Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The Martini

with 18 comments

The Martini is among the best of cocktails, if not the best. (Cocktails, unlike highballs, are undiluted with water, juice, soda, etc.)

The Martini was so popular and well-known that Ian Fleming, to characterize James Bond as a person who flouted convention, had him favor a vodka Martini (a true Martini uses gin) and had it “shaken, not stirred.” Unfortunately, the “shaken, not stirred” line lived on in the public mind as Martini knowledge waned, so that today some believe that the Martini is supposed to be shaken and not stirred, a major mistake: if you use the Martini ingredients and shake rather than stir, you get not a Martini, but a Bradford, a drink that resembles the Martini except that it’s polluted with tiny ice chips that melt rapidly and dilute the taste.

UPDATE: The above paragraph is wrong, alas. Here’s the true reason why Bond wanted a (vodka) Martini shaken rather than stirred, from New Scientist:

In our quest to establish the difference between a shaken and a stirred martini, we published a reply from Anna Collins of Washington DC (8 May). She informed us that Bond ordered his martinis shaken so that the ice helped to dissipate any oil left over from the manufacture of vodka from potatoes – the base vegetable for many vodkas at the time Ian Fleming was writing the James Bond novels. Anna added that with the rise of higher-quality grain vodkas this method of preparation has become unnecessary. One reader decided to check out whether this really was the case – Ed

Anna Collins is correct, according to our blind trial. We bought two bottles of vodka, one grain, the other potato-based. First we tasted the vodkas. In the blind trial all six people in our sample said the potato vodka was oily, and the grain vodka wasn’t. Then we made two vodka martinis using the potato vodka. One was stirred with ice, the other shaken with ice. The difference was quite distinct and in a blind tasting every one of the six drinkers characterised the shaken martini as being much less oily. But the martini had to be consumed quickly. If left to settle for 5 minutes or so, the shaken martini became oily again.

Peter Simmons, London, UK

Here’s the way to prepare a true Martini:

a) Put the Martini glass in the freezer well before the cocktail hour. This is important. (I keep a Martini glass in the freezer all the time.) If the glass is not thoroughly cold, it will immediately warm the drink. (The shape of the Martini glass is, I speculate, to make the drink seem smaller (i.e., shallower) than it is, encouraging the drinker to believe that s/he is drinking less than s/he is.)

b) Get out the refrigerated olives and spear one or two with an appropriate implement (a small bamboo olive pick, a sterling silver olive pick, or even a toothpick).

c) Fill the pitcher or shaker with ice cubes—not shaved ice nor crushed ice, which would dilute the drink excessively. Use a lot of ice compared to the amount of gin and vermouth so that the liquids will be quickly chilled. Since refrigerator cubes will adsorb odors, they should be rinsed before use. (With adsorption, the odors are confined to the surface.)

d) Pour room-temperature gin (Seagram’s Extra Dry, Gordon’s London Dry, Hendrick’s, Bombay, Bombay Sapphire, Boodles, Tanqueray, etc.—any excellent London Dry Gin—or, best of all, Plymouth gin, which is not a London Dry Gin) and Noilly Prat dry vermouth (no substitution here) Vya dry vermouth (see Update 3 below) over the ice in the ratio you favor. I go for 4 or 5 parts gin to 1 of vermouth. Ratios of 7-1 or 8-1 seem ridiculous. The vermouth is part of the drink. If you chill the gin ahead of time (some keep it in the freezer), you don’t achieve enough melt for a proper Martini.

e) Stir—do not shake—for the time it takes to sing two verses of “Mary Had a Little Lamb”: about 21 seconds. I use a cocktail shaker with an integral strainer, and I swirl the liquid around in the shaker while I sing.

f) Strain immediately into the pre-chilled Martini glass, and add the speared olive(s).

g) Twist a lemon peel over the surface of the drink and discard the peel. This puts a few tiny droplets of lemon oil on the surface to add to the aroma of the drink.

Enjoy.

