There is no other cocktail which evokes such strong debate, such passionate feelings and such righteouness from its imbibers as the Martini. Writing about this crisp, cold and elegant serve is nothing short of daunting. Which is where the very problem of the Martini begins. Consider, if you will, the amount of literature and instructions there exists on the Martini. The amount of rifts, spin offs, fruity abominations, and popular culture portrayals that are out there. For the uninitatied this drink would surely seem too much hassle to even bother ordering.
But for the admirers, the ardent followers and lovers of its perfect blend of spirit and vermouth, its gentle aroma of fresh citrus oils, its loud, sharp flavours and its icy refreshment, the Martini is always worth the hassle - right from its first bold sip.
This article is not a definitive guide to the Martini. It's just too big of a beast and as for the debate between vodka and gin - well we here at DrinkUp prescribe to the 'however the hell you like it' ethos. This article is a recommendation of some spirits which work brilliantly in the cocktail. And it's also the stories which arise around the Martini, told from the people whose job it is to enjoy this very cocktail.
A Potted History
A true Martini has its origins in several cocktails and certainly developed alongside the Manhattan. Originally made with Old Tom gin (a sweet style of gin) one of its forefathers is the Turf Club which called for 1:1 Old Tom to red vermouth, popular in the early 1880s.
By the end of that decade the Martinez had risen to prominence, made using bitters, maraschino, old tom gin and vermouth. The shift to the Martini happened for two reasons, firstly consumers started to demand drier drinks and the sweetness of Old Tom became uncouth. Secondly London and Plymouth dry gins found their way to market.
It’s unclear by whom, or exactly when, the first true Dry Martini was mixed, that is to say a cocktail using Plymouth or London dry gin with French vermouth and no syrup of any kind. However, it did happen and by 1900 the Dry Martini had managed to eclipse all other versions.
So that's a Martini - spirit + vermouth + garnish. The only variables come from which spirit brand you use, how much vermouth you like on a scale of wet to dry to bone dry to doffing your cap in the direction of France dry, and your garnish from a citrus peel to an olive, or ordering a Gibson with a pickled onion.
Except, of course the Dirty Martini with its olive brine addition. Martini purists abhor this version but, like all twists on the classic, it has its believers. Incidentally Spectre is the first film where James has a Dirty Martini. The Bond girl orders one and he says 'I'll have the same...'
Our Favourite Brands To Make A Martini With...
We can't talk about Bond without mentioning his choosen brand of vodka for the latest film. As a premium Polish rye vodka, Belvedere has been promoting the Martini as its ideal serve for years. We asked the Global Head of Spirit Creation & Education, (who got to dress up and attend the premier, lucky thing) Claire Smith-Warner, about making a Martini memorbale.
A Belvedere Martini
"Being a Belvedere gal I would be the first to advocate Martini radicalism. I have nothing against gin, but I’m a vodka girl through and through. For me, there are already too many rules to remember in life, your Martini shouldn’t also come with a set of Ikea-like, identikit instructions. If you want to shake your Martini, go for it! Want to add bitters or a splash of Absinthe? Go crazy! The reality is that many of these variations may not fit the mould of what is classically thought to be a Martini, but if you love it, it will be Your Martini, and that makes it the most memorable, and perfect Martini of all."
Belvedere Spectre 007 Martini - 6 parts Belvedere Vodka to 1 part dry vermouth, 5ml Sicilian green olive brine, garnished with a Sicilian green olive.
Belvedere 007 Martini - 6 parts Belvedere Vodka to 1 part dry vermouth, garnished with a lemon twist.
An equally premium vodka, this time drawing its wheat from the bread basket of France and distilled in the heart of Cognac, Grey Goose has an initially soft palate with a gentle sweetness and a smooth rounded texture, with a hint of almond. We spoke to Global Brand Ambassador Joe McCanta about enjoying the classic drink.
A Grey Goose Martini
"The Martini has always been a drink that was customised, it was the first drink the guest made their own and claimed for themselves. It's the star of the drinks world, it's the drink everyone knows, it's one of the few drinks that has its own glass.
"The perfect Grey Goose Martini starts off with five parts Grey Goose vodka to one part vermouth, if you want you can even add a dash of orange bitters which adds more complexity. Everything about a Martini should be fluid and relaxed. There's some nice light, floral citrus notes to Grey Goose that I feel a lemon twist elevates. However for the Martini you don't want to get hung up on a specific recipe because the drink is all about your personal taste. You don't know until you try it."
Order: 5 parts Grey Goose vodka to 1 part dry vermouth, a dash of orange bitters and garnished with a lemon twist.
A Swedish premium vodka, Absolut is rich, full-bodied and complex, yet smooth and mellow with a distinct character of grain, followed by a hint of dried fruit.
An Absolut Martini
Brand Ambassador Ricardo Dynan says "A Martini is a personal thing and in my opinion when it comes to what is the best vodka or gin, bitters or not, wet or dry, naked or dirty, etc., etc., it’s an irrelevant argument. There is no right or wrong. As long the person who is drinking it, likes it, then it’s a great Martini. The only real rule with the Martini, I believe, is that shit better be ice cold!!!
"Some people say it say a lot about your personality how you have your Martini. Just like judging people on what they drink does also.How do I like my Martini? #thewetterthebetter - made with Absolut Elyx, Lillet Blanc and lemon zest."
Order: 6 parts Absolut Vodka to 1 part Dry Vermouth and garnished with a lemon twist.
Konik's Tail is produced in limited quantities in Poland under the watchful eye of Pleurat Shabani and Bernadeta Ejsmont, the Master of the Cellar, using three grains to make a flavour, character-rich and distinctly complex spirit. We spoke to Pleurat about using the vodka in a Martini.
A Konik's Tail Martini
"The best way to enjoy a Konik’s Tail Martini is bone dry (or no vermouth at all), stirred, with a lemon twist.
"I enjoy my Martinis using room temperature vodka, stirred over ice, and served in a frozen glass with a lemon twist. If I’m served straight from a freezer, I’ll leave it there for couple of minutes and allow it to rest before I take the first sip. This brings it back to life and allows all the flavours to come to the foreground. I always say “last time I gave a urine sample, it had a lemon twist on it.”
Order: A bone dry Konik's Tail Martini with a lemon twist.
The Problem With James Bond
I have stolen this phrase from another great Martini imbiber, Sebastian Hamilton-Mudge who represents Plymouth and Beefeater gins, in his book The Legend of The Plymouth Martini. It's a short sharp and often hilarous look into the Martini and in this section Sebastian goes to town on the vodka dominance of the Martini thanks to its most famous drinker.
"As well as promoting this barbaric method [shaken, not stirred] of Martini making, it also created a belief that vodka somehow had equal status to gin in the story and mythology of the Martini. Even now I am asked questions along the lines of 'was vodka or gin used in the original Martini recipe?' Now, I have nothing against vodka per se, but I wish it would stop trying to steal gin's iconic cocktails! As for 007, I think he should focus on saving the world rather than trying to write cocktail recipes."
The original ingredient in the Martini, Plymouth is an excellent choice of gin, it's smooth and, with the correct diltuion, gives up a rich aroma of juniper, sweet orange and cardamom spice.
Sebastian Hamilton-Mudge says: "No other cocktail is shrouded in as much myth, misunderstanding, fame and legend as the Martini. It is a drink that not only suits the smooth style of Plymouth gin, but the two are also inexorably linked throughout the pages of some of the world's oldest cocktail books. After this we cannot be certain where the name comes from or who first mixed it, but we do know that it is still the most argued about, analysed and revered drink in the world."
A Plymouth Gin Martini
"I always advise to start with a modern Dry Martini (10:1 in my opinion). This gives you or your guest a reference point to start from. After this, wetter or drier Martinis can be explored along with all the garnish varieties until the perfect serve is found," says Sebastian. "Plymouth gin's softness and smoothness makes any first Martini encounter as gentle as it can be. The Dolin is dry but has soft fruit and in this recipe, there is enough to taste it, but not so much as to move focus from the gin - and the twist takes away a little of the alcohol's punch."
Order: 10 parts Plymouth gin to 1 part Dolin de Chambery dry vermouth, garnished with a lemon twist
Portobello Road Gin
A classic London Dry, Portobello is brilliantly balanced with a peppery kick, making for a superb Martini.
A Portobello Road Martini
This is Jake Burger Head Gin Instructor at The Ginstitute and one of the four founders of Portobello Road Gin, on the ultimate question of vodka or gin: "There is a part of me which wants to answer this question by saying that I don’t believe in Vodka Martinis, but I guess I should always defer to my own advice when training junior bartenders: "The only right way to serve a Martini is the way your guest wants it.” - even if that is with vodka. Also I suppose if you really have to drink vodka then a Vodka Martini is preferable to say a Cosmopolitan or a Long Island Iced Tea. Still, it was gin originally and it really should be gin, it certainly is when I order it."
Re-imagined Portobello Road Martini - 50mls Portobello Road Gin, 12.5mls Lillet Blanc, a bar spoon of Gammel Dansk, 3 drops of Abbott's Bitters and garnished with a twist of pink grapefruit.
Portobello Road Classic Dry Martini - 50mls Portobello Road Gin, 12.5mls dry vermouth (Jake recommenda Dolin) and garnished with a twist of pink grapefruit.
Tanqueray No. TEN
Tanquerary's premium gin is a delight in a Martini, it's incredibly fresh on both the palate and the nose and works well with a grapefruit zest. We spoke to ambassador Tim Homewood about the gin's perfect serve.
A Tanqueray No. TEN Martini
"For me it has to be a Tanqueray No. TEN Martini, slightly wet and garnished with a grapefruit zest to bring out the fresh, vibrant citrus botanicals in Tanqueray No. TEN which we get from being the only gin to distil with fresh citrus fruit. The way that I like to make this stalwart of the Martini cocktail is to keep it nice and simple, 60mls Gin, 10mls dry vermouth, stirred until ice cold and strained into a frozen Martini glass. Then express the oils in the grapefruit over the surface of the drink and drop it in – don’t rub the zest on the rim of the glass as I find this leaves a bitter taste.
"There is a gin for everyone for a Martini – I enjoy mine to be fresh and zesty, such as T10 but if I’m after something a little more traditional with a large hit of juniper, I find that Tanqueray London Dry works nicely – I’d usually garnish this with an olive however. There are also other ways to change up the classic as well… I’m currently enjoying using Bianco vermouth over dry in my Martinis – it gives a softer, sweeter element to the cocktail that the dry vermouth often misses. A ‘thrown’ Martini is also a thing of silky wonder that you should really try if your bartender is adept at this technique.
"Martinis are the pinnacle of cool in the cocktail world in my opinion – there is no other drink which makes me feel the way in which a Martini does. When I have one in my hand I feel like I can take on anything, it has that same feeling as slipping into my favourite hand tailored Saville Row suit – it just fits and feels better than anything else.
"My top recommendation for the best Martini in town is at Dry Martini bar – the care and attention they give to their Martinis there is really something special."
Order: 6 parts Tanqueray No. TEN gin to 1 part dry vermouth and garnished with a grapefruit twist.
Bold, complex and aromatic, Sipsmith is a local London gin which is perfectly smooth for a Martini. Even better you don't have the leave the city to tour it's beautiful distillery. We spoke to Zoe Zambakides, Head of GINspiration, to talk about the perfect Sipsmith Martini.
A Sipsmith Martini
"Because Sipsmith is distilled in copper, only ever taking the heart cut it is impeccably smooth. And because it's also made using the traditional One-Shot method (so never made from concentrate and then stretched) it is bursting with flavour. Sipsmith Master Distiller Jared trawled the history books to create a blend of classic botanicals that would be familiar to a London Master Distiller in the 1800s so it goes beautiful in a classic Martini with the uplifting citrus note and naturally sweet finish.
"As Jared is a Drinks Historian - and has written the world's best selling book on the history of the Martini - we pride ourselves on working in an array of classic Martini recipes. Whilst it's delight in a classic dry Martini with a lemon twist, we are also big fans of a 50/50 (made with a great quality - and freshly opened - vermouth). The key thing Jared always looks for is that it is thrown - giving you the clarity of stirred, whilst the cold crispness of a shaken Martini. We also love The 1888 Original, which is a 50/50 with sweet vermouth and a dash of absinthe (which is how Martinis are the turn of the century were enjoyed.) Garnish with a Luxardo Maraschino Cherry. Because of the classic London Dry profile and the fullness of flavour the juniper notes really hold their own."
Dry Martini: 6 parts Sipsmith gin to 1 part dry vermouth garnished with a lemon twist.
50/50: 1 part Sipsmith gin to 1 part dry vermouth garnished with a lemon twist.
A new gin to the market and one which has captured the hearts of bartenders globally is Fords, from The 86 co. We spoke to Dan Warner about how best to imbibe a Fords Gin Martini.
A Fords Gin Martini
"When we first launched Fords Gin we “tested” it in as many different Martini variations as possible (filthy work but somebody has to do it…). Different vermouths, different ratios, bitters, no bitters, different garnishes and even different glassware, and I can honestly say we didn’t come across one we didn’t like. Maybe that says as much about us as it does our gin but we really do believe we’ve made a most delicious and versatile gin. If I’m going for a ratio that really shows Fords Gin off then I tend to go 5:1 with dry vermouth (I like mine with no garnish but a lemon twist or olive works just fine).
"Fords also has the strength of character to shine through in a wetter Martini and I’m a big fan of a Fitty-Fitty Martini: equal parts Fords Gin and vermouth (I like to go with a bianco style or Lillet Blanc) and a lemon twist.
Dry Martini: 5 parts Fords Gin to 1 part dry vermouth. Garnished with a lemon twist.
Wet Martini: 1 parts Fords Gin to 1 part dry vermouth. Garnished with a lemon twist.
Made in the Scottish Highlands, Caorunn uses five locally foraged gin botanicals, making for fresh and sharp Martini. We spoke to Frazer McGlinchey about using Caorunn for this classic cocktails.
A Caorunn Martini
"The Original Dry Martini is an absolute benchmark for any sophisticated gin worth its salt. The recipe is the original dry, or wet to the point of soaking, depending on your point of view. Some legends behind the stick may disagree of course, but I have never been a huge fan of the dry Martini.
"The simple genius of the Martini is a perfect showcase for the delicate flavours in Caorunn; the Wild, handpicked Scottish botanicals providing dry and crisp fruity floral notes and nuance which make it unique, and extremely versatile especially compared to its more juniper heavy cousins. Other personal favorites are the 'perfect' Martini with dry and sweet vermouth, and maybe even a whisky rinse should one feel decadent; similarly the Heather Martini is a treat as the nights close in, made with Caorunn gin, Drambuie and Old Pulteney."
Order: 1 part Caorunn Gin to 1 part dry vermouth, 2 dashes angostura orange and garnished with a lemon twist.
MY FIRST MARTINI...
My First Martini... Jake Burger
"I don't remember drinking my first Martini, I'm guessing I probably didn't enjoy it that much. I do remember a pivotal moment in my career though. Working at a restaurant in Leeds called Rascasse circa about 1995 (aged a tender 21 years old) I had just read Dick Bradsells column in GQ magazine about how to make a proper Martini (this was long before we had any decent cocktail books or magazines or websites on the subject so good knowledge was hard to come by) Dick advised the old method where you just rinse the ice with vermouth- anyway an wealthy looking elderly American ordered a Martini and with Dick's advice fresh in my mind I set about preparing one. "kid there's two places in England where you can get a decent Martini, one is the Dorchester in London and the other is right here..." It was then I think that I graduated from bartending whilst I figured out what to do with my life to being a proper bartender."
My First Martini... Gin Monkey
"The first time I tried a Martini was singularly one of the best and worst cocktail experiences of my life. A boyfriend started working in a bar that served cocktails, so our third date was to a cocktail bar in Newcastle called Popolo to check out the competition, and what good cocktails actually tasted like. Before then my experience of cocktails had been juices and spirits thrown together haphazardly in things like a Sex On The Beach, or Woo-Woo (I had previously worked in pubs in Leeds). This was a whole different kettle of fish. I started with a Bramble, and then I think a Singapore Sling. How had I never drunk cocktails like this before? They were DELICIOUS! Later on in the night I got quite cocky and decided that I clearly liked gin more than I thought, and that it was going to be 'my' spirit of choice. A Martini was ordered, the lovely bartender asked me how I would like it. With zero clue what he was talking about, whilst pretty sloshed, I ordered dry with an olive with way more confidence than I should have done. When it arrived...well I took a huge gulp, sprayed it all over the bar, bartender and my date in shock at the strength of the booze, and about five minutes later having tried to keep on drinking it even though I was already pretty boozy and it was WAY too strong for a first foray into cocktails, had to make a trip to the loo. Classy as hell."
My First Martini... Claire Smith-Warner
"I have a theory that unless you were over 25 when you had your first sip, it may have been memorable for all the wrong reasons. For the uninitiated, the first cocky sip of an ice cold Martini can be a shock to the system, disabling your ability to fully appreciate nuances of the drink. For the unprepared, it can be a drink that is endured rather than enjoyed. The most common complaint is that the drink was ‘too strong’, or that there was too much spirit, not enough mixer. Cross the invisible dividing line between early adulthood and actual adulthood (for me, age 24 and 11 months), the drink suddenly becomes a sinewy, elegant indicator of refined refreshment. It is a drink you grow up for and then happily succumb to.
"Of course my first Martini was indeed memorable for all the wrong reasons. Having won a well-publicised cocktail competition I was in London courtesy of a generous spirit brand, ready to enjoy all the cocktail culture this fine city could throw at me. I vividly recall thinking I had really ‘made it’, and that my new found success should be heralded by a large decorative hat worn at a jaunty angle. Without irony, and clearly delusional, my 21 year old self skipped into the Savoy to ask the legendary Peter Dorelli for ‘his finest Martini Cocktail’. Naturally the drink was beautifully crafted; a tiny frozen offering to the goddess of classic cocktails, lovingly and patiently stirred, decorated with a sliver of lemon and a large dash of Dorelli’s charm. Something I grabbed and took a large gulp of, and then coughed and splutted it all over the great man. Ever the gentleman, Mr Dorelli pretended not to notice and quietly got on with avoiding me, while being generally awesome and legendary. Lesson learnt, I didn’t attempt another Martini until I felt I was ready to truly appreciate it, and give it the love and respect it is clearly due..."
My First Martini... Tim Homewood
"My first Martini memory dates back around 10 years, I’d just returned to London after a year overseas and started working in the appropriately named Dirty Martini in Covent Garden. Now as the name suggests the speciality of the house was Martinis and I’ll never forget the complexity of this incredibly simple cocktail… I think the first one I ever had was with dry and garnished with a lemon zest – needless to say I’ve been hooked ever since."
My First Martini... Pleurat Shabani
"When I first heard someone order a Martini, I would swear they were speaking a foreign language. I heard English words, but had no idea what the hell they just said. My first ever Martini was many many moons ago..., As a first timer’s thought process often goes like this, 'alright, time to step up and get a Martini. Okay, I think I want it dirty. Wait, what makes it dirty? Did I want it dry? Shit, what does dry even mean? Do I want this thing up? Or is it straight up? Maybe down? Does ordering a Martini down even exist? I mean, I know I’m down for this Martini. Screw this, bartender, I’ll take a beer.' Now I pretend I understand the Martini ordering lingo, and just go for a simple serve of a bone dry Konik’s Tail Martini."
My First Martini... Frazer McGlinchey
"My first Martini as I recall would have been in the haze of a Cambridge University May Week many moons ago, and much more wasted on me than those subsequent. Above all, I'd say that this, as with all drinks, is subjective provided you have the best ingredients - the best martini is the one which brings back treasured memories, the one you enjoy the most, or the next one. Slainte."
My First Martini... Dan Warner
"I remember making my first Martini better that the first time I drank one. I was working at a place called The Last Resort in the 90's in the British Virgin Islands. It really wasn’t the kind of bar where people drunk Martinis but we had a very lovely regular called Pat, a retired American lady in her 70’s that would often come by for a martini at lunchtime. Baddass, I hope I’m doing that when I’m in my 70's! It was Absolut, shaken, on the rock with olives, so perhaps Martini was stretching it a little bit but I made her lots over the time I worked there and she always told me it was amazing which was a great ego boost for a young Dan Warner."