There’s a lot to consider when it comes to what YOUR perfect Martini is. It’s a lifelong journey, and when you really get into it, you’ll most likely have more than one favourite recipe that will suit your different mood, time of day and even season!
It’s not only about making your perfect Martini, but also ordering you‘re perfect Martini. If you simply order a ‘Dry Martini’ in a bar, that tells the Bartender literally nothing. You might as well Google ‘CAR’ the next time you want to buy a new auto.
Giving your bartender exact specifications for drinks like the Martini, Manhattan or Negroni isn’t being rude or overly fussy. It actually makes the job easier for a bartender (trust us, we’ve made thousands of these drinks for guests), because they can give you exactly what you want without having to ask a whole series of questions, or guessing what you might like.
So, when a guest orders a Dry Martini with no further instruction, as a bartender you’ll have a stock recipe you’ll make for them. Probably something that is easy and inoffensive to suit as many different palates as possible. However, you’re also aware that this recipe might not please the guest because your choices could be very different from their actual preferences or preconceptions. You’re also aware that they clearly don’t know an awful lot about what they are drinking, which can often lead to confusion and potentially complaints.
So, all that being said, below, we have put together some extra reading to empower you to answer the key considerations that will allow you to make and order your ideal Martinis.
1. What Gin do you want?
Ok, yes, you can certainly make a Martini with Vodka, it’s a variant called a Vodkatini or Vodka Martini. So, if you do use Vodka, pick your favourite, smoothest Vodka. The delicate nature of the Martini means that this is a great opportunity to crack open that special or differen bottle of Vodka you have on your top shelf. In a Martini you’ll actually be able to tell the difference between the potato or different grains the vodka is made from, in a way that you just can’t when you mix it into other recipes with more strongly flavoured ingredients.
Classically however, if you’re talking about a Dry Martini, then you’re intrinsically talking Gin.
If you want a Gin to get you started, we really have to mention Plymouth Gin. Not only was it used to make the first recognisable Dry Martini recipe in 1904, but it’s famously soft and easy to drink, a Gin even for those who think they don’t like Gin. If you’re in a bar that knows their stuff, you’ll also get cool points from your bartender for ordering this favourite of the pros.
If you want something with bolder juniper notes, then you can pick a classic London Dry Gin like the earthy dry Tanqueray or the citrus led Beefeater. Along with Plymouth Gin, these three make what us old pros refer to as the holy trinity of Gin. They are icons of the Gin world that should not be overlooked, even in these modern times with so many Gins to choose from.
If you do want a modern option, you can’t go wrong with Fords Gin. It makes an excellent Martini, and happily sits somewhere in the middle of the holy trinity. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s a Gin, or Vodka, you love to drink, because its character will be very much front and centre.
2. What Vermouth / Fortified Wine do you want?
The classic Dry Martini is made with a combination of Gin and Dry Vermouth. Thankfully, there are many different Vermouths to choose from these days, but this can also be confusing. So, a good place to start might be the dry, yet soft and fruity Dolin de Chambery (Dry). If you can’t find Dolin Dry, then Noilly Pratt is another great option, especially if you want something with a little more body, as it’s finished ‘in barrel’. No matter where you are on the planet, you should be able to find one of these two delicious classics.
Vermouths are delicious, however an easy way to create a variation on the traditional Dry Martini is to use an altogether different style of fortified wine. Here’s a couple of our favourites:
Lillet Blanc or Lillet Rosé – Makes a slightly sweeter option, with refreshingcitrus notes.
Try it as – a Fifty:Fifty (i.e. – equal parts Gin and Lillet). Even works well served over ice. So refreshing, it’s the sort of Martini you can even drink by the pool in the sun.
Dry Sherry – Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado. They all work beautifully in place of vermouth, and thankfully Sherry is being appreciated again, so most decent bars will have at least a Fino Sherry on offer. Make sure you have some in your fridge too, Sherry is not only delicious for sipping and mixing, but awesome in cooking too!
