Martinis are one of, if not, the most iconic cocktails. A martini's silhouette alone signifies a cocktail bar, liquor store, or drink menu, all without words.
The storied past and current news of the martini as we know it.
The martini as we know it isn't quite the original. Today, vodka martinis are seen as the standard, but it was gin that was the base spirit of the original martinis back in the late 1800s. The martini was a result of Dutch gin, genever, and included sweet vermouth, orange liqueur, and orange bitters. Later, the martini would include a lemon twist and use Old Tom gin instead of genever. Constantly evolving, there's no true answer to its roots, but the recipe has remained relatively stable throughout the decades.
The Contemporary Martini
Today, the basic martini recipe is comprised of three ingredients: two ounces of your spirit of choice, gin or vodka, one ounce of dry vermouth, and the garnish of your choosing, typically a lemon twist or three olives. Should you opt for a cocktail onion garnish, this would be considered a Gibson.
Martinis are stirred rather than shaken to maintain the clear consistency of the base spirit. It's a myth that liquor can bruise or be ruined by being shaken. The exception to shaking instead of stirring is the dirty martini, which is customarily shaken.
The Rise of the Vodka Martini
Gin can be a polarizing spirit- its juniper, herbaceous flavors are not as smooth as the nearly neutral palette that vodka can provide. Today, if someone orders a martini, it's assumed they're ordering vodka rather than gin. So if you're ordering a martini and you prefer gin, be sure to specify. Although the proper way to order a martini, should you have a brand preference, is to state the name of the brand prior to the martini, such as a Hendricks martini or Titos martini.
How to Order a Martini
If you're new to martinis or you don't typically order them, and you get tripped up with the questions and terminology, here are a few tips to start.
- As mentioned before, start your order by stating your preferred spirit (gin martini) or jumping right to your preferred brand (Hendricks martini).
- Next, specify how you'd like your martini. A dry martini uses a splash of dry vermouth, while bone dry means only glancing at an unopened bottle of dry vermouth. A sweet martini uses sweet vermouth, and a dirty martini uses olive juice or brine, the exact brine that comes in the jar of olives.
- Pick your fighter! Well, garnish. Here you'll order a lemon twist, olives, cocktail onions, or go highbrow and enjoy blue cheese stuffed olives, although some bars may not have those on hand.
Once you've put these three steps together, your order would sound like, "Hendricks martini, dry, with a lemon twist." You won't need to specify shaken or stirred unless you prefer yours to be shaken.
Putting It All Together, for You
If you're making your martini at home, you're in a great position to make it to your exact specifications. You don't need to have a proper martini glass or coupe to enjoy a martini. While the vessel is part of the process, you can just as easily enjoy a martini in a rocks glass or even over ice. Cocktails aren't meant to be rigidly enjoyed, they're for fun.
Popular Modern Variations
Many contemporary martinis are martini in name only, but they're still just as tasty and spirit forward. A few examples include:
- Cosmopolitan- made with citron vodka, orange liqueur, cranberry juice, and lime juice
- Chocolate martini- made with vodka, Irish cream, and creme de cacao
- Apple martini- made with vodka, (sour) apple schnapps, and orange liqueur
- Espresso martini- made with vodka, espresso, coffee liqueur, and simple syrup
- Gibson- a traditional martini made with vodka and vermouth, but specifically garnished with a cocktail onion
- Vesper- the most potent of martinis, made with gin, vodka, and Lillet
- Filthy- for those who want their martini to be made with extra olive brine
There's a long list of flavored martinis, many of which are riffs on other classic cocktails or which incorporate flavored vodkas, gin, or other spirits, fruit juice, unique simple syrups, or liqueur. Some are sweet like candy, others floral forward, some herbaceous, and others dessert flavored.
Martinis are a cocktail deserving of respect, both in the creation and while enjoying. They're a strong, spirit-forward cocktail, not for the faint of heart. Even the more modern creations pack a wallop. Once you get the hang of them, you'll soon learn how to make them by heart.