Coming Out

June 7th, 2007

Dear readers, I have a dark, terrible secret I feel I must tell you all. I’ve tried to keep it secret for a while now, but the pressure is too much, and I think now is the time to tell the truth. You see, despite being a self-proclaimed cocktail enthusiast, I have never had a Martini

The Martini is without a doubt the most famous of all cocktails. Consisting of gin, dry vermouth and orange bitters, no one is really sure of its exact origin. The most likely I’ve read is that it is derived from the sweeter Martinez, which uses similar ingredients but with sweet vermouth and the addition of Maraschino. Whatever the origin, it is certainly over a century old, and since then has became the darling cocktail of the twentieth century. Stars as varied as Truman Capote, Cary Grant and Winston Churchill were all big fans, and it featured heavily in classic Hollywood cinema.

While the original Martini contained gin, vodka Martinis have become more and more popular over the past 50 years, in no small part thanks to James Bond and his penchant for shaken vodka Martinis. These days if you order a Martini at a bar you will more than likely end up with a glass of cold, shaken vodka, with perhaps a dribble of vermouth and certainly no bitters. For tonight however, I am concentrating on the original gin Martini.

I had never tried a Martini because, quite honestly, the idea of a gin heavy cocktail with just vermouth as a modifier didn’t appeal at all. I’d never considered myself a gin fan, and I imagined it to taste so strong that it would be difficult to drink. However, given how much I have enjoyed gin based cocktails like the Aviation, I decided it was time to step up and give it a try. So, armed with Plymouth gin and a fresh bottle of Noilly Prat vermouth, and with a small amount of trepidation, I made my first Martini…

Martini cocktail with Plymouth Gin, Noilly Prat vermouth and Fee Brothers Orange bitters bottles in background

Martini

I’ve gone for quite a “wet” Martini, with a 3:1 gin to vermouth recipe. As the twentieth century progressed the Martini became drier and drier until it reached the point where people did silly things like glancing at a vermouth bottle while making the drink with just gin. If you want to drink cold gin then fair enough, but I wanted to try a more traditional Martini, and based on what I have previously read decided that 3:1 was a good starting ratio.

The Martini – like most drinks made solely of spirits – should be stirred, not shaken, despite what Mr Bond might say. This isn’t because of the ludicrous notion the shaking will bruise the gin, but because shaking introduces lots of air bubbles to the drink. This spoils the clear look of the drink (which does look very nice), as well as the texture when drinking. The time taken stirring the drink also adds a sufficient amount of water to the drink, which helps to take the bite out of the gin.

The Martini was a revelation to me. It didn’t taste nearly as strong as I imagined it would (though to be clear, it’s still a very strong drink), nor did it taste specifically of gin. Indeed, I found the taste very hard to pinpoint. It was a complex mixture of botanical and floral flavours which neither tasted of gin or vermouth, but did taste very good. It was a crisp, refreshing drink, but definitely quite challenging – certainly not a drink to serve to a cocktail newbie!

Of course this was just my first try, and I want to experiment with different ratios of gin and vermouth to find which I like the most, and also try different brands of gin. But to my great surprise, the Martini is definitely a drink I will return to…

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Posted in Gin, Orange Bitters, Recipes, Vermouth

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14 responses to “Coming Out”

  1. Marleigh Marleigh says:

    A little tip I got from Dr. Cocktail: run the lemon rind of your garnish around the lip of the glass before dropping it in. It gives every sip a lovely little lemon touch.

    Oh, and nice garnish!

  2. Jay Jay says:

    Great tip Marleigh – I always do that with an orange rind for my Manhattans, and I imagine it would work well with the Martini.

    Yes I was quite proud of the garnish – definitely the best lemon zest I’ve made! I neglected to mention in the post that I skipped the traditional olive as I don’t particularly like them, and didn’t like the idea of introducing the brine to the drink. I think the zest looks a lot nicer that a dirty big olive too…

  3. Gabriel Gabriel says:

    I’ve tried many variations of the gin:vermouth ratios and 3:1 is the one I stick with unless someone specifically requests a ‘Dry’ a ‘Extra Dry’ martini, then I move them down to 4:1 and 5:1 respectively though I think most bars serve around a 5:1.

    This is one drink where I find the lightness, but depth, of Bombay Sapphire works very well. My wife enjoys dirt martinis and demands I put equal parts vermouth to brine, in fact, I’m not even sure she realizes I put vermouth in them anymore…but the brine is definitely not for everyone, but welcome to the fold of an exquisite drink and good work on the presentation as Marleigh mentioned.

    You may have seen it, but here’s an interesting read on the Martini up just today: http://explorethepour.blogspot.com/2007/06/9204-different-real-martinis-and.html

  4. Rick Rick says:

    Jay,

    Yes! It’s great that you enjoyed a well-crafted martini so much. Excellent choice on ingredients too. I’d love to hear updates if you try different gins.

