We like to think of the martini as the gateway to a world of splendid mixology imagination – truly, you can make it taste like whatever you’re craving (Got a sweet tooth? There’s a martini for that). But for a cocktail with minimal ingredients and a garnish, there’s so much debate over how to make it. In honor of National Martini Day, we've simplified things a bit.
The history of the martini, according to the 1888 edition of Harry Johnson’s New and Improved Bartender's Manual, begins when it was made with gin and sweet vermouth, a touch of absinthe, a drop of simple syrup and a dash of orange bitters and topped with a cherry. About 70 years later, in a post-prohibition land thirsty for palate-quenching sips, the gin was swapped for vodka in order to experiment with a spirit that allowed for more flavor variables.
As the martini’s popularity soared through the decades, it settled itself in the cozy confines of the 1950s, amongst advertisement execs that needed a drink strong enough to numb the bustle of the day but suave enough to charm their clients into signing a deal. It helped that vodka wasn't showing up on their post-lunch breath. Whether the martini was dirty, wet, dry or a Gibson (garnished with pickled onions), the vodka martini had earned its spot among American imbibers – and movie goers (the opening scene of North by North West in 1959 featured a dapper Carey Grant sipping a vodka martini sent this cocktail into solid fame).
The 60s, 70s and 80s came and went, and so did the need for such an undiluted cocktail. Fruit juices became a staple in bars and the development of the French martini and Cosmopolitan thrived. The 90s ushered in “tinis,” a word preceded by the fruit that stars as the shining ingredient (i.e. Apple-tini, Berry-tini, etc.)
Today, we seem to be living in a renaissance of the classics – a landscape where you’ll find hands wrapped around coupe glasses of vespers and extra dirty martinis. What’s the difference between all the nuances of varying martinis? A little vermouth makes all the difference.
Okay, so you’re ready to mix one up. What do you want your martini to taste like? Do you want the flavors that passed James bond’s lips (dry, vodka, with lemon peel) or do you want a tipple that FDR would’ve been proud of (olive brine in a 2:1 ratio of spirit to vermouth)?
Well, there are seven main styles of the martini (once you narrowed down vodka or gin, of course). When it comes to flavor, it’s all about the ratio. Check them out here:
The standard (2:1 vodka to vermouth)
Dry (less vermouth, typically 4:1 vodka to vermouth)
Wet (typically 4:3)
Classic or 50/50 (equal parts vodka and vermouth)
Reverse (1:2 vodka to vermouth)
Perfect (2:1:1 vodka to both sweet and dry vermouths)
Sweet (2:1 vodka to sweet vermouth)
Have you gone crossed-eyed yet? Just experiment with what you like. And always remember that dry means less dry vermouth; wet means more dry vermouth; sweet is made with sweet vermouth and perfect means 1:1 of both sweet and dry vermouths. The more-dry vermouth, the more herbal your martini will taste.
Ah, the best part of a drink, agreed? Whether you drink a classic martini or a white chocolate raspberry martini, the garnish is crucial. It not only makes the sip pretty, but it adds aromatic qualities that help development the complexities of the drink.
Olives – you’ll want plump, green, pitted Sicilian olives. They’re buttery and really balance out the bitter of the vermouth. You can also do bleu cheese, almond or garlic stuffed.
Lemon – slice off a strip of citrus flesh (preferably lemon, but obviously this is based on your actual martini recipe). A paring knife usually works best, but if you’re out at a bar make sure to watch that the bartender rims the glass with the peel; the citrus oils contribute to flavor in a big way.
Pickled Onion – this is typically for the Gibson martini, but some people soak their onions in vermouth and then use that to make the cocktail.
Fruit and candy – Say you found an incredible recipe for a tiramisu martini. You can’t just sip the liquid without the sensory addition of powdered espresso a top and a little bite of dark chocolate speared into the drink. The garnish is there to elevate the cocktail. Make sure that whatever flavor martini you’re drinking (from pineapple habanero to skittles flavored), that you have a complimentary garnish floating on top.