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Help a philistine make a GREAT martini, please

  • k

I don't drink them. In fact, I have a severe aversion to most "white" spirits ... a result of youthful indiscretions. No gin for me, and definitely no vodka or rum!

But my wife loves a martini now and then, and I would like to know how to make a great one for her. She describes her favorite as being so cold that there is a thin slurry (my word, not hers) of ice floating on the top of the drink. She says she likes both vodka and gin martinis.

Any recipes, including techniques, that might yield a platonic ideal?

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  1. For starters, keep your ingredients at room temperature. The water added by the ice melting is an essential ingredient. Take a mixing glass, and put in a liberal splash of vermouth. Roll the vermouth around so it coats the inside of the glass, and discard the remainder. Add a few ice cubes, and pour 2 ounces of vodka or gin over them. Then, stir well using a long spoon for about 30 seconds. Strain the drink into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with an olive or lemon twist.

    Possible variations include shaking the martini for 15 seconds instead of stirring it; this is likely how your wife likes them, as small chips of ice break off and float on top of the drink. This also results in a drink with a lighter texture, since the shaking aerates the drink while stirring does not. You can also adjust the amount of vermouth. An older style martini may have 3/4 ounce of vermouth for the 2 oz of base spirit, while some people take theirs extra dry and just wave the vermouth bottle over the glass before mixing. If you wish to have your martini on the rocks, strain the cocktail into a glass over fresh ice.

    5 Replies
    1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

      JK does it almost how I do it except I also like to chill the glass with ice and water to make the glass colder. As the glass is chilling I put ice and vodka/gin in the shaker. Shake vigourously, empty the glass and shake out excess water, pour in small quantity of vermouth, coat, and pour out excess and then pour in the cold spirit.

      1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

        Not only is the above great advice, but he/she (I'm sorry - I should know by now, you are a long time poster!) nicely stated that tastes regarding the vermouth level vary widely. I happen to like about a 4:1 ratio of gin to vermouth. Most people I know like as little vermouth as possible. But I get so tired of pointless arguments about one style being correct/authentic/sophisticated/etc. So, figure out the vermouth level she likes and go with it.

        By the way, the most important thing is to use high quality ingredients. I like Bombay Saffire gin and Noilly Prat dry vermouth. There was a nice discussion of Plymouth gin on this board, which I now want to try. (The vermouth is cheap, no reason to skimp on that.)

        1. re: Darren72

          It is true, if you ask 100 martini afficionados for the proper way to make a martini, you'll get 101 recipes! :o)

          My version includes a splash of vermouth, and a dash of orange bitters (really worth it, if you can find them). In the end, though, you'll have to do some trial-and-error and get feedback from your wife. I came to these proportions through trying it different ways. I know someone who prefers the old-school, lots-of-vermouth recipe JK mentions. This is for Gin. For the rare Vodka "martini", I don't really use vermouth, and have it with a twist, instead of olives.

          If I'm in a more festive mood, I'll shake it just 'cuz it's fun, but otherwise I'll stir.

          I always have a couple cocktail glasses in the freezer, so chilling glasses isn't a issue.

          1. re: Darren72

            Thank you so much for mentioning the need for high quality ingredients! I can't believe I forgot that. It really does make all the difference in the world when making cocktails. The preferred base-to-vermouth ratio seems to be hovering around 11 to 1 right now, but like Darren said, it's all about *your* taste.

            And BTW, I'm a "he". I've been posting on Chowhound for at least five years, and trust me, you aren't the only one who doesn't know.

            1. re: Darren72

              Plymouth Gin is superb for Martinis, absolutely the best value going. However, I can't imagine a martini with 4:1 ratio of gin to vermouth.

              I like the "Mongomery", so named because Field Marshall Montgomery liked a 10:1 advantage to ensure victory in battle. Ironic, though, since he was a non-drinker.

          2. Ladies and gentlemen:

            Thank you so much for you excellent advice. I will try to report back on progress!

            Kirk

            1. A couple of tips: chill the glass (fill with ice and water, let sit). I don't like the modern trend of ultra-dryness in Martinis: that seems too much like "booze straight up", not a cocktail at all, which to my mind should balance the flavors of at least two, preferably three ingredients. So that means using some dry vermouth, and avoiding the many bad ones (Martini & Rossi is particularly nasty, I think). My favorites are Vya (from a boutique producer based in California) and Boissiere (a French dry vermouth). Lillet Blanc and other aromatized wines that aren't technically Vermouths provide nice variety. My Martinis use a proportion that hasn't been the standard since probably pre-Prohibition (our tastes have gotten steadily dryer over time: the oldest recipes are 2:1 Gin:Vermouth), namely, 5:2 or 5:1. My third key ingredient is a dash of orange flower water, a hard but not impossible to find ingredient that is often cited as being part of the original Martini recipe (if you can believe any of the conflicting origin stories surrounding the most popular cocktails). Shake over lots of ice, garnish as you choose. If you're using olives, shun the kind stuffed with that awful pimiento-colored extruded gelatin. The traditional cocktail olive is unstuffed. I myself prefer a twist (a strip of the rind only) of lemon. Add a cocktail onion and you've got yourself a Gibson, also very nice.

