Sharkbait’s Cocktail of the Week: The Great Martini Debate

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.

(Banner image found here)

Sharkbait
Sharkbait
Sharkbait has not actually been bitten by a shark, but has told people in bars that he was for free drinks. Lives in Boston, married to a Giants fan, he enjoys whisk(e)y, cooking, the Rangers, and the Patriots.
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ballsofsteelandfuryblaxabbathDunstanlitre_colaSharkbait Recent comment authors
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ballsofsteelandfury

I drink the Unwashed BALLS’ Martini (TM) :

3 parts olive brine
1 part vodka
Dash of hot sauce

What can I say? I love olives…

blaxabbath

Sounds like an Old Spaniard.

Dunstan
Dunstan

Definitely gin. I usually go something like a 3:1 ratio; enough to taste the vermouth but the gin should still dominate. I alternate olive, twist, or onion depending on availability and mood.

I acknowledge that stirring is technically correct, but usually I shake because it’s the fastest way to chill it down, and I don’t mind a little frothiness. (I’m always amused by those who claim — as Jed Bartlett did in The West Wing — that a shaken martini is wimpy because it’s watered down. Anyone who’s getting macho about the difference between a large glass of 40% alcohol versus a large glass of 39% alcohol is overcompensating for something.)

Oh, and any bartender who pours a martini into a room temperature glass deserves some serious side eye. If it’s a glass that just came out of the dishwasher, best stick to beer.

blaxabbath

I’ve never done onion. It just doesn’t sound good at all.

litre_cola

Good vodka stirred with a twist of lemon. Is my go to aperitif. So many variations, the one that drives me nuts as a bartender is when someone orders it extra dirty. So you want booze and olive brine then?

blaxabbath

Change the term from dirty and watch the olive juice vanish,

Rikki-Tikki-Deadly

I am 100% on Team Vesper these days. I usually add an extra squirt of lemon. Also, I have always had little difficulty finding Lillet at BevMo.

blaxabbath

Dude I never find what I want at BevMo. Beer, champagne, rum (RUM!), whiskey — that place does not meet my expectations.

And I’m not even like a big drinker or booze guy,

ballsofsteelandfury

Try Total Wine. Their selection is much better than BevMo for spirits. I’ve found all kinds of obscure liquors there.

Brick Meathook
Brick Meathook

The Liquid Kitty:

Ketel One martini, bone dry with a twist; Camel unfiltered on the side

litre_cola

Love it.

yeah right

I used to drink a “Sahara” martini.
Pour 1/2 jigger of vermouth into a cocktail shaker, swirl it around to coat the bottom of the shaker then dump out the excess.
Add 3 ounces of gin, I used to drink Beefeater gin. Put in some ice, cover the shaker, shake a few times until the gin is cold, strain into a martini glass and garnish with an olive.
Ever had a blue cheese stuffed olive?
That’s an entire meal right there.

Yes, gin only.

Rikki-Tikki-Deadly

Oh, I’d forgotten about blue cheese stuffed olive martinis. Those things are a godsend.

blaxabbath

This isn’t a drink, it’s a dance.

King Hippo

a martini is a poorly-made Gin and Tonic. END OF!

LemonJello
LemonJello

Favorite Martini:
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Rikki-Tikki-Deadly

Favorite Martini:
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Game Time Decision

My favourite Martin is Short.

LemonJello
LemonJello

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blaxabbath

Gin or stfu!