There are many to choose from, so if in doubt Lustau makes some delicious ones that should be easy to get your hands on.
Try it as – a Martini at a 3:1 ratio (3 Gin : 1 Sherry) to get a nice balance of Gin and Sherry.
Fino – An everyday alternative. Dry and creamy, maybe garnish with a twist of lemon, but definitely serve with blanched almonds on the side. If you enjoy cheese, have a few fine slices of hard cheese like a Manchego on the side!
Manzanilla – Dry with more minerality. Great when eating seafood, especially oysters and fruits-de-mer. A lemon twist works well for garnish, but a sprig of fresh dill is even better here if you are pairing with seafood. The dill gently soaks into the Martini adding its subtle, fresh aniseed flavour that pairs so well with seafood.
Amontillado – What you might call a Winter’s Martini. The dry nutty style of Amontillado adds real depth to your recipe, like a warm hug for when the nights get a little chillier. We absolutely LOVE this variation.
3. What’s your ratio?
So, you’ve selected your Gin and you’ve chosen your fortified wine, but how much of each do you want? The ratio of these two ingredients will have a huge impact on the final drink.
In fact, it is this ratio of these two ingredients that we shorthand when talking about ‘how dry’ we want to have our Martini. The drier the Martini, the less Vermouth there is in the ratio.
If you were to ask for an ‘EXTRA DRY’ or ‘BONE DRY’ Martini, then you would simply be adding a rinse of Dry Vermouth to the glass and flicking out the excess. Whereas a WET Martini might be around 2 parts of Gin to 1 part of DRY Vermouth. This language is great fun, ‘NAKED’ = No vermouth, “OFF-DRY” = a little more Vermouth than Dry, but less than WET.
Although this language can work very well as a shorthand in bars you trust or drink in regularly, the problem that you are probably noticing, is that it’s all down to interpretation. This will change from bar to bar, and country to country which can set you up for disappointment. Also, this language only really makes sense when you are using Dry Vermouth, and not other fortified wines.
So, what’s the solution? Make Martinis at different but precisely measured ratios and do a taste comparison. This way you will find the ratio that you love for that particular fortified wine (yes, that does mean that you will probably have different ratios you prefer for Dry Vermouth, compared to Sherry, compared to Lillet etc…) and then you can consistently make the Martini that’s right for you. Importantly, you will be also able to stride into a bar and ask, with confidence, for your preferred Dry Martini ratio. Your bartender will be impressed and appreciate your attention to detail!
Finally, remember that if you are making a Vermouth heavy Martini, like a FIFTY-FIFTY, it will need to be stirred for less time than a ‘BONE DRY’ Martini. This is because less water needs to be added to get the drink to the perfect point of dilution as the FIFTY-FIFTY recipe (equal parts of Gin and fortified wine) starts at a lower alcohol strength than a BONE DRY Martini (which is essentially straight Gin). The Devil Perfect Martini is in the detail!
4. What Garnish do you want?
So the final choice you need to make is, how are you going to garnish your Martini?
As we explained in the garnish section, this will have a real impact on your final drink, and although it should also make the drink look pretty, its impact is NOT skin deep.
What you like is what YOU like, but here are some ideas and some classic combinations for you to try:
They add powerful aromas, usually lemon, but grapefruit works great too. Or, take a leaf out of the Savoy Cocktail Book (1930) and garnish like a Douglas Cocktail with a twist of both lemon and orange.
Green as standard, whole preferably and it may seem obvious, NOT in oil but in brine!
2 Green Olives, known as an FDR or Roosevelt (after Franklin D. Roosevelt who always had 2 green Olives in his Martini).
Green with Olive Juice, known as Dirty Martini. A teaspoon of this brine added to your recipe then stirred down with ice is pretty standard. If you want it less ‘Dirty’ add less brine, if you want it ‘Dirtier’ add as much brine as tickles your fancy!