You can find a small atomizer that purports to be a way to spray a mist of vermouth over a glass of chilled gin to make a Martini. This use is a joke (and a poor one), but the atomizer is useful if filled with lemon oil to spray a mist of the oil over the surface of the Martini (or Old Fashioned, Manhattan, or other cocktail). Boyajian sells 5-oz. bottles of lemon oil (the oil from 355 lemons) that works well. Note that you want lemon oil, not lemon-flavored oil (e.g., olive oil infused with lemons). The lemon oil is to be refrigerated once the bottle is opened, but the atomizer works even if it’s kept in the refrigerator.

UPDATE: Note to self: Try Citadelle gin and Dolin Vermouth de Chambéry, dry white.

UPDATE 2: The NY Times evaluated a number of gins as “Martini gins.” Take a look.

UPDATE 3: BAD NEWS: Noilly Prat is now (Jan 11 2009) changing their formula to make their dry vermouth much sweeter—and totally unsuitable for a Martini. One suggested vermouth to replace it: California’s premium vermouth, Vya. More information here.

UPDATE 4: Roger Moore describes his perfect Martini, which would not have enough vermouth for me.

Update 5 (12 Sept 2019): I now live in Victoria BC. In and around Victoria there’s been a flourishing of new distilleries producing really excellent spirits. Just to name Gins:

Odd Society makes Wallflower Gin using only barley, and it’s wonderful. Unruly Gin from Wayward Distillery uses only honey (their slogan is “Fundamentally Against the Grain”).

Sheringham Distillery just up the road makes two Gins: Kazuki Gin, which includes cherry blossoms among the botanicals, and Seaside Gin, which uses winged kelp and has won many awards, including “WORLD GIN AWARDS WORLD’s BEST CONTEMPORARY GIN 2019” (see link for full list of awards). I actually like Kazuki better, and Sheringham’s Akvavit is wonderful as well.

Victoria Distillers makes three superb gins: Empress 1908, whose botanicals include the butterfly pea flower, making the gin blue (and it changes color when mixed), Victoria Gin (my own favorite, though Empress is no slouch), and Oaken Gin, which is Victorian Gin aged in oak barrels.

Merridale Cidery & Distillery, not surprisingly, uses apples for its Gins and makes Cowichan Gin and Cowichan Copper Gin (aged in oak barrels for the color).

Those are just the gins. There are also wonderful whiskies, including several single malt. I took a bottle of Bearface Whisky, 100% corn, and on a visit to my son several of us compared it with Pappy Van Winkle 15-year old-bourbon. Bearface we judged better. The French guy present said it was smoother and more complex. (I am assuming that, being French, he had a trained palate.)

There are many more: Shore Point makes a variety of fine whiskies, Lohin McKinnon single-malt is excellent, and others. See this article, which doesn’t cover all that are available.

And let me point out an excellent column in the Washington Post by M. Carrie Allan on the Martini. It begins:

Now and then, I revise a classic scene from the Bond movie “Goldfinger,” when the villain has strapped the rakish British spy down and is about to dismember him with an enormous laser.

“Do you expect me to talk?” Bond asks, eyeing the laser’s progress toward him.

“No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die,” Goldfinger says.

In my version, Goldfinger turns back and hisses, “No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to apologize for the damage you have done to the martini.”

[Make the recipe: Classic Martini]

Having daydreamed of this for years, I laughed aloud when I arrived at the James Bond-related part of drinks writer Robert Simonson’s terrific new book, “The Martini Cocktail.”

“This chapter will be short, because I find its subject such an irritant,” Simonson writes. “Since at least the 1970s, no journalist has gotten away with writing about the Martini without addressing James Bond. Often they begin their story with Bond. Because Bond, more than sixty-five years after writer Ian Fleming dreamed up the suave British superspy, is still the first thing many people think of in connection to the Martini.”

I guess it’s too late to rethink my lead?

Simonson goes on to explain our shared pique: Bond’s famous “shaken, not stirred” order is infamous in the cocktail world (martinis, most agree, should not be shaken), as is the fact that Bond usually orders the drink with vodka, a spirit with much less complexity than gin.

Simonson and I made no such gaffes when we sat down recently for martinis at Maison Premiere in Brooklyn. The restaurant’s Old King Cole martini (one of dozens in Simonson’s book) combines Old Raj gin, Mancino secco vermouth and Angostura orange bitters. Presenting it is a two-person job: One server holds the tray of ingredients; another assembles, stirs and pours the drink tableside, served with a choice of garnishes — olives, lemon peel, seaweed — and a tiny spoon of caviar, if you like. We liked.

