Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Behold the Martini, King of Cocktails!

  • 6 parts gin (3 oz.)
  • Dry vermouth (1/4 tsp. or less)
  • Cocktail olive (or lemon twist in this case)
New York Bartender’s Guide
No drink in the history of bartending has been so unanimously extolled and yet so frequently made the subject of controversy. The Martini has too many variations to count, and every bartender claims to have the secret to making the perfect Martini. Some recipes even exceed the liberal definition that this bartender allows for the use of the sacred name. Martinis range from shaken or stirred, to olive or lemon (or onion), to dry to wet to dirty, and up or on the rocks. Martinis can even make use of gin or vodka and can include liqueurs like Dubonnet Rouge, Midori, Chambord, Drambuie, and Campari. So what do they all have in common?

Martini purists say that the original Martini was made with gin. Others allow that it is only a Martini if it also includes a percentage of vermouth, no matter how small. I am inclined to agree with the latter since I like a vodka Martini (pictured above) and I agree that scenting a martini with a liqueur is sometimes a excellent way to make a distinguishing flourish on a classic cocktail. Once a Martini strays into using other spirits like rum, whiskey or tequila as the main ingredient, you are stepping on another cocktail’s territory and the drink requires a new name. That is why we have the Manhattan, the Black Dog, and the Cosmo to differentiate between cocktails served up and true Martinis. I tend to draw the line when someone adds a significant portion of non alcoholic fruit juice (cranberry for the aptly named Cosmo and pineapple for the French Martini—which I wouldn’t call a real Martini). To me, a Martini means a stiff (strong) cocktail, and fruit juice defeats this end by watering the drink down. Liqueurs don’t tend to do this and they rarely make up a large percentage of the drink.
That said, Martini originalists are quick to point out that early forms of the drink date back to the American Prohibition when people were accustomed to drinking chilled vermouth straight. Martinis then were mostly vermouth (6 parts vermouth to 3 parts gin) owing to the poor quality of the gin versus the availability of homemade vermouth. The gin was added to give strength to an already potent glass of fortified wine because who knew when your drinking party might be interrupted by the prohibition officers
Martinis nowadays display gin or vodka as their main feature; they are spicy drinks with citrus twists or briny drinks with pickle, onion or olive garnishes. At least with these variations, the drinker has some idea of what to expect. Vermouth is used in smaller and smaller quantities (a single drop in the glass or in the ice before shaking) and is sometimes omitted altogether.

What most bartenders agree on is that a Martini is served cold and consumed quickly to prevent it from warming up. The cocktail glass provides a large surface to allow the drinker to sniff the concoction while drinking, but drinking on the rocks is easier if you need to stand or walk with your drink (or you want to let the ice melt longer and extend your sipping time.) All bartenders should tailor their Martini to the drinker’s specifications.
Ask the following questions before making:

Vodka or gin?
Dry or dirty or sweet?
Up or rocks?
Shaken or stirred?
Olive or twist?

That’s a lot of to talk about, but you don’t want to disappoint. Good bartenders are able to make a Martini the way each individual enjoys them: a good bartender is not someone who only makes one kind of Martini—their own standard of perfection. You’ll end up throwing away a lot of perfect drinks if you do this.

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