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.
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.