[The 7 essential cocktails every drinker should know how to make]

Our drinks came with a story, the server explaining that the Old King Cole name is based on the tale that the martini originated at the Knickerbocker Hotel in New York, whose bar had a Maxfield Parrish mural of Old King Cole.

“The story is nonsense,” Simonson noted, but the resulting martini is all it should be.

Simonson, brave fellow, drank hundreds of martinis researching his book, which delves into the drink’s fascinating history and faŭ histories, its spinoffs, the evolution of preferences around gin vs. vodka. And, of course, it touches on the vermouth-to-spirit ratio, long one of the greatest points of debate about the drink.

His desire to write the book, in fact, was inspired by a martini recipe competition he wrote about. He was one of several judges on the panel, which tasted 27 variations and chose a winner far lower in vermouth — much closer to the older style — than the 1-to-1 ratio lately heralded in the cocktail world.

His article reporting the results came out, “and people flipped! They were so mad that a 50:50 did not win,” Simonson says. “I was just kind of amazed by the response. And it occurred to me: People are still getting upset about martinis! After 135 years, they’re still angry about this drink, and they’re still arguing about it.”

“Why?” I asked him, somewhat facetiously. After all, I like arguing about martinis myself. But so much analysis and wit has been expended on the drink that sometimes it seems even to evoke its name is to add another layer to a heavily gilded lily.

“It certainly helped that writers and artists took up the cause and decided it was worth arguing about,” Simonson says. “It is a very singular cocktail. People think martinis are simple. It’s gin and vermouth, leaving aside the vodka question for the moment. But gin has all these things in it, and vermouth has all these things in it, and if you throw in the orange bitters, you’re dealing with even more. The balance of all those botanicals is kind of bewitching.”

Making it right

Lots of people have a preference about their martinis, and if you’re hosting, it’s smart to find out what it is. Here is how to approach the variables while understanding the rules: . . .

Continue reading.

Update:

A Drink with Something in It

There is something about a Martini,
A tingle remarkably pleasant;
A yellow, a mellow Martini;
I wish I had one at present.
There is something about a Martini
Ere the dining and dancing begin,
And to tell you the truth,
It is not the vermouth—
I think that perhaps it’s the gin.

— Ogden Nash

Written by Leisureguy

8 June 2006 at 9:57 am

18 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Reminds me of “Gracious Living” at the institution before Friday night lecture.

    Like

    Happy Jack the early bird

    12 June 2006 at 10:20 am

  2. How is it a vodka martini when it’s made with 3 oz of Gordon’s Gin.

    Like

    A. McNair

    2 December 2006 at 3:37 pm

  3. You’re referring to the recent James Bond movie with Daniel Craig, I believe. Actually, the history of James Bond goes back much further than that, and I was referring to the original novels by Ian Fleming.
    But, to answer your question, a Martini made with gin is indeed not a vodka Martini (made, as the name suggests, with vodka). That said, Gordon’s (obviously a product placement) would definitely not be my choice for a Martini gin. YMMV.

    Like

    LeisureGuy

    2 December 2006 at 3:41 pm

  4. I am a bit of a non-conformist and love to make a “dirty” martini. Mine are dirtier than you get at bars. At the neighborhood pub a dirty martini will fetch the above (probably shaken) with a splash of olive juice from the jar of olives mixed in. I go a step further and sqeeze several drops of lemon (including some pulp) into the mix along with olive juice. It comes out fresh and tangy. Now, this drink may have another name out there, but I like to call it a “dirty” martini. BTW, olives stuffed with smoked garlic or bleu cheese are an added treat.

    Like

    David F,

    30 December 2006 at 11:44 pm

  5. great post…I do LOVE a good martini. I will have to try the vermouth you mentioned (Noilly Prat). I especially liked how you pointed out that the vermouth actually does need to be added to the drink to make it a martini…otherwise it would be chilled gin.

    BTW, just got some QED soaps I can’t wait to try!

