rye whiskey, social hour, tom macy, cocktail, classic cocktail

Martini

Recipe

  

This is my preferred recipe, with gin.  Broadly speaking, when using gin in the 40-45% ABV range use  ¾ oz dry vermouth, for 45-50% go for the full 1 oz. 

 

  • 2½ oz gin

  • ¾-1 oz dry vermouth

  • 1 dash orange bitters - optional, but highly recommended.

 

Combine all ingredients in a chilled mixing glass.  Fill with ice, stir for 18-30 seconds, then strain into a chilled coupe or martini glass. Garnish with an expressed lemon peel (my preference) or an olive(s).

For a Vodka Martini....

Simply replace gin with vodka, decrease the vermouth to ½ oz, and forgo the orange bitters.  

 

 

Overview

What’s most remarkable, and wonderful, about the Martini - in addition to being the most iconic cocktail of all time - is that it has no established recipe, just a series of different personalities.  You could stir together gin with a healthy dose of dry vermouth and garnish it with a lemon twist and call it a Martini, or vigorously shake up vodka and olive brine and serve it with a pimento stuffed olive and that would also be a Martini, even though the only common ground the two drinks share is a name.

 

So there is no right or wrong way to make a Martini.  Just your way.  This page explores the Martini's many faces, before delving into the maze that is Martini variations.  

 

 

 

 

 

If you make a Martini, of any kind, let me see!

(and tell me how you did it)

Tag a photo with #socialhourcocktails on Instagram.

Commentary

As I alluded to above, just about every component of the Martini is customizable. Below is a look as some of the options you have before you. 

 

Adjusting Spirit and Vermouth Ratios

Like the Manhattan, the ratio of spirit to vermouth in a Martini is malleable to your tastes, only more so.  It can range from all spirit and no vermouth (a very Dry Martini) to equal portions of spirit and vermouth (a 50/50 Martini).  

 

Martini drinkers will often specify their preferred ratio when ordering at a bar, with the vermouth portion being 1.  So 4:1 Martini would be 4 parts gin/vodka to 1 part vermouth.  This is the ratio, not the actual amounts used, a 4:1 Martini would probably be 3 ounces of spirit and ¾ oz vermouth.  And not everyone uses round numbers, in David Embury’s “The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks” he states the perfect ratio is 3.7:1.  

 

I personally like Martinis in the 3:1 range, though that is with a high proof gin in the 47-50% ABV, which I recommend using.  With a lower proof gin, 40-43% ABV, I would do 4:1 or 5:1.   I also love a light and crisp 2:1 Martini now and again as well.  

 

Preferred Brands

The Martini is more of a showcase for its base spirit than perhaps any other cocktail, particularly when using gin (and no olive brine).  For me, if I have my druthers, I like to use Plymouth, Ford’s, Tanqueray 10 or Rieger’s Midwestern Dry Gin, just to name a few.  And while I’m not a habitual vodka drinker, I think Stoli makes a dandy of a Martini.

 

Orange Bitters

Though unfamiliar to most Martini drinkers nowadays, orange bitters were once very common in early Martini recipes.  They fell by the wayside presumably when olives and olive brine were added into the mix. There's just too much dissonance there.

 

If you don't habitually garnish your Martinis with olives, I can’t recommend orange bitters in enough, especially with gin.  They add a delicate layer of complexity and make for a much more elegant cocktail.

 

Olives or a Twist, aka Peel

The garnish for a Martini is another divisive fork in the road.   An olive is probably the more familiar and iconic choice today, certainly if you’re going by its depiction in film and television, while a twist brightens the drink up and gives it some added zing.  I prefer a twist because I think it adds some nuance but to each their own. 

 

  • Number of Olives?   There’s an old barroom superstition stating that it’s bad luck to put an even number of olives in a Martini, making the conventionally recommended count one or three.  I personally don't put much stock in this and think you should put in many olives in there as you like.   Plus, for what it’s worth, Frank Sinatra always used to order his Martinis with two olives, his justification supposedly being that one was for him, and one was for the next beautiful woman that walked through the door.  Cheeky.