    Cheers!

  5. Jay Jay says:

    Gabriel – I will have to give Bombay Sapphire a try. I can see why some people might like the brine, but it’s not for my taste buds. I saw Robert’s post yes – looks like I have a long way to go on my Martini adventures!

    Rick – I will definitely be posting my experiences with other gins in Martinis once I get hold of some.

  6. Robert Hess Robert Hess says:

    Jay, congradulations on your final introduction to the Martini!

    As a very mild point of correction, you mention how the drink you had might have evolved from the Martinez. Actually, the drink you had here was a “dry Martini”, which evolved out of the “Martini”.

    Hows that? you might ask…

    The Martini was originally made with sweet vermouth, as well as a sweet gin known as “Old Tom” gin (and orange bitters). It was often in a 50/50 ratio, or sometimes even more vermouth than gin (hence, some say, the name “Martini” coming from the brand of vermouth often used).

    If a customer wanted a Martini, but made with dry vermouth instead of sweet, and a London Dry Gin instead of Old Tom, then they would ask for a “dry Martini”, which originally was still 50/50 (and orange bitters), but gradually refined it self to a “3-to-1″ ratio, which held true until Prohibition. It wasn’t until after Prohibition that the mistaken notion that “dry” meant “less vermouth”, and that notion was most likely propogated by alcoholics, just looking for a higher octane libation… but that, as they say, is another story.

  7. Jay Jay says:

    Thanks for the clarification Robert. It’s amazing how long and complex the history of some cocktails are isn’t it?! Do you think the original Old Tom based Martini may have envolved from the Martinez?

  8. Robert Hess Robert Hess says:

    It’s hard to say exactly what the specifics were regading the appearance of the Martini. Lot’s of people like to point to the Martinez as being the inspiration, because the name is obviously similar, and both are gin/vermouth drinks. To the best of my knowledge, there isn’t any evidence that clearly spells this out however.

    It could be that the Martinez-Martini connection is exactly (or close enough) to what actually transpired. However I like to think that the Manhattan had a role here. It predates the Martini by a few years, and it’s recipe is amazingly similar, the only real difference is that it uses whiskey instead of gin.

    The way I sort of describe it, I see the Manhattan as the “black widow spider” in the story. It and the Martinez were both the parents of the Martini, and the Martinez was then “consumed” by this endevour. So today we have the Manhattan, and the Martini, but the Martinez has been long forgotten.

    -Robert

  9. Andy Salgo Andy Salgo says:

    With regard to the origin of the term “dry martini”, I have been reading a new and comprehensive book about General Custer’s Battle of the Little Bighorn entitled “A Terrible Glory”. In it, the author, (James Donovan), mentions that one of Custer’s staff officers, a man called Martini, had a dry sense of humor, and the men affectionately called him “dry Martini”. I naturally associated that with the origin of the now famous cocktail. Whether this has been attributed to the derivation of the drink’s name, I’m not sure, but it does seem to be very probably true. This took place in 1876. At any rate, lets drink a toast to Officer Martini, (RIP), and leave it at that.

  10. karim almeron karim almeron says:

    hi it is relly entiresting your website pls! teach me about cocktail iam a pilipino

  11. David David says:

    Hi Jay
    I imagine that you may already have most of this information since you were devirginized by the Martini over a year ago. But if you are looking for more information on the historical aspects of the Martini I posted extensive notes from Robert Hess’s History of the Martini from last year’s Tales. He presented an incredible amount of information. (I was looking forward to a similar dissertation at his History of the Margarita talk at this year’s conference. While it was still interesting, it was more conversation than history lesson)

    http://www.tipsytexan.com/2008/01/the_martini_according_to_rober.html

  12. nick s nick s says:

    They have a ‘Genesis of the Martini’ sampler at the Dorchester in London — the modern reviver of Old Tom gin — where you can sample a Martinez, a pre-WW2 Martini and a modern Dry Martini.

    Like Robert, though, I think there’s a more complex evolution: I’ve seen old Martini recipes that call for equal parts sweet and dry vermouth (with sweet or dry gin) and you can trace the Manhattan and modern Martini branching out, one taking the sweet vermouth, the other the dry. As David’s notes make clear, the sweet martini — and red vermouth in general — deserves a revival. (The relationship to the Negroni is another conundrum.)

  13. Jay Jay says:

    David – thanks for the link! You’re right I have read most of that info already, but I’ve a terrible memory so going back over it is no bad thing.

    Nick S – I really need to check out more bars in London, it’s criminal I’ve now been to more cocktail bars in New York than my home city! That Martini flight sounds like great fun. Completely agree about sweet vermouth, I adore it. Especially Antica Formula, lovely stuff.

  14. It’s always cocktail hour somewhere says:

    [...] you prefer a classic martini style, the way it was made in early decades of the 20th [...]

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