    Like

    michaelskar

    10 January 2007 at 1:41 pm

  6. I drink my martinis the way Mr David does, and I have tried the olives stufed with bleu cheese; they’re great!

    Like

    Mr. Santoro

    4 March 2007 at 3:33 pm

  7. I’ve always liked the silver onion garnish of a gibson martini.

    Like

    Andrew Hammond

    19 March 2007 at 4:23 pm

  8. well, I am from Chile, and the best I ever knew about a good Martini, is the one I found already bottled!! nothing like this one, I enjoyed it a lot, and now I think I am able to make it myself without feeling ashamed.
    Very good tips aswell.
    Thanks
    Love
    Silvia

    Like

    silvia

    18 April 2007 at 5:57 am

  9. Indeed, do try Citadelle Gin as noted. It tastes like Chanel perfume smells. Wow.

    Like

    Paul

    5 June 2007 at 1:51 am

  10. I remembered to come back here to say thanks for the recipe – we used it last night, although to be fair I can’t remember much about it!

    Thanks again

    Like

    Nova

    13 February 2008 at 10:10 am

  11. 9AKhfm Hello! I’m Samuel Smith, i’m from Switqerland i and find your site really brilliant!

    Like

    Samuel

    2 May 2008 at 2:31 pm

  12. The late lamented Bruno Mooshi, owner and chief bartender of the Persian Aub ZamZam Room in San Francisco’s Haight district, was famous for his martinis. They were, um, unconventional. Bruno’s martini, whose recipe he gladly disclosed, was:

    1. Stirred, not shaken
    2. 4-to-1 ratio of gin to vermouth
    3. Boord’s gin (which he praised as “a clean gin”)
    4. Boissiere vermouth.

    Boord’s is a low-priced gin ($10 per 1.75 liters) but is, as he indicated, “clean”. Unpolluted by silly extras — unlike, say, Bombay Sapphire. You can buy it at the Longs drugstore chain just down the street from the Aub ZamZam room, and at BevMo, Lucky supermarket, etc.

    Boissiere is slightly harder to find, but worth the search IMHO.

    Like

    transistordude

    14 February 2010 at 8:34 pm

  13. I’ll definitely give Boissiere a go. Many thanks for the tip. I certainly agree with 1 and 2 of his recipe, but I definitely would go with Plymouth gin. YMMV.

    Like

    LeisureGuy

    14 February 2010 at 9:20 pm

  14. Well if you are a hardcore afficianado of Plymouth gin, permit me to introduce you to Aviation gin from Portland, Oregon, USA. It is all that Plymouth is, and more. AND it has got that west coast mojo. Support your local businesswoman. Yeah baby. http://www.aviationgin.com/ You can order it over Da Intanet since Oregon and Monterey California have got Tax Reciprocity working. Oh yes.

    But some find Boord’s superior. Your mileage may vary.

    Like

    transistordude

    14 February 2010 at 9:31 pm

  15. Bruno used Boodles gin in his ‘generic’ martinis at the Persia Aub ZamZam, at least when I was in there the late 80’s and early 90’s. Specifically asking for any other brand was a sure ticket out of the bar.

    I prefer my martini dry. I of course wouldn’t dare ask Bruno for such. But when I’m mixing, I pour a surfeit of vermouth onto the ice in the mixer, swirl, and then pour out and discard the liquid. Only then do I add gin, stir, wait, and drain. The only vermouth in the drink is that which coated was coating the ice. It’s my ideal.

    Like

    AdamAnon

    10 March 2010 at 2:25 pm

  16. Reblogged this on Ice & Bitters and commented:
    Leisure Guy’s selfless testing of potato versus grain vodkas, and their effect on Vodka Martinis…

    Like

    JonathanR

    23 February 2014 at 8:16 am

  17. […] Back in 2006, the LeisureGuy blog followed up on research in the New Scientist, which carried out a taste test on two Vodka Martinis, one using a potato-based vodka, the other with a grain-based spirit, and […]

    Like

  18. Best description ever about how much vermouth to put in a dry Martini: Make sure you’re preparing it while an Alitalia flight is crossing overhead! I am, like you. a 4-5:1 man. Plus a drop of Angostura bitters for each serving. Shaken when using a shaker, stirred when I’m lazy and making it directly in the serving glass. So many variations, one could spend a lifetime of study, especially considering the number of new artisanal gins.

    Like

    Steve

    11 February 2015 at 9:51 am


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: