Our special Martini-themed NB Navy Strength Gin box means June is Martini month for our lucky Club Members. This week, in the lead up to World Martini Day on Sunday, we're inviting everyone else to join in - kicking off with the ultimate guide to the king of cocktails.
The Ultimate Martini Guide
The simple combination of gin and vermouth might not be the oldest cocktail in the book, but the Martini must surely lay claim to being the most iconic.
For such an instantly recognisable drink, the story of the Martini’s origins is surprisingly murky. Some people think it was developed from an earlier drink, the Martinez, which appears in a famous cocktail guide from 1887 – and some of those believe that the Martinez originated in the town of Martinez, when a miner struck gold and ordered something special to celebrate.
Others go a different way entirely, claiming that it was invented by a New York bartender whose surname was Martini. And then there’s the other (somehow less romantic) theory that it was in fact named after the famous brand of vermouth in our Member’s June Gin of the Month boxes.
Wherever it came from, what seems clear is that Martini’s journey from the point of its birth sometime in the late 19th century is one of increasing ‘dryness’. This essentially means that not only has the type of vermouth changed from sweet to dry, but the ratio of gin to vermouth has increased (the less vermouth you have, the dryer your Martini). These days, if you walk into a bar and order a Martini, the default version you will get will undoubtedly be dry.
Modern variations on the Martini also now abound, with added ingredients from flavoured liqueurs to sake being added to create new and often wonderful permutations. Then of course there’s a whole class of (often fairly sweet and fruity) drinks that are simply served in a Martini glass with ‘-tini’ stuck on the end, many of which might be quite pleasant drinks in themselves, but not really worthy of the name Martini.
CULTURE, COOL & CLASS
Beyond the ins and outs of the actual recipe, the Martini also transcends its status as just a drink, functioning as a loaded cultural symbol. It somehow manages to both encapsulate ideas of the establishment, class and luxury and also retain a hint of bohemian rebellion. To get a sense of this, you only have to look at some of the cocktail’s most celebrated proponents – many of whom have famously waxed lyrical about their favourite tipple.
The American author E.B. White (whose works include Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little), called the Martini “the elixir of quietude”, and the famed early 20th century satirist, H.L. Mencken, claimed it to be “the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet”.
The drink also has also had its share of fans on this side of the pond. Winston Churchill claimed that “The only way to make a martini is with ice-cold gin, and a bow in the direction of France,” a reference to the fact that he preferred his without even a hint of vermouth (traditionally made in France and Italy). So, basically a glass of cold gin. Noel Coward similarly quipped that “a perfect Martini should be made by filling a glass with gin, then waving it in the general direction of Italy.”
Sharp-tongued American poet and critic, Dorothy Parker (below), is credited with perhaps one of the most famous odes to the Martini (which is now rumoured to be a misattribution, but still worth quoting): “I like to have a Martini, two at the very most. After three I'm under the table, after four I'm under my host.”
Even Homer Simpson has got in on the action, revealing his connoisseurship with the statement: “He knows just how I like my Martini - full of alcohol.”
And then, of course, there’s the most well-known Martini-drinker of all, James Bond. However, as we are about to discover, his infamous request for a Martini that is “shaken, not stirred”, let alone his insistence on using vodka would, in the eyes of some, disqualify his drink from being given the name of Martini at all.
When it comes to perfecting your own Martini recipe, despite the weight of history and opinion, the aim should always be to create something that suits your own tastes. There are, though, a few golden rules to bear in mind to help make it as delicious as possible – here are some of the basics.
How to Make a Classic Martini
Purists will tell you that a Martini can only ever be made with gin (which, given where you’re reading this, is probably no bad thing). If it’s made with vodka, then strictly it’s a Vodka Martini. The reality is, these days if you order a Martini in any halfway decent bar, if you don’t specify, they will simply ask you which you prefer.
One thing that does really matter is the quality of the spirit that you use, as this drink gives it nowhere to hide. Traditionally, Martinis are made with classic, well-balanced juniper-forward London Dry gins. The NB Navy Strength in our Members’ June Gin of the Month boxes is perfect – and the extra alcohol content makes for a supercharged version.
When it comes to the vermouth, it should be dry (or extra dry), not sweet, and it’s certainly worth making sure that you use a quality brand and that it is kept fresh. The last thing you want is a stale, half-finished bottle of vermouth from 10 years ago ruining your lovely gin.
The more vermouth you use, the wetter the Martini, the less, the dryer. It’s worth experimenting to find your own happy place. The options range from a Naked Martini (around 10 parts gin to 1 part vermouth - literally just a spray or quick swirl of vermouth in the glass), to a Wet Martini (2:1 ratio), to the Fifty-fifty version, of equal parts vermouth and gin.
Mr Bond may have insisted that his Martini be shaken, but the prevailing opinion among those in the know is that this is not an advisable way to proceed. It tends to over-dilute and also to aerate the drink, making it cloudy rather than beautifully crystal clear. Some also claim that the shaking plays havoc with the delicate, aromatic nature of the gin. Overall: ignore Mr Bond and stir, don’t shake.
The way to do this is to fill a mixing glass or jug with fresh ice, add your ingredients and stir gently, ideally with a long-handled bar spoon, for about 30 seconds. The aim is to cool the ingredients without over-diluting them, so try to disturb the ice as little as possible. You can do this by keeping your spoon by the outside edge of the jug and ‘spinning’ the ice and liquid round in the middle, rather than jangling your spoon around in the ice cubes.
An alternative method (and one practised at DUKES, our June Gin Joint of the Month) is simply to keep your gin in the freezer and pour it straight into the glasses. The thing to be aware of with this method is that you’ll create something completely undiluted and hence incredibly strong, so proceed with caution!
There is one very simple piece of incontrovertible advice here: A Martini has to be cold – very cold. Chill your mixing vessel before use, and put your glasses in the freezer for at least 30 minutes before you fill them with booze.
You can choose to keep your gin in the freezer as well (as is the practice at DUKES), but if you’re going for the more traditional stirring method, you need to plan ahead and make sure you’ve got plenty of ice. As I was once succinctly advised by the late and very great bartender Dick Bradsell (inventor of, among many others, that modern classic the Espresso Martini), when it comes to making Martinis: “run out of ice = no party”.
The classic options here are either an olive (green, pitted, not stuffed with anything weird) or a twist. The olive should simply be served resting in the glass on a cocktail stick.
The twist should be a sliver of fresh lemon peel (try to minimise the bitter white pith), which is squeezed over the drink’s surface (shiny side down) to release the oils, then dropped in the drink. Simple.
If you want to try something a bit different, you can garnish with two cocktail onions on a cocktail stick to make a Gibson, or add a splash of olive brine to make it a Dirty Martini.
Now that you’re fully armed with all the information, you’re ready get started mixing!
Classic Dry Martini
As I said above, do feel free to experiment with different ratios, but this 5:1 mix is a good place to start.
10ml Dry Vermouth
Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled Martini glass. Garnish with an olive or a lemon twist.
Not strictly a Martini, true, but the classic Martinez gives an insight into the Martini’s history – and this rumoured precursor of the Martini is a deliciously aromatic, complex drink in its own right.
15ml Sweet vermouth
8ml Dry vermouth
4ml Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
1 dash Angostura bitters
Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled Martini glass. Garnish with twist of orange zest.