Martini Variations & Extended Relations

 

How to make a Martini Variation

Outside of the gin/vodka and dry vermouth mold, there is endless potential for Martini variations.   To me, the spirit itself is sacred, if there’s isn’t gin in there I no longer consider it part of the Martini family (that goes for vodka too, but these are all gin, so...).

 

In light of that, the easiest route to a Martini riff to replace the dry vermouth with another type of fortified wine. You can use one that’s clear or close to it so the drink still looks the part, such as white vermouth (a colorless, sweet vermouth),  Lillet/Cocchi Americano, or fino sherry.   Or, if you aren’t beholden to the idea of a Martini being crystal clear, try letting sweet vermouth bleed into your Martini from time to time.  It works wonders.  Another tactic is to add a couple dashes of bitters or a liqueur for a final flavor accent.

 

On the Drinks Below...

You’ll find all of these approaches at work in these drinks below.  They are all prepared as above; stirred, and strained into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass.  If there's a photo of the drink that means it has its own individual page. A few words to the wise; any time a drink contains sweet vermouth, either a lemon or orange peel can be used as a garnish, as well as any kind of gin - dry gin, old tom gin or genenver.  Each result will be different of course, but all tasty.  Also, when old tom gin and dry vermouth are paired together, it's best to use a clear un-aged brand, like Hayman’s, as opposed to barrel aged gin.  Finally, whenever simply "gin" is listed, I am referring to a classic dry gin, aka London dry gin.

 

Dirty Martini

The notorious Dirty Martini is a Martini with the addition of olive brine,  which sets the drink off on quite the divergent, and salty, path.  Olive brine is the liquid the olive is cured in, not juice as it’ s sometimes called (you can’t get juice from an olive).  In many ways this version has morphed the public’s perception of what a Martini is (I’m pretty sure my first Martini was dirty), to the point that some people think this is the way all Martinis are made.

 

How dirty, or filthy, you want you Martini to be is up to you, take the classic recipe above, use less vermouth if you like, and add the following to taste:

 

  • 1/4 oz - slightly dirty

  • ½ oz - “classic” dirty

  • 3/4 oz and up - very dirty to filthy

 

If you’re a fan of Dirty Martini’s be sure it checkout the Gibson below, or try using other types of brine.  There are lots of cool boutique brands of pickled items available nowadays that are excellent for dirty-ing things up. 

 
 
 
 

Jump To

Perfect Martini

As with a Perfect Manhattan, a Perfect Martini is made with equal parts dry and sweet vermouth.  Adding sweet vermouth to a Martini may seem blasphemous, but it was once very common.  In fact, the earliest ancestors of the Martini were all made with sweet vermouth, most notably the Martinez, and you'll find it included in several of the variations below.  I personally love Perfect Martinis, maybe even more than Perfect Manhattans. 

  • 2½ oz gin

  • ½ oz sweet vermouth

  • ½ oz dry vermouth

  • 1 dash orange bitters

  • lemon peel for garnish (orange works nicely too)

  

Prepare as above.

 

Dry Martini

A Dry Martini is a Martini with less dry vermouth.  There’s no standard amount, but I generally use in ¼ oz - ½ oz, and on the lower end for vodka.  There are some who prefer their Martinis "extra dry" and don't want any vermouth at all.  Personally, I would call that just vodka or gin straight up, but there's no accounting for taste. 

 

  • 2½ oz gin or vodka

  • ¼ oz - ½ oz dry vermouth

 

Prepare as above.

 

Side note: The first versions of the Martini back in the 1880s were made with sweet vermouth, such as the Martinez.  Originally, a dry Martini simply meant to distinguish a Martini that was made with dry vermouth, it had nothing to do with the proportions.   Dry vermouth didn't become standard in the Martini until around the end of the 19th century, which is about when the amount of the vermouth started being commented on as well.  You can see the a comprehensive of the Martini's evolution in this amazing annotated timeline from David Wondrich on the Daily Beast.

