The Ideal Martini

31st March, 2010: Posted by G.L. Pease in Cocktails

Is there any cocktail more elegant than the Martini? And, is any drink more argued over? Wet, dry, olives or a twist? Clean, or dirty? Since it’s one of my faves, I thought I should give the Martini a little air time.

Okay, so maybe there’s not such thing as a perfect Martini, since everyone has their own idea of what one should be. Some like vermouth. Others think that showing the vermouth bottle to the shaker is sufficient, or whispering the word, or waving the cork over the glass, or bowing in the direction of France, or some silliness.To my mind, there are definitely a couple of things that do not a Martini make, so let’s start there.

First on that list is vodka. There is nothing wrong with vodka, but Martinis are made from gin and vermouth, and maybe a drop of bitters. Period. If there’s anything else in it, it’s something else. Make up a name. Call it anything but a Martini. The Smirnoff people invented the Kangaroo Cocktail in the 1950s – vodka and vermouth with an olive – in the hopes of capturing some of gin’s favor in the white spirits world. Call it that. There are also no apples in a Martini. Or cranberries. Or chocolate. I think I’ve made myself as clear as a good Martini, here.

Second, if it doesn’t have vermouth in it, it’s not a Martini; it is cold gin in a cocktail glass. There’s nothing wrong with cold gin, it’s just not a Martini. Neither is it really a cocktail, which must contain at least two ingredients, if not three, in order to qualify. And, a Martini is a cocktail.

Third, gin should not be kept in the freezer. I’ve heard all the nonsense about freezing “bruising” the gin, but that’s got nothing to do with this. An ideal Martini is diluted just enough to polish the edges off and open up the flavours, and if the gin is already icy cold, that won’t happen, especially if you don’t shake it. Which brings me to…

Finally, a Martini is stirred. James Bond* was just wrong. He drank vodka and vermouth with pulverized ice crystals in a cocktail glass, not Martinis. (Yes, I am on a crusade.) When a Martini, or any cocktail is shaken, little bubbles of air are introduced, which is fine for fruity drinks and highballs, but not so great for classics served up, such as Martinis and Manhattans. We’re after a clear, elegant, velvety smooth cocktail that soothes and comforts, not something frothy and so full of ice crystals that it needs to be strained through your teeth.

We will take a page out of Flemming’s book, though, and use Lillet Blanc in our recipe, though any excellent vermouth (see notes) serves well. But, try it this way, and then adjust to your tastes. And, please, no fruit juce, no chocolate and absolutely no vodka. Save that for your Scredrivers, Kangaroos and Moscow Mules. And Vespers.

In a cold shaker filled with plenty of drained, fresh ice, stir, do not shake, until well chilled:

  • 2.5oz gin – use your best (see notes)
  • 0.5oz FRESH Lillet Blanc, Dion, or Vya dry vermouth
  • 1 drop of Regan’s Orange Bitters (optional)

Serve in a cocktail glass with one or three olives, never two. DGR likes one, but he’s a classicist. I like three, arguing that, traditionally, the olive is eaten first, then the drink consumed. I like the way the olives taste after being soaked in the Martini for a while, so there must be at least two, and the third one provides for a little something to snack on whilst the second round is being stirred.

Finally, a note on glassware. The aquarium sized glasses that have become somewhat fashionable may be perfect for housing a pet guppy, but they are just silly for a drink that is meant to be sipped cold. Stick with tradition, and use a 6-8oz glass for a 3oz cocktail. If one isn’t enough, you can always have another.


*What Bond originally drank in Flemming’s Casino Royale was a Vesper Cocktail, which is actually quite a lovely drink made with gin, vodka, and Lillet Blanc. This later was simplified, probably because he tired of telling people how to make it, to the vodka “martini, shaken, not stirred.” The Lillet Blanc part seems to have been forgotten, but that’s actually the jumping off point for our Ideal Martini.

Lillet Blanc is a French aperitif wine first made in 1887, and delightful served over ice with a slice of citrus. It also makes a superb Martini. According to my friend Neill, in 1962, the formula was changed, omitting the quinine that had been part of the original recipe, and this is an essential ingredient to the cocktail. Therefore, the recipe below includes his “pinch of quinine powder” for the Vesper purist. Try to buy your Lillet in tenths, and store it in the fridge. It browns quickly, darkening the martini, which should be crystal clear.

In 2010, Noilly Prat changed their US dry vermouth formula to the same one that’s been used in Europe forever. It’s lovely stuff, but I preferred the flavour and clarity of the old US formula for a martini vermouth. Instead, try Dion from France, or California’s Vya. Both are exceptional.

Gin: I recently stumbled upon Citadelle, and fell in love with it. It’s my fave Martini gin, now, by a mile. I also really like Beefeater, Bombay and Boodles. Monopolowa, from Austria, is lighter on the botanicals, but makes a nice, if more austere Martini when paired with a flavourful vermouth, like Vya.

The Vesper cocktail is made from 2oz gin, 1oz vodka, and 0.5oz Lillet Blanc, and a pinch of quinine powder, rubed between the thumb and forefinger to warm it before adding. Stir with plenty of ice. Rub the rim of the cocktail glass with the inside of a lemon rind before pouring the drink. For the purist, the Vesper is served with a lemon twist, though we like the olive.

The glass in which a Martini is served is a cocktail glass. The Martini is only one cocktail served in this most elegant of glasses.

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