Undoubtedly the most famous of gin cocktails, the Martini reserves an unrivalled place at the summit of any cocktail book and is the true test of any bartender’s skills. It’s also the cocktail that generates the most arguments and the “perfect” Martini is an accomplishment so rare to behold, it’s akin to the Holy Grail.
Our Favourite Martini Recipe:
15ml Dry Vermouth
Zest of Lemon
Pour gin and dry vermouth in cocktail shaker with ice. Stir well, then strain into chilled Martini glass. Zest the lemon peel and garnish by twisting it in a perfect spiral.
An emblem of style and sophistication, the Martini has come to symbolise much more than just a cocktail. It’s more than an option to pick come gin o’clock – it’s the reference drink for cocktail culture and possibly, the most famous of all cocktails across all categories. The Mojito, Cosmopolitans, the Gin & Tonic, there are few cocktails that transcend drinks and have captivated generations in the way the Martini has.
The history of the Martini has countless stories and although there are arguments pointing at different creators; all of them are impossible to verify with any certainty. There is however a common consensus that the Martini was most likely to have been invented in America. The rest written here is our understanding of its legacy, based on what we have read as opposed to hard facts that we can categorically prove.
We feel, the iconic cocktail’s history begins with a drink called the Martinez – which is also the name of a town in California which claims to be the geographical birthplace of the drink we now call the Martini. There is even a plaque in Martinez, California, that commemorates the birth of the Martini. It covers the story of Julio Richelieu’s bar in Martinez around the year 1870. Julio made a gin and vermouth concoction and dropped an olive into the drink before serving it to the customer. Allegedly, this was the birth of the Martini.
One of the oldest recipes can be found in The Bon Vivant’s Companion: Or How to Mix Drinks (1887). There are various other stories that are linked with the Martinez/Martini history and who created it – but no one can be sure which is true and you’ll find passionate supporters backing their claim to being the real deal. For example, many favour the theory that New York judiciary member Randolph Martine gave the drink its name. The theory lacks solid evidence, however many early listings of the Martini cocktail were found under the name ‘Martine’, as in Harry Johnson’s New and Improved Illustrated Bartender’s Manual and in the meeting agenda of the International Association of Bartenders conference in 1893, Chicago.
Others point to the Martini brand of vermouth available in New York since 1867 that is said to have influenced the name. One of the best recourses for further reading is Imbibe by David Wondrich, which includes a 6-page appendix dedicated to his extensive research and conclusions on all 4 of the above popular theories.
It’s hard to believe that there was a single “hey presto” moment however. History seldom makes it so easy so while we doubt it was one bartender at a specific bar – it’s our belief that the Martini evolved from the Martinez.
The transformation is an intriguing one too and worthy of some attention for those looking for inspiration to create their own twists on the classic serve. To begin with it was a different creature entirely: with 1:2 or even 1:1 parts gin and sweet (not dry) vermouth, as well as the addition of simple syrup or bitters. Clearly it was a much sweeter, less bracing beverage and ingredients like orange bitters remained a common ingredient until the 1940s. By the turn of the century however the ratio had started to lean more heavily towards the gin until it reached a point where gin was barely caressed with a touch of vermouth in what has become known as the Naked Martini.
If we fast-forward through decades of cocktail creativity, Prohibition, innovative bartenders, Hollywood and cunning marketing campaigns by Vermouth companies all the way to 2010, while the basic ingredients are commonly accepted, the perfect recipe for the Martini is still open to fierce debate. To quote Jason Wilson (author of Boozehound) “It is certainly more of a broad concept than a specific recipe”…
Variations & Twists
All classic Martini recipes include vermouth as an ingredient of the cocktail. The lesser the amount of vermouth, the drier the Martini is considered to be. For twists on the classic Martini please see our other posts on a few popular variations – MARTINI TWISTS.
Shaken vs Stirred – Which one is correct?
Whether to shake it or stir it has been a contentious issue for bartenders across the years, arguably only really becoming a mainstream argument since Ian Fleming’s Bond started ordering his. Shaking the drink increases the rate at which the drink reduces in temperature (compared to stirring). Because you can’t see how much dilution is going on until you stop shaking combined with the increased speed at which this is happening, usually results in slightly more dilution compared to stirring (which takes longer and is more controlled). Obviously, this depends on the quality of the barkeep. The fact that the shaking motion introduces air bubbles into the drink, a shaken Martini can taste lighter, colder and sometimes even has a slight opaqueness to it.