50/50 Martini

   

Making a Martini with equal parts of vermouth and spirit may be unthinkable to a contemporary Martini drinker, but that is actually what the earliest Martini recipes called for. Today these are called 50/50 Martini’s. They are surprisingly satisfying and clock in at a very reasonable potency.   One could, conceivably, have three of these, and still be in a respectable realm of inebriation (I can’t confidently say that about the other versions listed on this page).   I only recommend these with gin. If you happen to have some Navy Strength Gin (57% ABV) a 50/50 is a good idea.

 

  • 1½ oz gin

  •  oz dry vermouth

  • 1 dash orange bitters  

 

Prepare as above. A lemon twist is highly recommended.

 

 

A Note on these Recipes

You’ll notice that many of these recipes are extremely similar, to the point that it seems superfluous to give them each individual names.  This is especially ironic considering all the alterations that can take place under the banner of a basic Martini.  I don’t really have a good answer for why this is, my best guess is that it’s just more fun to fix a “Fourth Degree Cocktail” than a "perfect Martini with a dash of absinthe”.  

 

Another disclaimer, many of these drinks and have changed wildly throughout their history.  So don’t be surprised if you find them in an old cocktail book (or in one of David Wondrich’s writings) with a different configuration, or even different ingredients.  The versions I've listed here are more in line with how they are commonly made in cocktail bars today.  I’ve also done my best to make each drink legitimately different from the others.  I've also made sure they're all delicious.

 

 

 

As you've no doubt gathered by now, Martini’s are traditionally stirred - James Bonds’ preferences notwithstanding - because stirring preserves a more even and silky texture, which is in keeping with the conventional rule of when to shake or stir a cocktail.   

 

However, no rule is set in stone (as far as cocktails are concerned anyway), including this one, which I found out one day when I decided, out of curiosity, to taste shaken and stirred martinis side by side.   The results were quite surprising.  

 

I made two, 2:1 Gin Martinis, no orange bitters and garnish.  The one I shook, I shook very lightly.  My goal was to see if I could still make the drink come out ok, and I knew shaking it the way I would a Daiquiri would dilute it beyond recognition.  So it just was a gentle rocking back and forth for 6 seconds or so.

 

When I strained the drinks out, the difference was immediately obvious.  The stirred Martini was crystal clear, while the shaken Martini, had an opaque cloudy appearance from to the air bubbles that result from shaking.  These bubbles are, of course, what bartenders like myself point to as the key reason to not shake a spirit forward cocktail, they are regarded like poison.  “Well, there you have it,” I thought to myself.   I was ready to close the case and declare stirring to be the unequivocal best way to prepare a Martini once and for all.  

 

But then a moment later I looked back, and the bubbles were gone.  Barely 20 seconds had passed and the drinks looked exactly the same (that photo above was taken seconds after they were strained).  So I tasted them.  That's when the ground shifted beneath my feet.  Not only were they both delicious, but the shaken Martini was, I had to admit, in some ways better.  It had a rounder and more delicate finish that almost suggested sweetness before veering dry.

 

Say what?  The bedrock of everything all I thought I know about cocktails was that you only shake a cocktail when it has citrus juice or other fresh ingredients, and you NEVER shake a spirit forward cocktail, heaven forbid a Martini!  As the saying goes, “shaking bruises the gin.”  Well, it turns out gin is tougher than we thought.

 

I ran the test a couple more times and blind tasted some colleagues and got the same result.  At first, I thought it might be added dilution, but no, the light shake avoided that. Eventually, I realized that what I was tasting was a stronger presence from the vermouth.  I now know that in addition to physical air bubbles, the aeration created by shaking unites the flavors of different ingredients together more than stirring does.   So in this Martini, the vermouth was brought more to the forefront and the sharpness of the gin was toned down ever so slightly, so the cocktail tasted a bit more balanced - to someone who likes vermouth that is.  Adding a lemon twist and orange bitters covered up the nuances somewhat and made the two less distinguishable.  But still, the answer was clear.  Shaking does not, necessarily, ruin a Martini.

