Making a Martini properly is a skill which all gentlemen should possess. In my view, the Martini is the greatest drink ever invented. Only two ingredients – so simple – and yet, so many interpretations and strongly held views. Every mixologist makes it slightly differently and the worst cocktail bores insist that theirs is the only correct way of doing it. Which is, of course, palpable nonsense.
If you are unused to drinking neat spirit, which this more or less is, it will be an acquired taste. Like everything else which is an acquired taste, though, it is well worth acquiring.
What I am going to present here is my way of making a Martini. It’s the way I like it and is, in fact, close to being the standard way of making the drink these days (with the possible exception of shaking versus stirring). If you find you like it done a little differently, all power to you. As long as you just use those two ingredients, it’ll be a Martini. The arguments start when it comes to discussing the relative quantities, preparation and presentation.
So, without further ado, here is my method.
You’ll need some limited equipment: a shaker (or mixing glass depending on your chosen method of chilling the drink) and a strainer.
- Chill a Martini glass. Ideally, do it beforehand by putting it in the freezer for at least an hour (I keep a Martini glass in the freezer at all times for this reason). If you haven’t got a pre-chilled one, put some ice and a slop of cold water in it while you’re mixing.
- Put a fistful of ice into a cocktail shaker. Pour a double measure (50ml) of gin into it. See below for comments on the choice of gin.
- Measure 5ml of dry vermouth (it’s about a teaspoon or half a bottle cap full) and tip that in.
- Shake the bejeesus out of it for about 15 seconds. See below for the shaking versus stirring controversy.
- Take your chilled Martini glass (having emptied the ice and water from it) and pour the drink through a strainer into the glass.
- Cut a small twist of lemon and drop it in. I really mean small as well. A lemon garnish which is too large will spoil the drink.
- Raise to your lips, take a small sip and be transported to drink heaven.
The first area of controversy is over the correct ratio of Vermouth to Gin. Back in the 20s, a lot more vermouth was used – often between 25 – 50% Vermouth. That would be what is termed these days as a ‘wet’ Martini. The much smaller quantity favoured today is what is properly termed a ‘dry’ Martini. Note – it’s nothing to do with the fact that dry vermouth is used.
Winston Churchill was a noted Martini drinker and took the view that it was sufficient to simply glance in the direction of an unopened bottle of vermouth. In a similar vein, Noel Coward opined that the correct way to make a Martini is to fill a glass with gin and then wave it in the general direction of Italy (where vermouth comes from). It really is a matter of personal taste. If you find that you prefer a wetter Martini than is usual, don’t let anyone tell you that you are wrong. Follow your own taste.
As far as choice of gin is concerned, use whatever you bloody well please. As a general rule, and bearing in mind that what you are drinking is almost neat gin, it needs to be of reasonable quality. A dry London gin such as Gordons or Beefeater is perfectly fine. Plymouth gin (a variety of gin on its own) is also very acceptable.
The standard advice concerning choice of dry vermouth would be Martini Extra Dry but, given the small quantities in the drink, I don’t believe that you would notice any significant difference over a decent supermarket own-brand. A bottle of the good stuff is about £9 and the supermarket about £6. I’ll let you decide if the extra £3 is worth it (or worth skimping on).
So shaken or stirred? Well, the object of both is to chill the drink. That’s all. Shaking chills the drink quicker and more efficiently. The main argument against shaking is that it ‘bruises the gin’. I continue to await evidence to back up this claim. I expect I shall have a long wait. Shaking or stirring does affect the way the drink presents though (although it doesn’t ‘bruise’ the gin..) First, it puts a lot of air into the drink in the form of tiny bubbles which makes the drink appear cloudy at first. This clears over a minute or two. It might be argued that this improves the taste experience. Notice how drinks tasters (wine and so on) slurp in half a mouthful of air along with the drink? It opens up the flavours apparently. There is a slightly different texture to an ‘aerated’ drink as well although, as I’ve mentioned, it is a short-lived phenomenon. Also, if you don’t strain the drink it will have a thin layer of tiny ice shards floating on the top. No problem – just strain it.
Stirring the drink also lacks the theatre which some people seem to enjoy when a shaker is being wielded but it is quite a relaxing way of making a drink. Like stirring a pan of risotto. If you want to try stirring, do so in a mixing glass (or the shaker bottom) with a handful of ice. You’ll need to stir for quite a while.. not less than 60 seconds. A sheen of condensation on the outside of the mixing glass will indicate that you are getting close.
Some cocktails should certainly be stirred rather than shaken – Negronis and Boulevardiers for instance – so I can be just as pedantic as the next drinks mixer. As usual, the best advice is to try both ways and see which works best for you.
With the advent of fridge freezers, there is no need to mess about with shaking or stirring at all. I keep a bottle of gin in the freezer just for Martinis. The alcohol prevents it from freezing but it comes out of the bottle pleasingly viscous, and is much colder than you’ll ever get with a shaker. Harry’s Bar in Venice keep their Martini pre-mixed in the freezer, so all that is required is to pull the bottle out and decant it into a chilled glass.
Lastly, the garnish. Traditionally this is a green cocktail olive on a stick. Personally, I don’t like the saltiness this introduces and prefer a small twist of lemon. Try both and see which you prefer.
Incidentally, if you like the saltiness of an olive you might want to try a Dirty Martini. Make the drink in the usual way but with the addition of a teaspoon of olive brine and garnish with three olives.
Finally, Vodka Martini’s? Well this is where Mr Bond and I part ways on how to mix a Martini. Vodka is flavourless. You are conscious of the alcohol, of course, but there is nothing else of interest for the taste buds. Gin is the only way to go.