Friday, February 20, 2009

Rethinking the Martini.

I am not alone in thinking today's martini is a travesty. Gin (or, forbid, vodka) on the rocks, strained, is not a martini. It's not even a cocktail. The person responsible for the idea of merely waving the vermouth bottle over the glass should be whacked on the head with it. Some attribute it to alcoholics like Hemingway who wanted their liquor strong. Others blame Prohibition and the lack of availability of vermouth and bitters.

James Bond's author, Ian Fleming, is credited with responsibility for the gin-bruising act of shaking, not stirring the cocktail (shaken is referred to as a Bradford). However, according to the Washington Post, one British study pops up every so often extolling the health benefits of a martini shaken, not stirred. Good and good for you - who knew?

While there's disagreement over the origin of its name (some believe Martini came from the brand of vermouth [Martini & Rossi used to be called Martini], while some believe the cocktail was created and named for a customer at the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco on his way to Martinez, Calif.), most agree that the Martinez and the first martinis originally consisted of sweet vermouth and Old Tom gin with a dash of bitters.

The proportion of sweet vermouth to gin (4:1) changed over the years, eventually ending up with a 2 or 3:1 ratio in favor of gin. City folks began to favor adding dry vermouth instead of sweet for a more sophisticated flavor and thus the dry martini was born.

Another ingredient that is overlooked today is water. You shouldn't really freeze the liquor and glasses and shakers - the ice needs to melt slightly into the drink to smooth it out. I still prefer a chilled glass.

Also, the martini is always made with gin - Hendrick's, Plymouth, Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire and G'Vine Nouaison are good ones; Hayman's Distillers has resurrected Old Tom for the nostalgic. There are also higher end vermouths such as Noilly Prat and Dolin to try. If you prefer vodka as I do, you will be asking for a vodka martini. And you will need to get comfortable telling pompous martini purists to shut their pie holes. Now for the recipes:

The Perfect Martini

2 1/2 oz. gin (or vodka)
1/2 oz. dry vermouth
1/2 oz. sweet vermouth
1-2 dashes aromatic bitters (optional)

Shake or stir with ice and strain into chilled glass. Run lemon peel around rim and twist into drink.

Classic Martini

1 1/2 oz. gin or vodka
1/2 oz. dry vermouth

Pour into ice-filled glass or shaker. Stir until very cold. Pour into chilled glass. Add olive.

I like to add a little olive juice (about 1/2-1 tsp.) for a dirty martini, depending on the size of the glass*. I use vodka and my preference is Stoli (I know, Stoli is so 80s) and I like to remove the pimento from Queen olives and stuff them with blue cheese. I have also found my personal preference in ratio is 2 1/2 parts vodka to 1/2 part vermouth, stirred and then shaken. Take that, 007.

The Post recommends trying a martini using Old Tom gin and sweet vermouth with a dash of bitters.

For some good recipes (including flavored martinis), click here. For all kinds of classic recipes, including the Classic Martini, the Martinez and Martinis Circa 1888 and 1900, go here to Drinkboy.

*Do not even get me started on the obscene size of today's cocktail glasses. That's an entirely different post.


Decorina said...

Gin was the first alcohol I drank, back in the dark ages. So my martinis are always made with gin. The first time I ever had a vodka martini I almost spewed it all over the lovely Oriental rug in the lobby of the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver.

Thanks for the history - what a blast from the past.

hello gorgeous said...

Even though I prefer vodka, I like a gin martini - gin makes me feisty for some reason so you will want me to drink vodka in your presence.

I like Bombay Sapphire but I think I will try some Hendrick's this w/e. With 1/2 sweet and 1/2 dry vermouth and bitters. Or like the Post says - will all sweet vermouth. That sounds great.

Anonymous said...

I love the idea of a gin martini, even the smell of it is pretty wonderful. It just tastes like perfume, is all.

Now, if a handsome man with a sexy accent were to try and talk me into having one then of course I would say "only if you take your shirt off".

Anonymous said...

GREAT post. I'm a Gin girl and I'm always trying to perfect the dirty martini. I'm going to try your versions...I can never seem to get the vermouth ratio correct!

Anonymous said...

Well, I wasn't missing liquor too much until you posted this! Six months ago I could have been the Bombay Sapphire spokesperson. I have loved gin since my grandpa let me taste his dirty martinis, back when I was a wee child (won't say how wee), while vodka was an acquired taste for me.

Really wish I could try out your recipe. Rest assured that I will as soon as safely possible!

hello gorgeous said...

Sorry, E.! I actually thought of you while I was writing this.

Missy - It's such an individual thing. Let me know which you end up liking the most.

Lolo - Like perfume, yes.

Greta said...

The thought of having to bartend for Hemmingway scares me.

Paul Pincus said...


MFAMB said...

who knew?!?! thanks gorgeous! now i can impress all of my friends (yet again!) with how much of a know it all i am. can't wait to try them all in rapid succession.

Unknown said...

Next time you make a dirty martini, let me help. I would love to send you a sample of my company's product - Dirty Sue - premium olive juice for dirty martinis.

Let me know.


Anonymous said...

Gin. Vodka only rarely and as favor to my husband who wanted to be James Bond when he was a teenager.

No olive; I think the brine spoils the taste. A twist of lemon, I think is the best.

I agree with you about the size of most martini glasses. I had a hard time finding some recently.

And as for the "martinis" of various sugary flavors, well, as my dear late father would say: Alcohol for people who don't like alcohol.

Glad to see that I'm not the only person who likes a properly made, grown up martini!

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