Here's the deal. This isn't a post for that delicious homemade Big Mac up there. In fact, this isn't even a post about food, save an optional olive. It's about what's in the coupe in the back there. A martini. The martini.
I was worried though, that if I uploaded a simple how-to guide to making such a commonly forgotten, frequently mismade cocktail, no one would care. You'd imagine everything you think is wrong with the drink before I had the chance to show you how right it can be, and you'd bail. So I had to get all modern internet and Upworthy a Big Mac into the picture in order to get you here. It was deceptive. I feel dirty and gross. But I had to. There was no other way. Because if you're like most people, you don't care one bit about martinis. You likely don't know just how truly refreshing and delicious they can be. And there's only one person to blame for all this: Bond.
James Bond ruined martinis.
Double Oh Shut up already
If you're anything like I was before I started bartending, then your primary source of martini knowledge is probably a philandering British drunk who happened to do some spying from time to time. If you believe him, then the best martini is made with vodka, it's dry, it's shaken, and it has a twist.
Three fourths of that is just utter garbage.
Listen, I get it. James Bond is a suave guy, and I can totally see why a person, man or woman really, would want to emulate that sort of calm, intelligent, confidence. But here's the thing, James Bond is fiction. He's a fake person. And being fake allows him certain freedoms that you and I, persons burdened with the heavy reality of personhood, can't take advantage of. For example, being real people, we can't get shot off of a fast moving train then fall perfectly still going straight down with absolutely no more forward momentum somehow, landing with a bent neck, unconscious, from hundreds of feet up, into water, and not break said neck, then inexplicably, still unconscious, get back to the top of the conveniently deep enough water to float face up through some rapids, then fall off another waterfall, this time sinking in water because sure, all while our massive gunshot wound has stopped bleeding and left no visible hole or tear in our tailored suit...and after all this, not just live, but make it out with no long lasting negative effects whatsoever. Also, being real people, we can't have 132 drinks in one week and be capable of any sort of performance in bed beyond wetting it. Most importantly, being real, living, non-fictional, taste bud possessing human beings, we cannot find anything remotely delicious about dry vodka martinis.
If you have enough sense to understand that you can't emulate James Bond by falling off a bridge, then it stands to reason you shouldn't drink his preferred cocktail either.
Luckily for all of us real humans there's a drink out there that we can all enjoy before our all too unavoidable deaths. It's called a martini. It's made with gin. It has vermouth in it. And it's seriously delicious.
The classic martini:
- 2oz gin
- 1oz dry vermouth
Combine in a glass, add ice and stir for 30 seconds, strain into a chilled coupe, and garnish with either an olive or a lemon twist.
And that's it really. You just made one of the better drinks.
But if you're still thinking about following Jame's lead, here's why his order is garbage.
Why You should never drink a Bone-dry martini
Let's think about what makes a good whiskey sour so damn tasty. It has whiskey, lemon, and sugar. The lemon brings acidity, brightening the richer, caramel notes of the whiskey, and mellows out the burn of the alcohol. The sugar does the same while also taming the bite of the lemon. When everything is in perfect balance, all three ingredients work in sync to make a lovely, refreshing drink.
Let's now apply that idea to a martini. What is vermouth? Well, it's is wine that has been fortified with alcohol (a process which helps stave off oxidation, preserving the wine longer, but not indefinitely), flavored with herbs and whatnot, and sweetened with some sugar. Dry vermouth is made with white wine, which in and of itself has a decent amount of acidity. All this means that when you add vermouth to your gin, you're adding acidity and sugar, and thus the correct ratio of ingredients will give you a balanced cocktail with all of the parts supporting each other. It would be foolish to order a whiskey sour with no sugar or lemon, because by dint of those omissions the drink would no longer a sour but simply a shot. Similarly, a bone-dry martini is not a martini at all, rather a glass of cold booze with a garnish. I'm all for a glass of cold booze, but there's no reason to pay a $3 martini up-charge for it.
A dry martini is a martini with less vermouth in it (let's say a 4:1 or 5:1 ratio rather than 2:1). This is entirely allowed. It changes the balance in the drink, but doesn't make it unbalanced or undelicious. It's just a personal preference. A bone-dry martini, which most people who order a dry martini are really asking for, is just stupid. Don't be just stupid.
