We’ve been through the Gordon Gekko gimmegimmegimme ’80s, the dot-com “trust me – I’m technology” ’90s, the bubble burst and battle-torn 2000s. Now here we are. Trudging, slogging through the slop of the 2010s, not seeing where or when we may rinse boots and make way on a firm, straight path. The result? An emerging epiphany that time is finite, best spent with family, friends. Loved ones. Also, the children of our desires, More and Better, fist-fight when we aren’t watching. And Better seems to be coming out on top.
These refreshing perspectives are revealed in eating and drinking habits. Growth of regional craft breweries and increased sales of organic and locally grown foods are firm evidence. Cheap passable quaff – and keep ’em coming ’til time to teeter homeward – has given way to sensible quantities of fine whiskey, vodka or gin. The classic cocktail is finding its way back into social gatherings. Let’s celebrate our new-found appreciation of real value with a delicious drink – a Martini.
There is a surfeit of sentiment regarding ingredients, tools and techniques. Shaken or stirred (and if shaken, what metal is best for the shaker?) Should ingredients and glassware be chilled prior to drink assembly? How much vermouth? What is a proper garnish? If olive, should it be stuffed with nothing, pimento, or perhaps another filling?
I have even seen emotional discussions dissuading discerning drinkers from using two olives for garnish, “Use one or three. NEVER an even number of olives!”
After study, thought and more than a few trials, here is what I believe to be important Martini points:
The finished product contains gin, vermouth, water (ice melt during shaking/stirring process), and garnish.
- Gin, use your favorite. Cheap gin makes substandard Martinis.
- Vermouth is a fortified wine and will oxidize once opened. Fresh is always better. Find a favorite, buy small bottles to increase turnover, and, once opened, keep it refrigerated to slow down the effects of oxygen.
- Ice cubes should be neutral in taste. Freeze filtered or bottled water if possible for your ice cubes.
- Garnish is typically olives or a strip of lemon peel
How the ingredients come together accomplishes two things: First, liquid reaches the temperature of the final pour. Second, it determines how much water is in the mix.
- Shaking allows liquid to reach temperature more quickly. Small ice shards are broken off the edges and corners of ice cubes allowing more water in the final ratio (not necessarily a bad thing). It also introduces tiny air bubbles which some report gives the drink a sharper taste and appear slightly cloudy. I would argue that ingredient choices have far more dramatic effect on taste, and that bubbles quickly rise clarifying the appearance- typically before the chill frost is gone from the exterior of the glass.
- Stirring takes a bit longer and should yield a higher alcohol/water ratio. The immediate appearance is a bit more clear.
- The Martini experience erodes as the drink warms. Keeping the liquid cold as long as possible will keep smiles on your guests’ faces. Freezing the glassware well before happy hour helps accomplish this.
Yes, I am a saxophone player. Alto icon Paul Desmond of the Dave Brubeck Quartet famously quipped, “I think I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to sound like a dry martini.” Here is my best attempt at creating a drink that tastes like Paul Desmond sounds.
Preparation: Gather tools and excellent ingredients. I use Bombay Sapphire Gin and Noilly Pratt Dry Vermouth. My garnish of choice is a twist of lemon peel. Make sure ice is fresh and neutral tasting. Place Martini glasses in the freezer. The glasses I use hold 6 ounces. If yours hold more/less, adjust the quantities of gin and vermouth. Gin should be room temperature. Vermouth should be in the fridge if opened, or room temperature if a new bottle. I use a 3-piece stainless steel shaker.
Technique: Prepare the lemon peel garnish. Fill shaker ⅔ full with ice. Add 3 oz. gin and 2 teaspoons of vermouth. Cap and shake until the outside of the shaker is covered with frost. Then and only then snatch the glass from the freezer and pour. This should yield about 4½ ounces of liquid. Twist the lemon peel over the glass and drop into the drink. Serve immediately.
I prefer a single well crafted drink over mediocre guzzle glut, no matter how plentiful. Cheers, my dear friends. Let’s toast to what matters most: Those whom we love.