The proper union of gin and vermouth is a great and sudden glory; it is one of the happiest marriages on earth, and one of the shortest lived. – Bernard DeVoto
I received a request to blog about martinis. I am very flattered, as this must mean the other cocktails I've made for this individual must have been decent. The martini was the first cocktail I ever made. I saw someone making one at a party I went to while studying abroad in Oxford, and I was very intrigued. But at that time I was just diving into the international beer scene, and my experience with hard alcohol was a ways off. I'm not sure exactly what triggered it, but one day I did some reading online and set out to make my first martini. I bought Gordon's gin and Martini and Rossi dry vermouth, and some stuffed olives. I mixed it up, and fell in love. I loved the saltiness provided by the olives and the way the gin and vermouth hang together in your mouth long after you take a sip. For a while this was my drink of choice, as it was really the only thing I knew how to make. During that time I bought into the hype of the ultra dry martini, meaning the less vermouth the better. Winston Churchill supposedly made his martinis by filling a glass with gin and then looking at a bottle of vermouth. They even sell misters that simply coat the top of your drink with vermouth. But as I got into classic cocktails, I felt that the modern martini was not even a true cocktail. I want to taste the vermouth, otherwise why bother? Old time martinis were a one-to-one ratio. I wouldn't recommend that, but it just goes to show you how cocktails change so much over time, to the point where they are a shadow of their former selves. Sometimes they improve, but sometimes you lose something in that process. By the way, a martini is a drink made with gin. Folks that want vodka should be the ones specifying. A "martini" is a gin martini, in my book.
The martini is such an individualized drink, only you can decide whether you like olives or a twist, a rinse with orange bitters, or if you like it a bit dirty. But this is how I make my martini, according to each ingredient.
This is the most important element, as it's the base spirit. My favorite gin is Bluecoat, distilled in the fine city of brotherly love. It has a citrusy element to it, and some bartenders might say it would work better with a twist but I still like it with my olives. I use gin for a lot of other cocktails and I find it versatile and a decent price point ($25). Plymouth is the original martini gin and there are plenty of other gins out there to try. The cheapest gin I can recommend is New Amsterdam at around $15 a bottle. It claims to be "so smooth you could drink it straight," which is not entirely true--it does have a bit of bite--but it's a decent value, especially the 1.75 ml size which goes on sale for $20 a bottle. New Amsterdam is also a good option for experimenting with cocktails, it has a similar flavor profile as Bluecoat but if you mess something up while making a complicated cocktail you don't feel too bad. I would also like to try a martini with Genevieve, gin's oilier cousin, but haven't yet.
I started with Martini and Rossi dry vermouth and once one of my friends asked me if "Stock" vermouth would be okay. I responded "yes;" at that time I thought they were all the same. But vermouth is a wine, obviously there is a range of quality. A lot of Americans that have been using Noilly Prat dry vermouth for years are upset because they recently stopped making their export version and now send the one they've been selling in the French market. Supposedly it's more herbal and some folks think too much flavor for a dry martini. I've only had the old American version and it's decent. I really like Dolin, a few bucks more than Martini and Rossi but I think worth it, as it lasts several months in the fridge and you only need a little for each drink. Long story short, I would recommend Dolin but if you don't want to hunt it down Martini and Rossi is good and you can buy the smaller bottle which is handy if you aren't pounding martinis constantly. Or you could try Noilly Prat. Okay, maybe a few vermouths will do, but I wouldn't go bottom shelf like Stock. I've heard Vya is a good vermouth but better on it's own than in a martini.
I've tried fancy olives, but for me Goya queen stuffed work great, 2 bucks a jar, nothing fancy, but good nonetheless.
Shaken, stirred, it's all the same. Some folks think shaking "bruises" the gin, thus releasing more flavor, but I don't buy it. Even though this post wound up being long, to me the martini should be a simple, everyday cocktail and the simpler the better. I shake my martinis but it's a matter of preference. If you like, keep the gin in the freezer to prevent over diluting your drink. I don't have any fancy metal olive toothpicks or anything, I just let them sink to the bottom of the glass. I wouldn't say I like my martini "dirty"--meaning with a lot of olive juice--but I don't mind a few drops of juice dripping from the spoon as I put them in the drink. For one martini I use a full 1.5 oz shot of gin and .5 oz of vermouth.
Without further ado...
3 parts gin
1 part dry vermouth
Chill martini glass(es) in freezer or by filling with crushed ice (discard before pouring drink). Shake the gin and vermouth, strain into chilled glass. Drop in three olives.