How to Make a Martini

Categories: Cooking!
You may have noticed our new feature, the weekly happy hour review known as "Drunk After Work." You've probably also noticed that most of those posts have come from yours truly.

I am a man who enjoys a good drink now and then (preferably now). As such, I decry the saccharine abominations being served as "martinis." The rule seems to be that if you can fit it into a cocktail glass, it's a "martini."

martini2.jpg
junnn @ flickr.com CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Do you know how many photos of sugary crap in a cocktail glass I had to go through to find a picture of a proper martini?

With all due respect to liquor-slingers, barkeeps and mixologists of every stripe, a martini is a very specific thing, with set ingredients and a defined method of creation; while slight variation is a matter of personal taste, go too far outside the canon and you have created a different drink.

Before we start, let me attempt to head off the inevitable grumbling. You are more than welcome to drink whatever you want. If your taste runs to sugar-rimmed, chocolate-splashed creamy drinks, please, by all means, indulge. If you think vodka is God's own tipple, sent down to the Russians from heaven above as a sign of annuit cœptis and translated through his prophet James Bond, and want it shaken and poured into a glass, go right ahead.

Just please, for the love of all that's holy, give me the ability to order a "martini" and get a consistent and correct result. Give your chocolatemalt  and your homage to the Bolshoi Ballet creative names of their own; don't co-opt the word "martini". In exchange, I promise not to adulterate your drink's recipe and use your name for it.

Here is the sound bite: a martini is gin and vermouth, stirred, with either a green olive or a twist of lemon, served strained in a cocktail glass.

Even people who use the canonical parts list do strange things to martinis. People who have watched James Bond insist that the martini be shaken. Well, that's all nonsense. Martinis aren't shaken simply because there's no reason to shake one (shaking is what bartenders do when trying to get two liquids of different viscosities to play nicely together). There is a very good reason not to shake a martini, though, and it's nothing to do with "bruising the gin" or any of that hippie, feel-good claptrap: shaking reduces ice to shards that can fit through bar strainers, and having chips of ice floating on a strained cocktail is a sign of a bad bartender (or a bad order and a bartender who lacks the testicular fortitude to stand his ground).

Vermouth is a part of the recipe. I'm sorry, but there it is: as discussed two paragraphs ago, a martini is gin and vermouth with an olive or a twist of lemon. The vermouth rounds out the gin and tempers the juniper taste, while adding just a soupçon of sweetness (even with dry vermouth) People pretending to a level of sophistication they can't achieve pull shenanigans like turning a capped bottle of vermouth upside down over the shaker. If you want to shake your gin while looking across the room at a bottle of vermouth, go right ahead: the result will be an extremely overchilled, cloudy, very loose gin granita, not a martini.

The olive, which should be the easiest part of the concoction, has sprouted disgusting additives of its own through creative changes to the stuffing. Bleu cheese has no place whatsoever in a martini; neither do anchovies, garlic, onions (a martini with an onion in place of the olive is called a Gibson), almonds or, God forbid, Kalamata olives. Use either a plain, unstuffed green olive or a normal pimento-stuffed olive.

Vodka is not part of the recipe. Vodka has its own drinks in which it shines, and honestly I think it tastes best served very cold with a big spread of zakuski, a professional toastmaster, and a large Russian waitress exhorting you to drink more, what are you, some kind of insufficiently revolutionary wimp? If you want vodka and vermouth with an olive, please just invent a different name (and no, "vodka martini" will not do, because it makes me have to specify "gin martini").

Other things that are not part of the recipe include (but are certainly not limited to) schnapps of any variety, any kind of coated rim, chocolate, fruit, dairy products of any stripe, or anything that is not gin, vermouth, lemon zest or a green, un- or pimento-stuffed olive.

Gin, vermouth, and either a green olive or a twist of lemon. Here's how to do it; vary the proportions according to your taste, but don't eliminate any of the players. For a single martini--and they taste best made one by one--you will need the following equipment:

One metal cocktail shaker cup
One bar strainer (or the top to your cocktail shaker)
One long, thin-handled spoon
One cocktail glass (a standard cocktail glass holds 4.5 fl. oz. of liquid)
One jigger (a small measuring glass that holds 1.5 fl. oz. of liquid)
One cocktail pick or toothpick (optional)
One clean bar towel

As far as ingredients, you will need:

Chipped ice
Cubed ice
Good gin (my favorite is Martin Miller's Westbourne Strength, but Plymouth is cheaper and very good)
Dry (French) vermouth (try Noilly Prat if your usual is Martini and Rossi)
One single green olive, or a small strip of lemon zest (yellow part only)

Start by filling the cocktail glass with chipped ice to chill it. Leaving it in the refrigerator is not a good substitute; it will be too cold, and you will either have to dry the outside or hold a wet stem. After it has chilled, knock the ice out of it (carefully, please), invert it on the bar towel to catch the last few drips, and turn it right-side up.

Place the olive (if that's what you're using) in the bottom of the glass, on a pick if desired.

Put four cubes of ice in the bottom of the cocktail shaker. Add half a jigger (0.75 fl. oz.) of vermouth and stir thoroughly. Add two jiggers (3 fl. oz.) of gin and stir a dozen or so times. Strain immediately into the glass. If you're using the lemon peel, twist it over the middle of the liquid and drop the twist into the drink.

Drink at once; a martini doesn't improve by sitting. Cheers!

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