Make Your Own Martini!
It's the classic drink of the Diesel Age, synonimous with class, style, cool. No other drink can tell a story by its very name. No other drink is so easily recognizable, so evocative.
The "classic" Martini has only three ingredients: Gin or Vodka, Vermouth, garnish.
So why is it so cotton pickin' hard to get right?
The devil is, as they say, in the details. For you see, my classy chicks and hip cats, it's a drink as personal as a fingerprint, and individual as a snowflake, as unique as the hand holding the stylish glass. There's so little too it, yet like any great act of alchemy or gastronomy it's all about the proper proportions...the proper proportions for you.
Now, I could wax nostalgic over the great history for this classic concoction, but I defer to C.B. Daniel and his hep article in the Gatehouse Gazette #9 where he covers this perfectly. Instead, consider this a primer on DIY, and no drink is a DIY project like a Martini.
Experiment! Make it your motto, night and day...
In its most fundamental form a martini is a three-step process: 1) the Booze, 2) the Vermouth, and 3) Acoutrements. I'll run these down step by step:
Step 1: the Booze
Gin or Vodka. That's the choice. And ultra-purists would even deny option #2 there. Anything else called a "tini" is an abomination created by the dread Old Ones to tempt humanity into poor taste and high fructose corn syrup.
Now, as with anything this is an "easier said than done" choice. What gin? Whose vodka?
That's where you come in, bub. Finding what's right for you will take time and sampling. Go ahead. Have a few more while you figure it out. It's all for science, yea? The one caveat is don't go cheap. Seriously, the booze is the heart of the Martini. Buy bad booze you get a bad drink. End of story, Clyde.
My personal favs are Bombay Sapphire (a bright, citrusy gin anyone can like), Tanqueray (a seriously dry packs-a-punch gin...not for amatures), Quinessential and Plymouth (these latter two great, smooth straight-forward gins). Yep, I'm a gin guy. What can I say?
Step 1B: Chill...
Now here's DIY step two: put the booze over ice and let it rest there to chill. How long? I do about a minute, but again, this is a personal factor. There's a trade-off: the chill takes the edge off the booze and brings out the sweet of the alcohol and the aromatics of the botanicals for you gin-slingers. The catch? It also dilutes the booze. You can get around any dilution by putting the booze in a small stainless steel decanter in a bed of ice, though you might want a little ice-melt in there to tame the strong booze flavor, particularly with a strong flavored gin or high-proof vodka. Again, try and try again until you find the right way for you.
Step 2: Vermouth
Now we get to the part that makes this a Martini! The very name comes from Martini & Rossi, a popular brand of Vermouth, and if you order a "Martini" in Eurpoe you're going to get Vermouth over Ice with a twist, which is a remarkably good apertif, by the way. [Side note: my dad had a story he liked to tell where he was with Dr. Martini, heir to the M&R fortune. Dr. M. ordered a Martini. When the bartender produced a bottle of Noilly Pratt dad said Dr. M turned bright red in rage!]
So what the hell is Vermouth, anyway? Vermouth is an herb-infused wine. Originally Wormwood, the "active ingredient" in Absinthe, was one of the ingedients, hence the name of the same meaning. It comes "Dry" ("Bianco/Blanc" in Europe) or "Sweet" ("Rosso/Rouge"), though in the US we generally get a special "Extra Dry" specifially for Martinis. Traditionally it's Dry in a Martini, though a mix of Dry and Sweet is used in a "Perfect" Martini (typically 50/50), as C.B. Daniel pointed out.
The Diabolical Detail here is in the ratio of Booze to Vermouth. Common ratios include 3:1 Booze to Vermouth, 4:1, 5:1, or 6:1, though the quest for the ultimately Dry Martini (with exceedingly little Vermouth) has created some interesting methodology, including pouring, swirling, and dumping out the Vermouth so as to only coat the glass to the use of an aerator to mist the glass. Winston Churchill reportedly liked to let his gin "get a fair look" at the bottle of Vermouth from a distance.
Again, Experiment! Try different ratios until you find your right one, be it 3:1, 8:1, 7:3, or 3π:√2
Step 2B: Shaken...or Stirred?
Oh that most stereotypical of Martini questions! Shaking will cause the Booze to chill faster with less melt and will either "delightfully open up" or "horribly bruise" the booze, depending on whom you ask. The answer is...say it with me folks...Experiment!
Step 3: Garnishes and Finishing Touches
And now for the coup de gras...the garnish! That little bit of something that brings it all in together.
For a Martini the garnish is traditionally an olive, a twist, or a cocktail onion, though the latter has fallen out of favor a long while back and remains a niche garnish.
The olive is the quinessential Martini garnish. Why? well, a friend once asked me this very question as I made him his first Martini. "Try it," I said, "Doesn't it just taste like it needs an olive?" He tried it and replied, "Yea, it really does!" Amazing. Try it with one, two, three...whatever. You know the mantra by now.
A twist means a small piece of lemon (or occasionally lime) peel. Just the outer yellow skin of the peel, avoid the inner white and for the love of Bacchus no pulp!
-M. Night Shyamalan (as filtered through Robot Chicken)
Of course matching the garnish with the booze is an art in and of itself with gin in particular being such an individual recipie of unique botanicals that an olive works better with some while a twist is necessary with others. I recommend an olive with drier gins like Tanqueray original, Gordons, Quinessential, Beefeater, and Plymouth and a twist with brighter gins like Bombay Sapphire or Tanqueray Ten (lime twist, in this case).
Step 3B: Tweaks (Optional)
Finally, you have some options to kick that Martini up a notch by adding a small bit of something else:
Dirty Martini: add a splash of olive brine
Cajun Martini: add a dash of Tabasco sauce (a Jimmy Buffet fav)
Smokey Martini: add a dash of scotch
Jamaican Martini: add overproof white rum
And In Conclusion...
You should now be armed with all you need to find your perfect, personal signature Martini, be it a single must-have or a whole recipie book of options. You may need to occasionally revisit other recipies just to make sure...you never know. Have another*. And my all means share your newfound knowledge, teach others, share the gospel, and above all...keep swingin' baby!
I like to have a martini,
Two at the very most.
After three I'm under the table,
after four I'm under my host.
* Dieselpunks does not encourage the overconsumption of alcohol. Get plastered responsibly. Wait 'till you're 21 or at least find a more accomodating, civilized nation to visit. Find a tetotaler friend to mooch rides off of rather than drive your own sloppy ass home. Friends don't let friends beer-goggle. Warning: Alcohol may cause you to think you are notably cooler, quieter, more coordinated, sexier, or tougher than you really are.