Which brings us to vodka
James Bond drank a dry martini because he drank vodka. The point of drinking vodka is to procure alcohol with as little flavor as possible getting in the way, and because vermouth has flavor, he avoided that too. But remember, he was fictional and needed flavor about as much as he needed physics. Being a very real person, I highly recommend you pursue things that you can taste and not just blindly consume. So drink gin and not vodka. And when you drink gin in a martini, make sure that there's enough vermouth in there to do the work of rounding out those precious flavors, so that your cocktail, like all good cocktails, will taste better than the sum of its parts.
likely Shaken as a baby
James Bond ordered his "martini" shaken because he probably was as an infant. Martinis are stirred, and there's good reason for it. First thing to understand here is that when chilling with ice, there is no way to get a drink colder without also diluting it. That's how ice works. It cools things off by melting into them. Shaking chills (i.e. dilutes) cocktails far more effectively than stirring. That's great for drinks with a good amount sugar and citrus because those things need to be extra cold in order to be the most tasty they can be. Shaking a vodka martini makes sense because the extra dilution further obscures any dreaded hints of flavor, and chills it to a temperature that will numb your tongue out of tasting anything anyway. But for the rest of us, a martini needs to be cold but not frigid. An extra cold martini adds too much water in the chilling process and weakens the drink, stretching it too thin and making it worse. A properly stirred martini served in a chilled coupe will be the perfect balance of cold and strong. It will be diluted enough to give all the botanicals in the gin and vermouth some elbow room, which will help you perceive all those flavors, and the chill will hide the scant sugar in the vermouth, making it taste crisp and dry.
As for garnishes
These are personal preference. I normally go with a twist because I like the brightness that it brings. Olives add a wonderful tinge of salt to the drink and are a great reminder of how much cocktails can benefit from a little seasoning. If you garnish with a pickled pearl onion, then you're drinking a Gibson martini, and electing to add a little extra acidity to the drink. All of these are great options.
Don't get those dumb blue cheese stuffed olives. It's a drink, not a salad bar.
A martini is all about clarity and precision, as a result, I'm sure you can guess my opinion on dumping a bunch of olive juice in them. A dirty martini makes about as much sense as buying reading glasses with foggy lenses.
You know those giant V martini glasses that were so popular on Sex In The City? Well, they're garbage. Not only because they're incredibly unstable and you end up spilling half your drink, but also because they're far too big. Remember that perfect balance of cold but not too diluted we talked about? Well, it doesn't last forever. In fact, you should probably finish your drink in no more than 15 minutes. Filling a giant martini glass to the brim is basically making yourself one good cocktail with two terrible drinks underneath it. Make a small enough martini so that you can enjoy it at a moderate pace and finish it by the time it warms up too much. I generally like to keep mine at no more than 3oz of total booze.
2:1 is just the beginning
Start with the classic two parts gin, one part vermouth martini. See what you think. If you don't like it, first asses whether or not you like vermouth. If you don't like vermouth, pour yourself a glass of straight vermouth on the rocks, garnish with a lemon, and drink that, and only that, until your tongue learns to like things that taste good. After that, feel free to branch out in both directions. Try a 3:1, 4:1, etc, or go with my friend Alex's go-to, and my current favorite ratio, a 3:2. It's a lot of vermouth and I think it's fantastic. I bet James Bond would hate it, and that makes me like it all the more!
Quite a few very respected and smart bartenders like to add a dash of orange bitters to their martinis. My opinion is that this is great, but only if you have a deft hand. You want the bitters to work in the background, binding flavors together, without the orange coming through too strongly.
The gin martini has been around for well over a century, longer even than the impossibly undead Bond. Luckily, no matter how much a shitty British spy tries, the gin martini, like tomorrow, will never die. That's good news for you and I. Go make yourself a wet, stirred, gin martini and drink to the hope that one day the world will be rid of the evil villains who elaborately plot, but ultimately fail, to ruin our best cocktails. Cheers.