These days you can find all sorts of Martini cocktails, ranging from the classic recipe to fruity versions, many of which are named merely on the basis of the cocktail glass used. In this article we will separate the Martini from the Martinis…
What is in the Martini?
The original Martini was, and still is, made with gin. If you want a Martini made with vodka you need to ask for Vodkatini or a Vodka Martini. In both cases the spirit is mixed with dry vermouth. Make sure to choose a top-notch gin (or vodka) – this is not the time to skimp on quality. Martini offers a great way to sample new gins. Personally, I prefer dry and savoury gin with a decent level of ABV.
Back in the 1950s in the “Mad Men” era in Manhattan, a Martini was made with gin, vermouth and orange bitters and garnished with an olive. In those days, people enjoyed a sweeter version with the gin and vermouth at a 50:50 ratio. Today, everyone has their favourite gin–vermouth ratio and their own garnish preferences, but in general, people prefer drier Martinis with a 6:1 ratio.
Dry sherry has also become a popular ingredient in Martini cocktails. As it is a fortified wine, it can easily be used to replace dry vermouth.
How does the ratio actually work?
There are three main types of Martini: wet, dry and perfect. Vermouth is a fortified wine flavoured with botanicals, and it makes a Martini either sweet or dry, depending how much vermouth is used in the recipe.
Wet means the drink is sweeter, so the ratio is normally 3:1. Wet is still made with dry vermouth rather than sweet, though.
Dry indicates the Martini should be drier than normal, around 6:1 ratio or 8:1. Extra Dry would be around 15:1. Some people like their Martinis almost bone dry, in which case the glass is rinsed with fridge-cold vermouth, which is then discarded before the ice-cold gin is added. Churchill used to think that just looking at the vermouth bottle whilst pouring the gin was enough. He basically just liked gin straight up with a garnish.
Perfect Martini is mixed with equal measures of both sweet (red) and dry vermouth and gin. The amount of vermouth can vary, but the important thing is that you use both styles of vermouth.
Shaken or stirred? Personally, I think a Martini should be stirred as shaking it will dilute the drink too much. But don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t have yours shaken; cocktails should be enjoyed the way YOU like them.
If you are asked “Straight up or on the rocks?” the bartender would like to know if you prefer your cocktail served ice cold in a Martini glass or with ice from a tumbler. Although these days you see more and more Martinis served from a coupe or Nick & Nora glass. For me, a Martini glass oozes class and elegance so ideally I’d have mine in a classic Martini glass.
A Gibson is garnished with a pickled onion; this one is making a comeback thanks to the popularity of the Netflix show The Queen’s Gambit.
With a twist means the cocktail is garnished with a lemon twist. Some bartenders also wipe the rim of the glass with the lemon skin for extra aroma. If you prefer an olive instead, you can request this at the time of ordering.
Dirty Martini is made with added olive brine and obviously garnished with an olive. You can also order Extra Dirty or Filthy which essentially just means more brine.
What kind of olives should I use?
This is down to your own preferences. Cerignola olives have a firm texture with a slightly salty and meaty yet mild taste, making them ideal for dry martinis. Castelvetrano (aka Nocellara) have a sweet, mild and buttery flavour. The texture is crisper than most olives and they are greener in colour. If you think you don’t like olives, I recommend you try Castelvetrano – just make sure the pits are still in as these tend to be more flavoursome.
Spanish Manzanilla olives are often stuffed with sweet pimientos (‘cherry pepper’) to balance the flavour of the olive. If you like stuffed olives, Queen olives are great for stuffing due to their size and meaty taste. Try anchovies, blue cheese or almonds.
It is said that using an even number of olives brings bad luck. As I love them, I opt for three in mine.
Other classic Martini variations
Martinez is said to be the first ever take on Martini, although not everyone believes that, and there are different variations of the Martinez story as well as the recipe. The original recipes were made using jenever or old tom gin and they called for sweet vermouth and maraschino liqueur or orange curacao. Some recipes call for orange bitters. Basically, Martinez is a cocktail you need to give more than one chance because each recipe is different, and it might take time to find the ones that work for you.
You might know a Vesper from James Bond. It is made with three parts of gin, one part of vodka and originally ½ part of Kina Lillet. Today Kina Lillet can be hard to find so it is often replaced with Lillet Blanc and a dash or two of bitters. Alternatively, try Italian Cocchi Americano. Vesper is always served shaken. Double straining it after shaking should help to avoid any small chips of ice in the drink.
Burnt Martini is served with a splash of peaty Scotch whisky, usually a single malt. This will add a smoky flavour to it.
Bronx is basically a perfect Martini with orange juice.
Tuxedo is made with equal parts of gin and dry vermouth, a touch of maraschino and anise liqueur and finished off with bitters. There are many variations of this, for example in Tuxedo no.4, vermouth is replaced with sherry.
Manhattan is made using whisky (most often rye), sweet vermouth, bitters and a maraschino cherry garnish.
Rob Roy is like Manhattan but with scotch.
These are far away from the classic gin and vermouth recipe, but still exceedingly popular choices.
French Martini is made using vodka, Chambord and pineapple juice.
Many find Pornstar Martini a bit embarrassing, but I like them! Made with vodka, passion fruit, vanilla, lime and a shot of Champagne.
Espresso Martini is a classic choice when you need a pick-me-up. Made with vodka, espresso and coffee liqueur, this is an easy template to play around with. Infuse the vodka with vanilla or add a touch of flavoured syrup.
Breakfast Martini is made using gin, orange liqueur, lemon juice and orange marmalade. I like to add a touch of Campari to mine.
There are many variations of Lychee Martini but most of them include vodka, lychee syrup or liqueur and dry vermouth. Recently I made a variation using vodka, blueberry-infused white vermouth (white vermouth is not as dry), fresh lychees and a touch of agave syrup.
As we have discovered, there is a huge range of Martini recipes and many variations of each. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the choice, especially if you aren’t an accustomed Martini drinker. Hopefully, with these tips, however, you will quickly feel like an expert, exploring the different versions of the classic cocktail and finding the most appealing version that suits you.
I’m a sucker for classic cocktails so I mainly drink Dry Martinis with olives or Dirty Vodka Martinis, but I do like to play around with the recipes from time to time.
How do you like your Martini? Have you been experimenting with the different variations?