Cocktail: The Martini

First, a disclaimer: I am not Bernard de Voto, may he rest in peace. That being established, I can tell you that I approach the subject of the classic martini with some trepidation. For them that care, discussing the subject is fraught with controversy and liable to start arguments.

For if you love drinking a martini, you probably have confirmed notions of what a martini should be. And I do not wish to disabuse anyone’s personal martini ηθος. Of all classic drinks, a martini is a very personal thing.

Until tonight, I had never made a classic martini at home. So I start with what I (and only I) have never liked about a martini when ordered out:

  • It is made with vodka unless gin is specified. How far have we fallen. Gin has always been the spirit for a classic martini. The modern use of vodka in a martini has seemed a sacrilege to me.
  • If gin, it is mostly a glass of gin. Isn’t the classic combo gin, dry vermouth and bitters? Most classic martinis ordered out are basically base spirit, no balance whatsoever. Why not just get straight cold gin? 
  • It is usually shaken, not stirred. James Bond was wrong. Shaking a drink destroys its clarity, and the clear chill of a perfectly stirred martini is a quality I would never forego.
  • If stirred, it is usually not stirred enough. Two results of properly stirring a cocktail with enough cubed ice: chilling and dilution. Both are crucial to enjoying the nuances of a properly balanced cocktail. Besides, I despise warm gin.

What goaded me into making my first home martini was the purchase of a jar of Tomolives from my friends at The Boston Shaker. Tomolives are finely pickled baby green tomatoes, in the same shape as a cocktail olive. Their brilliant vegetal tang cries out for inclusion in a classic martini. So began my thought process for how I should craft my first martini at home.

I’ve already experimented with martini-like mixtures of gin with additives like Lillet blanc (in house) and Cocchi Americano (dining out) but I’d never tried at home the classic combo of gin and dry French vermouth. So first consideration was to the gin. I like balance among the botanicals in a mixing gin, and to my palate these gins achieve it: Beefeater, Plymouth and Martin’s. I had regular Beefeater already, that point settled. Then the vermouth: it had to be Noilly Prat, and it had to be fresh. Mine is, always. (Are you buying yours in the 375 ml bottles, storing it in the fridge and using it within a couple of weeks? Good.) I decided on a “wet” ratio of 3:1.

Next, bitters. A martini should always have some kind of bitters. If I were to garnish with a citrus twist, orange or grapefruit bitters would have been the way to go; however I was garnishing with a chilled tomolive, so I chose vegetal celery bitters for mine. Another grand use for my lovely Scrappy’s celery bitters! Some day I will praise it in a separate post.

Finally, a confession: I’ve always loved dirty martinis. Seriously. Sometimes a salty acid tang suits cold gin wonderfully and makes its botanicals pop. Why not make mine “dirty” properly, with fresh tasty Tomolive brine?

Rob Marais’ Martini

3 oz gin (Beefeater)

1 oz dry vermouth (Noilly Prat)

1 dash celery bitters (Scrappy’s)

1 barspoon Tomolive brine

1 Tomolive for garnish

Add gin, vermouth, bitters & brine to metal mixing glass over copious cubed ice. Stir until rime forms on outside of glass. Strain into thoroughly cold martini glass, add Tomolive. Sip with chilled savory pleasure.

And to me this is the joy of the classic martini: enjoying an ice cold, perfectly diluted, lively herbal and vegetal preprandial cocktail. Something that is satisfying in itself and yet leads inexorably to a nice meal. Something that powerfully stimulates taste and appetite without muting it in any way. For me, and perhaps only me, this particular martini gave me that great joy. I encourage you to craft your own personal classic martini and to find that same temporal bliss in a properly chilled glass.