Wet or dry all the tips you need to perfect your own Martini
First things first, a certain Vodka company managed to popularise the concept of a Vodka Martini with the help of Britain’s best loved spy. In honesty, this should stay entirely fictional as all real Martinis are gin-based! The Gin Martini is a delightfully simple drink and certainly one you can and should master as they are as personal as a pair of pants. If there was ever a time to have an opinion it’s when you order a Martini at the bar, so it’s my great hope that reading this will give you the confidence and know-how to ask for precisely what you want.
How to chill your Martini & keep it cold
007 does have a lot to answer for, ‘shaken not stirred’ has its place, but it’s probably not here. Shaking a Martini or any cocktail chills it very fast, but it can also rapidly dilute the serve. A Martini should be served very cold, but not overly diluted otherwise that unmistakeable unctuous silkiness is lost. Stirred with a large piece of ice that can be removed is a quick way to achieve this without over dilution, but perhaps the best way is to place your Gin and Martini glasses in the freezer. Don’t worry, if the alcohol content is high enough it won’t freeze, but it will feel delightfully cold, thick and oily in the mouth once served. You can even put a few extra glasses in the freezer so that you don’t need to rush enjoying your perfect Martini as you can always decant it into a freshly frozen glass if it gets too warm.
With that out of the way we can start to understand what the Martini is really all about. Even a cursory look at Martini recipes will introduce you to the other core ingredient in this recipe, Vermouth, an Italian style of wine based aperitif fortified and aromatised with herbs and botanicals, the perfect partner to a fine Gin. As with all cocktails the aim is to find the ideal balance between the ingredients, whether sweet and sour or bitter and dry. It’s very important to remember that this is going to be subjective to your own palette, so do not be afraid to experiment. A good starting point is a traditional recipe, those that have stood the test of time have often done so for good reason. Unfortunately, you might find less agreement as to what ratio to mix your Gin and Vermouth or indeed what types of Gin or Vermouth to use.
Dry, wet, dirty & perfect
Martinis were very popular in prohibition America and initially were probably made with illicit Gins of dubious origin, and potentially, quality. So perhaps it’s not surprising that earlier recipes called for more Vermouth (up to 2:1) and sometimes even bitters or lemon zest, which might have helped to mask the taste of the Gin. Vermouth contains quite a lot of sugar to balance the often bitter and strong herbs that are infused into the wine. So, even a ‘dry’ white Vermouth has a fair bit of sugar and a Martini with a lot of Vermouth in the recipe (2:1-4:1) is often referred to as a ‘wet’ Martini.
After prohibition and the wider adoption of the Coffey still Gins became much better, lighter and drier with the familiar London Dry style gaining popularity and becoming a stalwart cocktail ingredient, which in turn led to drier Gin forward Martinis. Terms like wet and dry can be rather confusing at first, particularly if you’re not a wine drinker, but essentially ‘wet’ typically means ‘sweeter’, but in the context of a Martini which, classically, is far from sweet it usually just means ‘less dry’, or specifically more Vermouth in the Gin. Conversely drier Martinis have a higher ratio of Gin to Vermouth and some aficionados would actually extol rinsing the glass with an extra dry white vermouth and discarding before adding the Gin or not including anything more than whispering ‘Vermouth’ over the Gin!
Suffice to say finding out how ‘dry’ you enjoy your Martini is a personal and very enjoyable journey. To add another layer of complexity, Vermouths can be red or white wine based and are classified from extra dry through to semi-sweet or sweet (the former tends to be white wine based and the latter red). A safe starting point would be an extra dry white Vermouth like Noilly Pratt, but there are many excellent options like Lillet Blanc, which features in the Vesper Martini (another thing to thank Bond for, although this time with more sincerity). In fact one serve aptly named the ‘Perfect Martini’ contains both dry Vermouth and sweet Vermouth.
How to garnish
Once you have worked out how to chill your Martini without overly diluting it and roughly how dry you like it you’re 2/3s of the way to your ideal serve. The final layer to discovering your own perfect Martini is all about the garnish you choose. There are two classical options, olives or lemon. We’ll talk about olives first, the Martini can be a delightfully savoury sipping experience with a nice fat salty olive or three in the mix, particularly with flavoursome black sun dried olives. In fact a tiny pinch of salt (do be very careful here, it’s easy to overdo it and ruin several measures) can work very well in an olive or lemon Martini. You can also go for a ‘dirty Martini’ and add a little bit of salty olive brine into the mix, just be sure to keep dilution in mind. Alternatively a slip or twist of lemon peel, ideally express some of the oil onto the surface of the drink by pinching the skin, makes the ideal zesty and bright garnish for a Martini. Whether to chose lemon or olive is up to you, but a good tip is to look to either compliment or enhance existing flavours in the Gin and Vermouth e.g. wet Martini with Lillet Blanc and Gordon’s or Beefeater Gin with a lemon twist or to contrast and balance flavours by providing something absent e.g. dry Martini with Noilly Pratt and Slake’s Sussex Dry Gin with two sun dried black olives and a little salt to give a savoury kick that compliments the herbal character.
Martinis now share their namesake and inspire a whole range of sophisticated contemporary cocktail serves from the Vesper to the Pornstar Martini and much more besides. So don’t rush and take your time to explore this classic drink.
Lastly, two things, rules are made to at least be bent, if not broken, so keep experimenting and be sure to write down your recipes as you create them. Martinis are notoriously strong drinks and when you find your perfect serve you wont want to forget it!