The Basic Martini

The basic martini, the original and king of them all. A symbol of elegance and adult recreation. "For a true martini believer, the combination of gin, vermouth, and olive is the Holy Trinity." That is the combination for the basic martini. But is it that simple, of course not! It's almost like a Zen riddle, the more you think about it, the more befuddled you become. Topics of debate are,

"What is the proportion of gin to vermouth?";

"To shake or to stir?";

"What is the ultimate dry martini?";

and on it goes. People love to personalize, so you can imagine there are as many variations of the basic martini as there are martini drinkers. For instance, my dad is an avid martini drinker. His signiture is a Ketel One vodka martini, shaken, served up with an olive and a twist. No vermouth.

So everyone is on the same page with vermouth, there are two kinds, sweet and dry. Vermouth is a fortified wine flavored with a mix of botanicals and herbs. Sweet vermouth originated in Italy, is amber in color, and you guessed it, slightly sweet. Dry vermouth originated in France and is clear in color.

The Perfect Dry Martini

In the early 1920's, (prohibition days) dry vermouth and gin were mixed in near equal parts when making a basic martini. A bartender friend of mine claims that this was the case because the illegal hootch being made at the time was of such poor quality that it needed to be "masked" by the dry vermouth. Sounds plausible. Since that time, the quality of liquor has increased and the trend has been to use less and less dry vermouth, until finally what you have is one big shot of cold booze. By the way, when people ask for a "dry martini" they mean less vermouth. The less the amount of vermouth the drier the martini. A "hip" thing to do is to use a mini-mister to mist the inside of the martini glass with vermouth, before pouring the liquor into it.

The going joke on the driest martini goes: "The driest martini I ever had was when I strained the martini into the glass and then whispered vermouth to it." The variation to this one you hear is about waving the vermouth bottle over the martini.

To Shake or To Stir

Another question that often arises it whether to shake or to stir. Which ever you choose, both are an important step in the process. It chills, and slightly dilutes the liquor making it softer and more pleasant to drink. Although I am of the opinion that liquor can't be bruised, stirring does seem like a kinder, gentler treatment. Stirring also preserves the clarity of the liquor, which many find appealing. With that said, I do prefer my martinis shaken. I just love the sound it makes. And I enjoy the ultra thin flecks of ice that form on a martini that is properly shaken. People jokingly call this "Being able to ice skate on their martini."

As you see, there are many nuances to making this fine drink. Experiment, and you will find the variation to the basic martini the suits you perfectly. Just have fun with it.

Now that you know the ropes here are some different recipes to try. And if you need some swanky stemware to serve your basic martini in, you'll appreciate these stylish forms.

Barware

Martini Recipes

Basic Martini

  • 2 1/2oz gin or vodka depending on you preference.
  • Hint of dry vermouth. A guideline is 8 parts gin or vodka, to 1 part vermouth.

Dirty Martini Recipe

Always a fun one to order: Make it durrrrty!

  • 2 1/2oz vodka or gin of choice.
  • 1/2oz or less of the brine from the cocktail olives depending on how dirty you want to be.
  • Hint of dry vermouth.

Shake cold, serve in a martini glass. Garnish with olives. Some enjoy stuffing their olives with cheese, or experimenting with a wide range of olives available at most quality delis.

Gibson

A basic martini recipe that traditionally calls for gin, but in my experience is just as often made with vodka.

  • 2 1/2oz gin or vodka based on personal preference.
  • Hint of dry vermouth.

If you like it "dirty" add 1/4oz or less of onion juice, i.e. the juice that the cocktail onions are packaged in.

Shake or stir ingredients cold, strain into a martini glass and garnish with cocktail onions.

Gimlet

This martini recipe is just like the Gibson except that in calls for lime juice rather than the onion juice. The easiest way for me to remember this difference is that Gibson has the letter O in the name for Gibson. While the Gimlet has the letter L in it's name for Gimlet.

  • 2 1/2oz vodka or gin based of perference.
  • 1/4oz lime juice.

Shake or stir cold, strain into a martini glass and garnish with a lime wedge. I find old school cocktail drinks like Rose's lime juice. Where as others like fresh lime juice. Again there is no right or wrong, it's all about how you like it.

Smokey Martini

  • 2 1/2oz gin
  • splash of blended scotch - this is a substitute for dry vermouth. I am not much of a scotch drinker, but I understand that is common to make this with Laphroaig scotch because it has a very smoky flavor.

Shake or stir ingredients cold and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Sources:

If you want to know more about the basic martini and it's variations these books are a good place to start.

Straight Up Or On The Rocks:
The Story Of The American Cocktail
William Grimes

Shaken Not Stirred
Anistatia R. Miller & Jared M. Brown