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The "perfect" Martini Extra Dry Cocktail

The Martini cocktail is one of the most disputed drink of all times - and one of the drink, which dramatically changed through the times - I would say, not to its disadvantage.

I shied from this topic a long time. It is just a mammoth of a topic with a lot of controversy. But what has to be done, has to be done!

Lets first of all understand, about what we are talking about:

We talking about the original Martini cocktail - which is gin based!
We are also touching the topic of Vodka Martinis - and maybe throw some understanding of the Vesper Martini in it.

We are not talking about things, which have only the glass in common to this substantial cocktail:

  • French martini
  • Diverse fruit martinis [melon, strawberry, apple, raspberry or any other audacity]
  • Espresso martini
  • Breakfast martini
  • Chocolate martini
  • Cosmopolitan [sometimes impudently called Cosmo martini]
  • Marteanis [or however you like to call it.
  • Any other B*S* martini, showing up on some cocktail menus throughout the world.
A drink which is served in a cocktail glass [which a lot of people call martini glass] is not necessary [or quite unlikely] a martini cocktail!

Well - since this is clarified, we can go towards clearing up the mess about the understanding of the drink.

First - History:
The history of a Martini remains in mystery. There are few popular stories about a bartender who was called Martinez [which resulted into a drink called Martinez and later changed to Martini], or a town in California called Martinez, where the drink shall have been created. But nothing really is confirmed. There is even more and more evidence coming up, that the Martinez cocktail was not the predecessor but both drinks surfaced at the same time - there is even one early recipe, which named a Martini - however listing the recipe of a Martinez. As those variables cannot be connected to a bullet proof chain of evidence, the real origins of both cocktails cannot be properly traced back.

Fact though is, that:
  1. …for sure the Martini cocktail doesn't have anything to do with the Italian vermouth brand Martini & Rossi.
  2. …it is an American creation, which happened to be invented between the late 19th and early 20th century.
  3. …in contemporary mixology, the Martini is prepared with a more current recipe - however the Martinez normally is based on a "heirloom recipe".
  4. …there is nothing such as a Sweet Martini. Deal with it!
It is important to understand the character of a Martini cocktail, because there is, where the misconceptions start. A Martini cocktail is like an ice desert. Beautiful clear, straight forward, zen - but maybe not the most comforting place to be. 

It is not a yummy, tasty or delicious drink!

This is so crucial to understand. A martini is a functional drink - a great aperitif. A drink which sets your head, your priorities straight. A cocktail which let you yearn for a dinner. And only one Martini will give you this Martini experience at a time… 
The second just fogs your thoughts and makes you drunk - or makes you a drunk...

This might be a quite straight forward paragraph, as a modern Martini just features 2 ingredients: gin and vermouth. But not so fast… 
  • Gin
Gin is the defining ingredient in a Martini and it makes or breaks this drink. I have tried a lot of Martini cocktails and one thing became clear for me: the gin has to have seriously more than 40% abv. Yes, the drink would be ok, if you have - lets say Hendricks with 41.4% abv. But usually all gins are faring much better in this drink, if they around the 47% mark.

A very classic Martini cocktail would demand a London Dry Gin. A gin, which is built around the flavors of juniper and coriander, unaged, unsweetened and distilled on a neutral grain spirit base.
Brands would be: Junipero, Broker, Boodles, Tanqueray classic.

An unique style is Plymouth - and there is nowadays only one brand. However through the times, Plymouth changed so much its profile towards LDG [and NWG], that it can be used interchangeably with other styles. Unfortunately Plymouth tend not to have enough alcohol, to stand out - hence it is not a great option for a Martini cocktail.

But a Martini doesn't necessary need to be prepared with a classic London Dry gin. Lately there were a lot of "New Western gins" coming out - gins which are still distilled on a neutral basis [though not necessary "grain"] and sometimes they are even called London Dry as only the taste profile differ them of being LDG.

The Martini made with a New Western gin will taste more complex and not so piney. But it will be still clear and straight forward - something you need in the blue hour.
New World Gin brands would be: Bombay Sapphire [by law a London Dry gin, but as it has so complex aromatics, you could definitely call it NWG], Tanqueray ten [very citrussy], G'vine [distilled on neutral grape spirits], Hendrick's…

Old Tom gin is definitely not a style, which you would like to use for a Martini cocktail - neither is Genever [Dutch gin].

