Gin or vodka? Shaken or stirred? Garnish? I can’t think of a cocktail that has more variations, and sparks more debate than a martini. Arguments over what goes into it, is it shaken or stirred (Thanks Ian Fleming) are commonplace, and any source you choose to check will probably tell you something different. For example, the Waldorf Astoria Bar Book has seven different entries under the name “martini” and they are all different, save for the base spirit, which is always gin. Most of the differences come in the form of ratios, which can vary from 3 ounces of gin and a half ounce vermouth (Martini – Modern) to equal parts gin and vermouth (Martini – Fifty/Fifty). Adding specific garnishes can also change the name. We’ve all heard of the Gibson, which is garnished with a cocktail onion), or the dirty martini with added olive juice.
Another notable fact about the Waldorf martinis: they are all stirred, not shaken. Traditionally, shaking is reserved for drinks with additives like fruit juices, citrus, or egg white that need to be emulsified in order to come together. Stirring is reserved for drinks with pure alcohol, like a martini. I’m no purist by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve shaken spirit forward cocktails as well as stirred, so I defer to you, dear reader: mix your cocktail in the way you choose.
Back to the ingredient question. I wanted to see if gin, vodka, (or both) tasted better in a martini. For the vodka martini, I made a Dirty Dry Martini from The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book:
2 oz. Vodka (I used Tito’s)
1 oz. Dry vermouth
1 oz. Olive brine
Add ingredients to a mixing glass. Add ice and stir for 30 seconds, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with olives.
The above was shaken, and not stirred and garnished with two pimento olives. I served this to my sister since I cannot stand olives. She prefers vodka dirty martinis because she wants “to taste the brine, it’s another layer of flavor to be added by a deft hand.” However too much brine can be a bad thing. Quoting her again, “There is a fine line between dirty and Christina Aguilera.”
For the gin component, I made a Fifty/Fifty – Dry Martini from the Waldorf Bar Book:
This martini was very smooth, both in taste and texture. Stirring is softer on the drink than shaking, so no ice ended up in the glass, unlike the other two drinks, in which smaller ice chips made their way through the strainer. I liked this iteration of the martini, but I usually prefer my drinks stronger, so I think next time I make one, I’ll use the above Dry Martini instead. Minus the olives and brine of course.
Remember how I said both gin and vodka can go in a martini? The Vesper, as made famous by the aforementioned Ian Fleming, uses both spirits. This recipe comes from Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails by Ted Haigh:
3 oz. London dry gin
1 oz. Vodka
1/2 oz. Kina Lillet
Shake in an iced cocktail shaker , strain into a stemmed cocktail glass, twist a large swathe of lemon peel over the surface of the drink and drop it in.
Since Kina Lillet is next to impossible to find, I subbed in vermouth bianco, which accomplishes the same goal. How was it? This thing is potent. I know martinis are all booze and should be strong, but this takes it to the next level. The vermouth helps smooth it out, but it’s still not for the faint of heart. This is definitely a one and done drink for sure.
So which method or spirit makes the best martini? That, friends, I cannot answer. The best martini is your favorite version. Personally, I prefer a dry, gin based stirred martini, but at the end of the day, go with what you like.
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