There’s nowhere to hide with a martini. With just gin, vermouth and a garnish, if the balance is wrong the customer is either faced with a hit of raw booze or a drink awash with vermouth. Add to that the fact that the term martini is now used to cover up a multitude of sins — including the use of vodka — and the senseless addition of “-tini” to the name of any drink served “up” with a few berries floating in it, and it’s little wonder that drinkers are confused about the real thing.
It’s a real shame, because when made with precision by a skilled bartender — or even better, with care at home — the perfect martini stands alone as the king of cocktails.
The origins of the martini
The origins of the martini cocktail are shrouded in myth. One road leads back to Martinez, California, and a drink made during the gold rush of the 1800s, in which barman Julio Richelieu mixed a drink he called “The Martinez,” comprised of one part Sauternes wine with three parts gin, garnished with an olive.
Another attributes the name to a powerful rifle used by the British Army in the late 1800s called the Martini and Henry. Yet another story traces the origins to the early 1900s, when a New York bartender mixed a drink comprising equal parts of London Dry Gin and Noilly Prat vermouth with orange bitters.
Whatever its origins, the martini has become the definitive cocktail and is now made with gin and vermouth in proportions according to taste, garnished with an olive or a twist of lemon that leaves a slick of citrus oil on the surface through which to drink the powerful cocktail.
If the origins are shrouded in mystery, so too is the martini’s mixing method a source of constant argument among the world’s bartenders. Do you chill everything to within an inch of its life? Do you just chill the glasses? Then there’s the biggest question of all: Do you shake or stir before decanting into your martini glass?
Stirring will always be the way for the purists who claim that vigorous shaking “bruises the gin,” whereas others swear that you need to shake the cocktail to chill it to the right temperature. In truth, like so much about the martini, it’s all about personal preference.
Which brand of gin?
There are hundreds of brands of gin available, but not all of them are suitable for a martini, as the botanicals used to flavor the gin, along with the prerequisite juniper berries, may be better suited to simply drinking on the rocks with ice and lemon. These are our five favorites.
The botanicals, including Seville orange and lemon peel, are steeped in the spirit for 24 hours before distillation, which gives this gin an immediate flavor that can stand up to rapid chilling.
First made over 200 years ago, this remains one of the finest gins on the market and is perfect for a martini with a hint of cardamom and citrus in its mix of botanicals.
We’ve got more advice on how to mix the perfect martini after the jump…
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