The gin for this cocktail has to be quite strong and either way piney, citrus'y or even complex and floral. However a very spicy aromatic, oriental and/or playful gin, shall not make a good Martini.
  • Vermouth
We need dry vermouth for a Martini cocktail. A bright and fragrant product. Dry vermouth is the French style of the herb flavored fortified wine [even if it comes not from France]. Still one of the best dry vermouths comes from France: Noilly Prat.

And while you can look further to some boutique vermouths - you can just simply stop your search and use Noilly Prat. It is pretty everywhere available [sometimes you have to be a bit more persistent with your search] - and it is by far one of the best vermouths available.
Try to buy small bottles, refrigerate them after you opened the bottle [and if possible, vacuum the bottles, as vermouth has the tendency to further oxidize and get bland in a rapid pace].

Off course, you could also make your own vermouth - but this is a whole different story - and we will definitely get to this in a future post.

  • Orange Bitters
The original cocktail always included bitters - hence orange bitters [which were regularly used in unaged spirits] are advisable - but not mandatory.  My recommendation would be, that you are using drops instead of dashes - you don't want, that the citrus taste takes over the drink.
Brands would be: Angostura Orange Bitters, Fee Orange Bitters, TBT Orange Bitters or Lemon Bitters, or Gary Regan's Orange Bitters No. 6.

For the bitters I am not 100% convinced. I like sometimes the little spice which some drops of bitters can give the Martini. But then another time I like just the clarity of the gin without any fuzz…

  • Garnish
Now the garnish of a Martini - makes a Martini. And there are only two proper options:
  • a large green brined, unpitted olive [means with stone inside].
  • a nice neat lemon twist.
Forget about blue cheese stuffed black olives or any other audacity. 
Why? Just forget it. Would you customize you classic Aston Martin DB5 with a huge rear wing? Exactly - analog you would not put anything else into your Martini cocktail than one of the both ingredients above!

I like to use at all time the lemon twist, to deodorize the drink. Gin and vermouth are not priced for their great smell and a bit lemon oil on the surface of the drink highlights the freshness and doesn't really changes the taste. If the guest would like to have a Martini with an olive, just discard the lemon twist, after you used it…

Oh man - this is the most controversial part. We have learned already, that a Martinez very unlikely has anything to do with the Martini. However early recipes still featured a lot of vermouth in the drink. I would not say half-half - these would be very early recipes, which didn't yet met any character of a modern Martini. But very long [and nowadays a lot of contemporary recipes rejuvenate this] the proportions were 2-1.

For me, this doesn't taste like a Martini cocktail. It doesn't give this pristine, icy alcohol shock, which I connect of drinking a Martini cocktail.

A lot of people would disagree - but my recommendation would be 60 ml of gin and 5 ml or less vermouth. For myself I even prefer the in&out version. You add some vermouth into the ice filled mixing glass - ensure, that all ice had contact with the vermouth and then strain it out again - to let the gin just absorb the vermouth, which is on the surfaces of glass and ice.

In my bars, I usually give the strained out vermouth separate in a small jug, so the guest can add it, if it is too dry for him / her.

The controversy is, that so less vermouth would not make any difference in the drink - as gin is a strong tasting spirit and vermouth is not characterful enough, to fight against it. However I believe [or better: I taste] that vermouth has a completely different dynamic of taste and it definitely changes the character. Sure - gin will be upfront - but this is exactly, what I prefer.

I think, that it is nonsense, if people say, that you should not shake a Martini, because it is bruising the gin. There are great shaken gin cocktail around, which apparently are not bruised in any way!

While I don't believe in the reason, I am still a firm believer in the policy: A Martini should be stirred - not shaken!
The request for a shaken Martini grounds in a lot of bad bars and/or wrong or bad technique.
I don't want to go into a stirring_technique_controversy - but I think, that it can be stated, that a proper drink has to be stirred for 15 - 20 seconds. Shorter stirring will result in a drink, which is definitely enough diluted [because most dilution happens in the first seconds, when the drink ingredients hitting the ice and are still on room temperature], but far too warm - like warm.
And there are very few drinks, which are as bad as a not_cold_enough_Martini_cocktail!
A thermometer should read -3 to even -4.5ºC. This would result in a great drink.
By the way - I think a great tool to regularly check the drinks done in your bar, is a thermometer. It cannot lie. It is not subjective like taste buds. It just shows the temperature - and if it is above -3ºC for any cocktail, you know, that it is not great drink!

