Where to begin with this the most personal, complex and contentious combination of two simple ingredients?
Well, the Martini is a straightforward mixture of gin and vermouth created in the nineteenth century, either as a variation of the Martinez (gin, vermouth, curacao and orange bitters), or the child of an Italian vermouth distillery or the Knickerbocker Hotel, New York.
Whatever your preference, one thing remains the same; the glass, a classic martini glass, of course, should be chilled to ice cold before you begin. After that, the world is your olive.
Early Martini recipes called for an equal mix of dry gin and dry vermouth, stirred gently and served with a single olive. Over time, the ratio of gin to vermouth has crept upwards, and passed three parts gin to one part vermouth in the 1940s (a Martini), five parts gin to one of vermouth in the 1960s (a Dry Martini) and up to eight parts gin to one part vermouth soon after that (an Extra Dry Martini).
The basic rule of thumb is that the greater the proportion of gin to vermouth, the “drier” the Martini – an old story claims that the driest Martini is made by pouring a large measure of gin and allowing “a sunbeam to pass through a sealed bottle of vermouth” and into the glass.
If I’m pouring myself a straight-forward Martini I will, by default, opt for a three:one ratio but it really is all down to personal preference:
- Chill your glass until it is frosty.
- Fill a mixing glass with ice.
- Add the gin, then the dry vermouth and stir gently for sixty seconds.
- Strain into the frosty martini glass and garnish with an olive or three (on a pick) or a twist of lemon peel if you prefer.
If you prefer a more complex drink add a sploosh of bitters (the more exotic the better), sweet vermouth, or an Islay whisky.
A Dirty Martini involves the salty addition of a dash of olive brine, and a Gibson is a Dry Martini with either one or three pickled onions (my personal favourite of).
Much Martini lore has evolved from James Bond’s supposed love of the drink. In Casino Royale, Bond even goes as far as to invent his own variation – The Vesper, named after the delectable Vesper Lynd. The drink was actually created for Ian Fleming by his bar-tending friend Ivar Bryce. In the book, it is introduced thus:
Bond looked carefully at the barman. ‘A Dry Martini’ he said. ‘One in a deep champagne goblet…Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel…’ –Casino Royale, Ian Fleming.
Purists claim that a Martini should always be stirred as shaking will ‘bruise the gin’ – perhaps Bond was confident in the resolve of his gin, but his Martinis, ordered throughout the books, sometimes vodka, sometimes gin, were always shaken, not stirred.