 

Now, it’s important to note a few caveats.   These results were much more pronounced because they had a large portion of vermouth.  When there’s less vermouth and the Martini is mostly spirit, shaking just chills and dilutes it the same way stirring would, so it won’t make much of a difference.  Also, I can't stress enough how important the light shake was to these experiments.  Stirring allows you much more control of chilling a dilution, there's much less margin for error when shaking.  It's a finer needle to thread.  Finally, let me make very clear that the Martini seems to be the outlier here and the rule about when to shake and when to stir is still true.  Shaken Manhattans and Negronis are clearly inferior to stirred ones and let me say for the record, in general, I still think stirring is the best way to make a Martini.  It’s perfection, and it's more consistent.  But the question is certainly less black and white than I had originally thought.

 

The point here really is to not believe everything you hear until you try it for yourself.  So take this information and do with it what you will (just don't turn me over the cocktail police, those guys are so boring).   As always, you’re the bartender.   

 

Some Pointers to Remember If You Ever Shake a Martini:

 

  • Shake lightly.  If you shake too hard, you risk over-diluting the drink.  

  • Remember shaking will give you a cloudy drink at the outset, which won't be very pretty, but it will clear up shortly.

  • Use heavier portions of vermouth or other fortified wines, particularly ones with some sweetness, like white vermouth or Lillet.  

  • This only goes for clear fortified wines.  I don’t recommend ever shaking drinks with sweet vermouth, spirit forward ones anyway.  They become overly fruity tasting.

 

Here’s a recipe I developed in light of my findings.  I make it often.

 

White Lie Martini

  • 2½ oz gin - higher proof is preferable.

  • ½ oz white vermouth - Dolin Blanc is recommended.

  • 1 dash orange bitters

 

Combine all ingredients in a shaker, fill with ice.

Shake lightly for 6 seconds and fine strain into a chilled coupe glass.

(Don't fine strain if you want ice chips in your drink).

Garnish with a lemon peel.

 

That Time I Shook a Martini,

A Personal Anecdote about Humility

 
 
 
 
 
 

Carnegie (a personal creation recipe)

  • 2 oz gin

  • ¾ oz Cocchi Americano or Lillet Blanc

  • ½ oz fino sherry 

  • ½ teaspoon orange liqueur

  

Stir and serve straight up. Garnish with a lemon peel.

 

Fourth Degree

  • 2½ oz gin

  • ½ oz sweet vermouth

  • ½ oz dry vermouth

  • 2-3 dashes absinthe

 

Stir and serve straight up. Garnish with a lemon peel.

 

Hearst

  • 2 oz gin

  • 1 oz sweet vermouth

  • 1 dash Angostura bitters

  • 1 dash orange bitters

  

Stir and serve straight up. Garnish with a lemon peel.

 

 

 

 

Tom’s Perfect Martini (a personal creation, as you might imagine)

  • 2½ oz dry gin

  • ¾ oz sweet vermouth

  • ½ oz dry vermouth

  • teaspoon maraschino

  • dash orange bitters

  

Garnish with a lemon peel. Recipe page coming soon…

 

Tuxedo

  • 2 oz old tom gin

  • 1 oz fino sherry

  • 1 dash orange bitters

  

Stir and serve straight up. Garnish with a lemon peel.

 

Tuxedo #2/Turf Cocktail

  • 2 oz old tom gin

  • 1 oz dry vermouth

  • teaspoon maraschino

  • 1 dash orange bitters

  • absinthe rinse

  

Stir and serve straight up. Garnish with a lemon peel. 

 

White Lie Martini (my recipe)

  • 2½ oz gin

  • ½ oz white vermouth

  • 1 dash orange bitters

  

Shake lightly for 6 seconds (yes! details below) and serve straight up. Garnish with a lemon peel.

 

 
 

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tom@socialhourcocktails.com Brooklyn, NY

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