              1. My research has been slow, due to the fact that one person can only consume so many martinis at any given time -- in my wife's case, a maximum of one per night. But, as promised, here's my first report.

                Evidence comes done firmly on the side of the suggestions above that martinis are indeed a highly subjective cocktail.

                Since my wife seeks the icy "slurry" on top of her martini, I have limited the study to the "shaken" variety. Fifteen seconds of shaking does not yield a slurry to her satisfaction; 60 seconds approximates her icy ideal, but freezes my hands when I use a stainless shaker. I am hopeful that we will find a happy medium, or that I will remember to wrap the shaker in a bar towel next time.

                So far, my wife is on the side of those suggesting more vermouth. The "swirl and toss" method was too dry for her taste. (Learning that, I skipped the "open the bottle and whisper from the other side of the bar" methodology.) Right now, I have worked up to approximately 1/2 tablespoon of vermouth to two ounces of gin, which I think is a ratio of about 8:1. This is still on the dry side, so I will move toward 5:1 next.

                So far, I have only used olives (no twists or onions) in the study since this hs been my wife's stated preference from the start. I have added three "Mediterranean-style" green olives, with pits still in them, to the drink, and my wife says these are "perfectly fine." I will leave the olive variable for further exploration later.

                Two gins and two vermouths have been tried so far in the research. Two ounces of gin were used in each drink. Findings are as follows (in ascending order, rated on my wife's 10-point scale):

                Tanqueray + Cinzano = 5 (twirl-and-toss ratio)
                Tanqueray + Noilly Prat = 6.5 (splash of vermouth, probably 1/2 teaspoon)
                Bombay Sapphire + Cinzano = 7.5 (slightly larger splash of vermouth, probably 1 teaspoon)
                Bombay Sapphire + Noilly Prat = 8 (1/2 tablespoon of vermouth)

                Based on these rankings, I will leave the Tanqueray in the liquor cabinet, for use in gin and tonics, and focus on Bombay Sapphire in the near term. The Cinzano has already been excluded from further study since the bottle ran out (it was an old bottle), and I will stick with Noilly Prat for the near term.

                If I am unable to move the needle any higher than the current high of 8 by increasing the vermouth-to-gin ratio, then I will explore more gins and different vermouths. I will keep the orange bitters and orange-flower water in my hip pocket, for when the drink approximates a 10, to see whether she likes it even better after adding the orange flavor.

                Suos Cultores Scientia Coronat

                1 Reply
                1. re: Kirk

                  A couple more suggestions:

                  * If you're not already doing so, use cracked ice and a Hawthorne strainer to decant your cocktails from the shaker. This may yield the slurry you seek; most cocktail shaker tops with built-in strainers filter out all but the tiniest pieces of ice. You shouldn't have to (or want to) shake for more than 30 seconds.

                  * I am not a Bombay Sapphire fan, and use Tanqueray only for mixing with tonic water, as they are both of the London Dry style of gin, which means they are assertive and juniper-heavy. Try one of the new artisinal gins that have emerged as gin-makers try to compete with super-premium vodkas. One I really like is Hendrick's, which mutes the juniper note in favor of rose and cucumber flavors: mild and lovely. Another one that dials down the juniper is Plymouth Gin: it's not exactly new, but newly easy to get in the States.

                  * Check out my previous post for my Vermouth recs.

                2. Thanks for the tips. I've seen Hendrick's locally and will give it a try. A Hawthorne strainer is on the shopping list, too.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: Kirk

                    When I use a Boston shaker, rather than using a strainer (purely out of laziness), I will simply "strain" the drink by cracking a narrow wedge between the glass and metal parts of the shaker. I usually get a nice amount of teeny ice slivers when I do that.

                    And, yes, crack the ice first. I'm never to lazy to crack the ice. Well, once, but never again.

                    1. re: Alcachofa

                      An update: Hendrick's and pouring through a narrow wedge in the shaker has taken my wife's rating of the martini up to "9." I also tried Plymouth (which was on sale for $14.95 a liter locally), and she gave that a similar ranking, but said it was "much more of a classic martini" than the one made with Hendrick's. We've agreed that the next Hendrick's version will include a cucumber slice, which my wife asked for without ever having read the suggestion published by the distiller. I also upped the vermouth to close to a 5:2 ratio, and this has also been well received.

                      1. re: Kirk

                        The 5:2 ratio you mention would be right about where the standard ratio was in the 1930's. A 3:1 ratio is known these days as a Nick and Nora Martini.

                        1. re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester

                          Well, we've always been fans of "The Thin Man." : D

                        2. re: Kirk

                          Good work, looking foward to reading how this turns out. Will you find the martini that rates an "11"??

                          Hendricks is so subtle that not only should you use cucumber to garnish but make sure it's seedless (such as Israel kirby), peel before slicing on an immaculate cutting surface. Hendricks works well for Gibsons, too.

                          A shout out for Boodles: I was a Sapphire guy until I recently tried it, now I am converted.

                          1. re: kenito799

                            Yes, my wife also suggested that a cocktail onion would make a great garnish. Thanks for the cuke suggestion.

                            If I reach 11, maybe I can christen it the "Spinal Taptini"!