The classic martini sounds simple enough: shake up some ice, gin and vermouth; joggle swish, joggle swish; strain; pop on an olive. But for a truly divine martini—deceptively simple on paper—the devil is in the details. A devil that needs to be sussed, and so much so that you might need a martini afterward. (And luckily, if you heed these tips, you’ll have just that.)
What’s in a Martini?
First things first: In a drink with just two ingredients, ice becomes a crucial addition. Working behind the scenes, ice gets the martini nice and cold, but is absent from the final product. The goal here is to get the drink as cold as possible, but without watering it down. Avoid the shaved and crushed varieties, as the small pieces will easily melt away into those warming spirits we know and love. Instead, opt for a cracked cube, big enough to hold its own but with more surface area for chilling than simple blocks from the tray.
Gin or vodka
When it comes to liquor, choose from gin or vodka. Since these spirits are all but naked in this James Bond signature, quality counts. At the liquor store, bypass the bottom shelf varieties altogether and opt for a name-brand option. If you’re not an experienced mixologist, ask a sales associate—they’re experts in the matter.
The supporting role in the martini is vermouth, a wine-based spirit fortified with aromatic herbs like juniper, nutmeg, orange peel and coriander. When shopping for your vermouth, bear in mind that once opened, it only keeps for about three months in the refrigerator. Unless you’re shaking up dozens of drinks, choose a smaller bottle.
This fortified spirit is also what gives the martini a few of its monikers: dry, set and extra wet refer to the amount of vermouth in the equation. Dry has the least vermouth (about a 6:1 gin-to-vermouth ratio), wet has a 3:1 ratio, and extra wet is equal parts vermouth and gin.
But the options don’t stop there. In some people’s eyes, a more dynamic martini is a perfect one: The P-word connotes equal parts dry and sweet vermouth. If you like things “dirty,” add some olive brine. (This can also be upgraded to “extra dirty” or “filthy.”)
How to Make a Martini
With your preferred ingredients ratio selected, ask yourself shaken or stirred? While these methods don’t affect taste in any discernible way (at least for the average sipper), they do offer some benefits.
The Stirred Martini
Stirring your cocktail is incredibly simple. Adding ice, vermouth and gin to a large glass and give all these ingredients a good stir with a cocktail spoon like this. Then strain the ice away, pour into a glass and serve with the traditional olive garnish. This option provides you with a classic cocktail without any sort of special equipment. Of course, if you prefer your martini dirty (or extra dirty), now is the time to incorporate some of the salty olive brine.
Shaken, Not Stirred
For you Bonds out there, a shaken martini requires a bit more finesse. As before, add your gin and vermouth to a cocktail shaker along with plenty of ice. Then give it a few good shakes before straining into a martini glass and garnishing. This option provides an exceptionally cold drink from all that extra contact with the ice. A shaken martini may be slightly weaker than its stirred counterpart, though. The bits of shattered ice quickly melt into the drink while still in the shaker.
The difference between these two methods is admittedly slight, but having an opinion one way or the other is sure to put you in another echelon of martini connoisseurs. If you’re looking for a more advanced recipe, try this lychee martini.
The Finishing Touches
The glass. Once properly mixed, there are still a few options to consider with this cocktail. Asking for your martini “straight up” will get you the classic, Sex and the City–approved stem glass, while “on the rocks” hands you a tumbler with an ice cameo.
Finally, of course, is the garnish. Here, you most commonly have two options: “With a twist” gets you a lemon peel, or you can ask for an olive. Note: The dirtier the martini, the more olives you’ll score. The third, less common, option is a Gibson, which throws a pearl onion into the mix.
With these tips in hand, it’s time to get started. Purists will say that you should try the classic 3:1 ratio for your first martini, but if you’re not fond of drinking straight gin or vodka, skew dirtier. Brute and astringent on first sip, the classiest of cocktails will likely have you making another round (though, you may want to try a different classic cocktail for your second).
But first, do yourself a favor and throw that glass in the freezer.
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