How to Make a Proper Martini
As the World’s Largest Gin Bar, we take the responsibility of making a great martini very seriously. We’ve labored over every detail to create a libation which is truly “proper” and, today, we share our secrets with you….
We’ll start with our recipe then go into the details of the what’s and why’s below.
The Proper Martini
- 2.5 oz. Plymouth Gin
- 0.5 oz. Dolan Dry Vermouth
- 2 Dashes Angostura Orange Bitters
- Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker glass with the largest ice you can find.
- Stir for a long time – about a minute and a half.
- Strain into a small cocktail glass.
- Garnish with a Lemon Twist* and a Rinsed Olive.
Note: This makes a big steakhouse-sized Martini. We don’t, however, recommend serving it in those giant cocktail glasses you got at your wedding or it will get warm long before you’re done.
The Origins of the Martini
The fact is: No one really knows where this cocktail came from. It may have evolved from a classic cocktail called the Martinez and was probably named after the Italian Vermouth maker Martini & Rossi. As far as we’re concerned, it doesn’t really matter where it came from, what does matter is that a Martini is, in fact, a “cocktail’ rather than simply a glass of chilled spirits.
It’s an alchemic mixture of several ingredients (in this case, the classic structure of Base + Modifier + Perfume) which come together to create a sum far greater than its parts – A tipple with a subtle, near transcendental, complexity which has kept it at the top of the list of great cocktails for more than a century.
We know that the Martini started out as a much sweeter drink and has gotten drier and drier through the ages. Since the Vodka Martini craze of the late eighties, the cocktail has gotten so “dry” that bartenders often omit the Vermouth entirely. So, if you’re in a place that makes primarily vodka martinis, you may actually have to “call” for vermouth in your tipple.
The most popular and traditional form of gin is London Dry Gin (think Tanqueray, Bombay, Beefeater, etc.) which has very strong defining notes of juniper and citrus and… it makes a fantastic Martini. We, however, prefer, and use, Plymouth Gin in our Proper Martini.
Plymouth is a style unto itself with only one surviving manufacturer which has been making the spirit for more than 200 years. A little softer and a little more complex than London Dry, Plymouth has a great depth of flavor with lovely notes of fresh juniper, a bright lemon bite, just a hint of sweetness and a wonderful smooth mouthfeel which we find makes the ideal base for the other aromatic ingredients in this cocktail. Plymouth Gin was also Winston Churchill’s preferred gin for his famous Vermouth-less Martini.
Plymouth is not, however, your only choice. If you’re not a fan of juniper, fear not. Recently, there has been a veritable explosion of new gins that fall into a category often referred to as New World Gins (despite the fact that some fantastic examples come from the Old World). These gins are notable in that they dial back the juniper flavor and can feature nearly any variety of botanicals and aromatics which means there is now a gin for virtually any taste.
What about vodka? We’re opposed to snobbery of any kind when it comes to cocktailing and believe that everyone should have their martini the way they like it. So if you prefer a Vodka Martini, we would never try to stop you. We would, however, suggest you give this bad boy a taste before you write it off.
Gin is essentially Vodka which has been enhanced with botanicals and aromatics – it’s really the original flavored Vodka – and those flavors work beautifully in this cocktail. You may be pleasantly surprised to discover that a properly made Martini bears very little resemblance to the cheap chilled gin you hated in college.
Vermouth is critical to this cocktail. It softens the bite of the alcohol and, the right amount of the right Vermouth, adds a depth and complexity which can be truly sublime. After many late nights of “first hand research,” we can confidently recommend Dolin Dry Vermouth in a 5:1 ratio.
If you think you don’t like more than a “breath” of Vermouth in a Martini, give us a second to defend it. It might not be Vermouth, in general, you dislike. The trouble may lie with the specific bottle of Vermouth you’re using. It might be a poor quality brand. It might be the wrong ratio of Vermouth to Gin. Or, if it’s been opened for more than a few months, it may simply have gone bad.
See, Vermouth is a fortified and aromatized wine (which is happily drunk on its own by Europeans as an aperitif) but its alcohol content is not strong enough to preserve it. That means that, just like a good wine, as soon as the bottle is opened and it’s exposed to air, it begins to oxidize.
To avoid this, we recommend buying the smallest bottle you can find and keeping it refrigerated.
There are several brands of Orange Bitters available these days but we remain a fan of the variety from our old friends at Angostura.
The Overlooked Ingredient
Ever watched your bartender pour your gin or vodka into a cocktail shaker, give it one half-hearted shake and strain it into a glass only to discover it was harsh and heavy with alcohol “burn?” That’s because an improperly or, more accurately, inadequately stirred or shaken cocktail is missing a key ingredient: Water.
That’s right. Shaking or stirring a cocktail doesn’t just chill it, it adds between a half and a full ounce of water and this is critical for providing the proper dilution that makes a cocktail “smooth” and “drinkable.”
That means, if you’re stirring, stir for a long time.
If you’re shaking, shake the $h!t out of it!
Stirring vs. Shaking
The general rule is:
- If a drink is all spirits like a Martini or a Manhattan, it should be stirred.
- If it has fruit juice or other ingredients in it, then you shake it.
We don’t abide stories about “bruising” gin but we have found that a stirred Martini has a smoother, more viscous texture which we find preferable to a shaken one. Additionally, one of the things that makes this drink so beautiful is that it is crystal clear. If you shake it, it’s going to get frothy and bubbly and rob you of its lovely presentation.
It’s all a matter of personal taste and we use both. We definitely think the tangy citrus notes in a twist bring out key aromatic notes in the gin so we would always include a twist. We also like an olive to serve as a savory snack while waiting for something more substantial. What we don’t love, however, is salt in our Martini so we generally rinse our olives before garnishing.
*How to Make a Proper Twist
A citrus twist is much more than a decoration to a cocktail. Hovering at the top of your glass, it makes an olfactory contribution every time you raise the drink to your lips to take a sip. Plus a proper twist will expel a visible amount of essential citrus oils into your cocktail so it is a actually a significant additional ingredient.
Here’s how to do it…
- Using a vegetable peeler, remove a piece of rind about a half an inch wide and about two inches long. Be careful not to bend it yet!
- Holding the twist above, and slightly off to one side of, your drink with the rind side (NOT the pith side) aimed at the surface of the cocktail, bend the rind between your fingers – you’ll actually be able to see the oils flying off the outside of the rind and making tiny splashes in your cocktail.
- Rub the rind side along the entire rim of your glass.
- Serve with the rind balanced on the top of your glass.