Over the decades, a great deal of debate has ensued over both the ingredients and method for making a classic Martini. Theories abound on the origin, as well. It is my belief that the cause of so much confusion is the fact that the Martini developed and evolved over a long period of time. There was never a definitive recipe to begin with, so all claims for credit are disputable.
I can state with conviction that a Martini never contains liquids such as apple schnapps or chocolate liqueur. It is never garnished with lychee fruit or passion fruit. Not to take away from these libations, I just have issues with calling them a Martini. Painting my car red does not make it a Ferrari, and pouring some booze into a Martini glass does not make it a Martini. If you are going to put in the effort to design a new cocktail, show it the respect it deserves by putting in the same effort to name it.
A classic Martini contains two main ingredients: Gin and Dry Vermouth. The gin is a matter of choice. Beefeater is dry and piney with hints of coriander. Bombay Dry Gin tastes of dried citrus peel and juniper. Bombay Sapphire has citrus and coriander, but little juniper. Tanqueray is heavy on the pine and juniper, although it is very smooth. Hendricks has no pine. It is smooth with cucumber and floral notes. And finally Ransom Old Tom is barrel aged, which adds a slightly sweet malt flavor, with floral notes, juniper, cardamom and citrus.
The earliest Martinis were made with Old Tom (a sweeter style gin), sweet vermouth and a splash of bitters. When they evolved into today’s version, the word “dry” was added to indicate that “dry” vermouth and “dry” gin were to be used. It was not a reference to the amount of vermouth, or lack thereof. The bitters are still used in some circles, but rarely these days.
The flavor of the vermouth should be present. If you only add a splash, or merely rinse the glass with the vermouth before discarding it, you will end up with a cocktail with unbalanced flavors. If you wish to drink a glass of gin on the rocks, by all means order it that way. But a Martini is proportioned 2:1, 3:1 or 4:1, with dry gin dominating dry vermouth in all cases. The 2:1 is often referred to as a Wet Martini.
The other decision is which dry vermouth to use. Dolin Dry Vermouth from France is the way to go if you like your vermouth herbal and floral, with a noticeable wine flavor. This is my choice when using Beefeater, Bombay Dry, or Tanqueray. Vya Extra Dry Vermouth from California is spicy and complex, and pairs well with Bombay Sapphire and Hendricks. Save the Old Tom for drinking on the rocks, or try making the aforementioned sweeter Martini as a salute to its earliest incarnation.
You have chosen the gin and vermouth. Next: the hardware. Use a glass Martini pitcher if you like a Martini “stirred,” or a steel shaker for “shaken.” Either way, stick them in the freezer, along with your Martini glasses and gin. Always leave them there, when not needed, if possible. The debate will continue to rage regarding shaken versus stirred, but it comes down to this question: Do you prefer your Martini to have a bit of a bite (stirred), or do you prefer it to be softer and rounder (shaken).
Since the Art of the Cocktail is about making drinks correctly, which, in part, means consistently, use a shot glass. Fill your well-chilled pitcher or shaker with ice. Measure your preferred ratio of gin-to-vermouth, pouring it over the ice as you go. Stir gently for stirred. If you like it shaken, then go for broke and shake it like mad. This with pulverize some of the ice into tiny shards that float along the surface of your cocktail. I like Martinis both ways, depending on my mood.
Next, remove your glasses from the freezer. Garnish with three olives, or one. Odd numbers are esthetically pleasing. Ask any architect or artist. A twist of lemon works well, too, but do it right by facing the shiny skin side towards the inside of the glass, and then carefully twisting it to release the essential oils into the glass. Next run the twist along the rim of the glass. Now strain your Martini into the glass and drop the twist in. Some prefer to strain the Martini into the glass first, followed by the twist ritual. It is a matter of preference and, for some, tradition. I sometimes add an olive and a twist, known as an “Oliver Twist”.
One final version: The Dirty Martini. I find this an acceptable version of a Martini because it is not introducing any new, outside flavors to the recipe. It is merely increasing the amount of brine that the olives are soaked in to a more noticeable level. This works particularly well when made with a 3:1:1 ratio of Beefeater, Bombay Dry, or Tanqueray, to Dolin Dry Vermouth, to olive brine. Try this shaken. Garnish with one olive, one twist, and (purist will balk at this) a sprig of fresh rosemary, lightly crushed between your fingers. The rosemary accentuates the juniper in the gin, and, therefore, is a legitimate addition. The olive mirrors the flavor of the brine. The lemon echoes both the gin and the vermouth. This is a boldly flavored Martini that begs to be sipped, and I implore you try it.
Serve with blue cheese, such as Gorgonzola Dolce from Italy, Cabrales from Spain, Roquefort from France or Stilton from England, spread on toasted slices of baguette. A bowl of Marcona almonds from Spain make a nice accompaniment as well. Gray flannel suits and evening gowns, with Frank, Dean and Sammy playing in the background cannot be topped.