Hey, bartender! Can you make me a martini?
Sure! How do you like it? Gin? Vodka? Up? Rocks? Dry? Wet? Perfect? Olives? Twist? Dirty?
Not sure? Then, let me help you out.
The martini is a classic cocktail that’s enjoyed a surge in popularity in recent years. Knowing how you like yours and, more importantly, how to order it is essential to getting it the way you want. It also spares bartenders from playing 20 questions with you every time you want one.
Before we go on, a bit of disambiguation. A true martini consists of gin (or, more recently, vodka), dry vermouth, and either an olive or a lemon twist. Just because a cocktail comes in a martini glass — technically, it’s called a cocktail glass — doesn’t mean it’s a martini. A Manhattan comes in a martini glass, but we don’t call it a whiskeytini, do we? So, while appletinis and chocotinis may be tasty and fun (if that’s your sort of thing), they are not martinis and should go by another name.
Is there a correct way to order your martini? Purists will say yes, but it’s really about preference. However, recipes may vary depending on the bar. Some bars may still use the classic, vermouth-heavy recipe; others might adhere to the modern standard, which calls for just a splash of vermouth or simply rinses the glass or the ice with it. It’s helpful, then, to know the vocabulary to ensure you get your martini the way you like it. So let’s run through the terms.
Gin/vodka: This will be your base spirit. Gin is classic, but vodka has become such a popular substitute that some people don’t realize it’s actually the alternative. Always specify, because some bartenders (read: old timers) might make it with gin without even asking.
Up: Served chilled, without ice, in a martini glass.
Rocks: Served over ice in a tumbler. This preparation less common, but it’s helpful when you’re looking to pace yourself as the ice will dilute the booze.
Dry: Light on vermouth. Order a martini dry these days and the bartender will likely set an open bottle of vermouth next your glass and leave it at that. I’ll admit to getting caught up in the low-vermouth trend, but lately I’ve begun to up the ratios when I make martinis for myself. I now make mine 3:1 (gin:vermouth), which may be sacrilege to some (just look at the heated responses to my recent pro-vermouth Facebook post) but is closer to the original recipe.
Wet: Extra vermouth. These days, if you want to taste vermouth in your martini, order it wet.
Perfect: Equal parts dry and sweet vermouth. If you’ve never had it this way, it’s worth a try. FYI, if you want a martini made perfectly, don’t ask for a perfect martini. A good bartender or server will catch this, but an inexperienced one might not, which can lead to some Abbott & Costello worthy exchanges.
Olives/twist: Some of this stuff is pretty self-explanatory, folks.
Dirty: Adds a measure of olive brine (as well as olives for garnish). The correct measure varies depending on taste, although, in my professional experience, it somehow never seems to be enough. You should think of dirty martinis like training wheels: they’re an easy way into a very liquor-forward cocktail, but over time you should learn to wean yourself off them. I’ll concede a splash of brine can add a nice, salty bit of flavor, especially to dry vodka martinis, which tend to be lacking in that department. However, too much will overpower your cocktail and entirely mask the flavor of the spirit you’re paying good money for. Some bartenders omit vermouth in dirty martinis, and while I get the reasoning — again, the brine is so dominant — I think the vermouth still adds some depth to the cocktail. It also helps newbies get accustomed to the taste of real martinis when they’re ready to take those training wheels off.
Shaken vs. stirred: A martini should always be stirred. James Bond may be a good spy, but he’s also a drunk (and a womanizer), who doesn’t know squat about bartending. Stirring is essential. I explained the mechanics of shaking and stirring cocktails in a previous column, which you can check out here. Basically, stirring doesn’t break the ice. It also prevents cloudiness, making for a cold, smooth, clear cocktail that looks great in the glass. If your bartender does shake your martini, don’t make a fuss; it’s still perfectly drinkable. Just quietly judge them to yourself without branding yourself as a pretentious jag in front the whole bar.
One last tip: know your venue. Martinis aren’t for dive bars. You’re just setting yourself up for disappointment. The bartender probably hasn’t made one in 20 years and god only knows how long those olives have been sitting in that jar.
So let’s apply what we’ve learned. If I were to order a gin martini in a cocktail glass with extra vermouth and a twist, I’d ask for a gin martini, up, wet — about 3:1 — with a twist.
I’ll leave you with my personal martini recipe, which draws heavily on the classic version.
3 oz. gin (My faves: Plymouth, Hendrick’s, Barr Hill)
1 oz. Lillet Blanc
2 dashes orange bitters
Directions: Combine the gin, Lillet, and bitters in a glass with ice and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled martini/coupe glass. Express the oil from the lemon twist over the cocktail, rub the twist around the rim of the glass, and drop it into the drink.
In the time-honored tradition of bartenders telling jokes, I’m going to end these columns with a standup clip. Enjoy.
Jim Sabataso is a freelance writer and part-time bartender living in Vermont. Have a bar- or cocktail-related or question, you’d like answered? Send it to him on Twitter @JimSabataso with the hashtag #heybartender.