As noted by Tristan Stephenson in his book The Curious Bartender, his experiments show that shaking a drink for more than 20 seconds will have very little further effect on temperature or dilution. This being, because as the cocktail approaches its freezing point its temperature plateaus. It is then said at this point, the level of dilution will also plateau, since the ice is only required to stabilise the temperature of the drink, not chill it.
Furthermore he explains that a strong drink can be chilled to -3 degrees Celsius in under 10 seconds by shaking it with cubed ice, but to achieve the same result by stirring with cubed ice will take over 30 seconds. This is because in essence a stir is a very slow shake, simply explained. This is demonstrated in his graph, left. He state that we can be forgiven for assuming that a stirred drink has more dilution because it takes longer, but the physics are conclusive whether the drink is shaken or stirred (for long enough) – it will reach almost exactly the same temperature and dilution.
Stirring the drink, on the other hand, is a more gentle technique used to delicately combine the ingredients with a perfect amount of dilution. It’s self explanatory as a technique and whichever your preference – you can create the stunning results using the two different techniques.
For many, it has always been a steadfast rule that you stir clear drinks, shake drinks containing fruit juice, egg or cream but these rules are not eternal, only to survive as long as future generations continue to adopt them.
Many of these said rules originate from highly respected tomes and pioneers within the industry. It may be surprising to hear that one such influencer called Harry Craddock in fact shook his Martinis. The crucial difference between another well-known influencer Harry Johnson’s first two Martini recipes – the Marguerite and the Bradford a la Martini is that one was stirred and the other was shaken. David Embury wrote on the topic too, in his book The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, titled “To Stir or To Shake”. He explains that elementary fact we all already know – shaking gets a drink colder faster, but may result in a little cloudiness, especially if vermouth or wine is included.
There are other techniques on how to mix a Martini such as throwing, batching in bottles, ageing in barrels etc… with hundreds of Martini variations made by thousands of bartenders and equating a lot of variables to discuss! Furthermore, it is why the Martini is so difficult to make perfectly as people will have individual preferences for how they like it best served.
Garnish, garnish, garnish
Finally, there’s the garnish. It’s hard to overstate the importance of this final touch as this can make or break the drink. In different versions of the cocktail, different garnishes have been used including olives, cherries, lemon slices or lemon peels. It is still a tough choice to make and our advice would be to use a garnish that matches the character of the gin.
Making Martini cocktails in the comfort of your kitchen? If you are making at home, get the following things right and you’re in for a tasty cocktail:
Good, cold ice and lots of it. If you have wet and slightly warm ice, you’ll over-dilute and under chill your drink. Lots of ice forces the drink to chill faster – so pack it in the mixing jar / shaker to ensure sufficient chill with just enough dilution. If you skimp on ice, you get a watery limp attempt at a cocktail.
Start off by stirring your Martinis before giving shaking a go, once you know how you like it. It’s easier to replicate and achieve consistency when stirring as you can see what is going on. It’s not a question of what is better or worse, that is up to personal taste. Once you know what recipe you like, try other techniques and keep tinkering!
Personal taste, choice of gin, vermouth and garnish allows for so much variety even if the ratios are set. Don’t be afraid to experiment in order to obtain a kind of gin Martini that best suits your taste buds. Not forgetting that each gin will produce a totally individual taste so tinker about with various libations and alternative garnishes combos to find which suits you best.
Lastly, always try to make sure the glass is chilled. Ideally, it’ll come straight from the freezer (pouring a perfectly mixed Martini into a warm glass will spoil everything). The final essential: your ingredients should be of high-quality. Since the drink is so simple, you’ll taste a lower quality ingredient instantly.
How to Drink It:
REMEMBER – The lesser the amount of vermouth, the drier the Martini is considered to be. If you like ice cold gin straight up go Bone Dry. If you like both Sweet and Dry Vermouth – go for a Perfect Martini. We’ve written a few twists on the classic Martini in a separate article – MARTINI TWISTS.
When to drink it you ask? Usually, when your Aston Martin has just been chopped to bits and you’ve had to fight your way through a cohort of highly trained killers, only to end up in a five star establishment where the supermodel bombshell of the day entices you to a game of strip poker. Or, for those who don’t have a double 0 licence…when you’ve had a long day and need something to really take the edge off, preferably after feeding the cat. Dryer Martinis are more bracing, wetter slightly more relaxing and more contemplative. Up to you!
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