

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