Black Olive, if you switch our green olive for black you’re making a Buckeye Martini.
Blue Cheese Stuffed, to many Martini lovers, you’re a monster! We say don’t mind them, drink YOUR Martini how you like it! However, we do recommend you serve them on the side for the sake of the look of your Martini. Wherever you are don’t scrimp on quality! Ideally buy delicious whole green olives, then pit them and stuff them yourself with a flavoursome creamy blue cheese like a Dolcelatte or buy them from a quality deli. This is no time to panic purchase from the all-night corner store!
This garnish give you the delicious Gibson style Martini! (Yes, it may sound weird, but it’s amazing). Make your own if you have the time and inclination or simply buy Cocktail Onions or pickled Silver Skin Onions in a jar.
Some of the best ‘homemade’ ones we’ve had include baby onions that have first been soaked in red wine before pickling. Then beyond onions, pickled celery and pickled sweet yellow cherry tomatoes have also delivered some of the best Gibson variations we’ve tried!
Here’s something a little different, and an absolute beauty –
K-Ya Martini, ‘Created’ by chance while drinking in Japan. We were enjoying Dry Martinis made with Beefeater Dry in bar K-Ya, Kyoto. The bar snack of the evening was a rice cracker with Mascarpone and honey, and it was simply one of the best accompaniments to a Dry Martini we’d every tried! So, the K-Ya Martini was born!
Take a rice cracker and top it with a teaspoonful of Mascarpone cheese, then drizzle a little honey over the top of it. Serve this alongside a Dry Martini with a lemon twist. If you want it how we first drank it, use Beefeater Dry, big and bold with plenty of citrus. If you‘re not using Beefeater, choose something with character and ideally citrus forward.
Nuts / Cheese / Oysters, check out our recommendations to go with Sherry Martinis above.
5. Bonus Round!
The above 4 ESSENTIAL questions need to be answered to find your ideal Martini recipe. There’s also a 5th, OPTIONAL question you may wish to consider, do you want to add modifying ingredients such as bitters or liqueurs.
The use of bitters and liqueurs in a Martini goes all the way back to the recipes that paved the way to the modern Dry Martini we know today. The use of these modifying ingredients remained popular through until the end of the first great cocktail era around the time of the Second World War.
A dive into any pre-war cocktail book, like the Savoy Cocktail Book, will show you how our drinking trends have simply come full circle. It contains countless ‘Martini’ style recipes that not only incorporate bitters and liqueurs, but a variety of fortified wines too. It’s like reading from the menu of a modern high-end cocktail bar, and that’s a great place for modern drinking culture to be in!
Of course, you don’t have to play with these different ingredients, but you won’t know until you try! So, mix it up a little from time-to-time. This will likely mean you’ll end up with a variety of different Martini recipes that you enjoy at different times, in different environments and in different moods.
Some days you just want a really Dry Martini, while at other times, sitting in the sun, you might decide to mix yourself a Fifty-Fifty with Lillet Rose and a Grapefruit Twist, served over a big old piece of ice. Maybe you’ll even add a dash of apricot liqueur, or citrus bitters? What really matters is that the choice, as always, is yours!
Bitters ‘Do I want to add any bitters to y Martini?’. A dash of Orange Bitters was added to the first Dry Martini recipe in 1904, and is still enjoyed by many today. Celery Bitters work nicely in a Gibson and other citrus bitters may well suit your choice of gin or vodka too. So, if you like bitters, experiment!
Liqueurs You may also want to add a hint of fruit from a liqueur such as an Orange or Apricot Liqueur. A small dash or a few drops stirred in with the rest of your recipe. Or a rinse in your glass then flicking the excess out. However you prefer to add it, this addition will create a delicious, slightly sweeter style of Martini.
So, after all this, what we want you to remember is that there is no such thing as THE Dry Martini, there is only YOUR Dry Martini.