There are purists who say, that you have to stir very carefully, that the Martini is not aerated at all and that no ice chips are in the glass [some people are even fine straining].
I believe that this is absurd. If you stir the drink, it will never have a lot of ice chips. But these few ice chips will melt on the consumer tongue, which results in a small "sting", which adds to the experience - also there is not really any substantial aeration, while you stir.

What can we learn out of it:

Stir - a minimum of 15 seconds.
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Serve as soon as possible.


Don't shake!
Don't serve in a warm glass!
Don't serve on the rocks!
Don't do any stupid 007 quotes!

Why shouldn't you shake? Because it will over-dilute the drink and you are ending with a watery gin and vermouth concoction and not with a Martini!

The Glass:
Yes - it has to be a cocktail glass.
A Martini defined the glass - and while I am not keen of calling the V-shaped glass Martini glass, it still deserves to be used for the cocktail!
But - the Martini is a short drink [and yes - even Americans should get it short!!!]. So there is no reason, to serve it in a huge "oversized martini glass".
A glass which holds a bit more than 120 ml is perfect.
And the perfect glass is also chilled - maybe even comes out of the freezer [glass is not ice - glass which comes out of the freezer has a temperature of approx. -20ºC - if you chill it with ice, it has a temperature of 0ºC and if you are not chilling it, it would have a temperature of ca. 25ºC- this would result in variance of several degrees! Why going through the pain of stirring a drink properly, if you are sacrificing the whole shebang with a warm glass?].

The Recipe:

65 ml gin [any great gin with more than 45% abv]
5 ml Noilly Prat
3 drops orange bitters

Pre chill your mixing glass with ice cubes. Discard the melted water thoroughly and add all ingredients. Stir properly for 20 seconds - make sure that the ingredients is properly mingle.
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Spray the lemon oils of a twist over the surface and garnish with either way the lemon twist or an unpitted green brined olive.


A vodka martini is a completely different drink. It is not the coexistence of gin and vermouth - it is the use of the functional properties of neutral alcohol [your vodka] and the character/flavor of vermouth.

Truth has to be told - while I don't usually favor vodka martinis, they still have their raison d'être.
Problem of most vodka martinis - as in a "normal" martini, the base spirit needs to be adequate [and I don't mean, that you have to listen to the marketing b*s* of the companies].

I usually think, that a modern [neutral] vodka with more than 45% abv is the best choice. Problem is, that there are very few stronger vodkas - hence you martini will be mediocre. My preferable vodka would be Skyy 90 [which has the required 45% abv]. Its modern, its neutral and strong enough [however if you find another vodka which has 45% or even more - feel free to use it. I am not a big fan though of Smirnoff blue, even though it has 50% abv as it tends to be quite grainy - same applies to Absolut 100].

I love the new 007 movies, in which finally Bond evince some taste.
Problem is, that there is no more Kina Lillet [which is not Lillet blanc, which was reformulated to contain much less quinine] and Cocchi Americano [which is a suitable substitute to Kina Lillet]is according to my knowledge only available in the US.

Anyway - the only real problem is the shaking, which again makes it horrible.
So - a great way to make a Vesper is, not to shake it, but properly stir it!

45 ml gin [use again a gin with more booze - 47% would suffice]
15 ml vodka [here you could use a normal 40% vodka - as the gin boost the alcohol content]
7.5 ml Cocchi Americano [or Lillet, if you don't have Cocchi].
and a long lemon twist.

The concept behind the drink is really interesting. The vodka is taming down the gin botanicals, and the French wine aperitif is just changing the more herbal qualities of vermouth into a more citrus driven theme. This said, some orange bitters would help, if you don't have Cocchi or Lillet on hand].

And what is about a dirty martini?
You might have dirty thoughts - but not here on my blog…

But really, I don't really believe in a dirty martini - the water dilutes the drink, that it is not really good anymore and usually the brine of olives is not that good. Commercial olives are never really naturally cured [and this is a whole new topic]. There is definitely the possibility to reformulate a dirty martini, to make it a proper drink [maybe making an olive infused, agar-agar clarified vermouth] - but then again, this would be a whole new post!


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