In our new Ask the Expert series, Paste readers chime in with some of their most pressing booze concerns, and we do our best to help you make sense of it all. Resident expert Jake Emen has spent years on the road traveling to distilleries across the country and around the world, and he’s here to help. Want your own question answered? Send a Tweet to him @ManTalkFood using #AskTheExpert.
There’s nothing simpler than a martini right? I mean, look how clean it is in its eponymous glassware; there’s simply not much you can do to a martini one way or the other… right? Well, Belvedere Vodka crunched the numbers and found there were 9.6 quadrillion potential ways to make a martini, give or take. Seriously. So let’s start with the two biggest and most argued points then: shaken vs. stirred, and gin vs. vodka.
If there was a most “proper” or most bartender-approved variation of the martini, then it’s a stirred gin martini. Most would define the martini as a stirred cocktail made from gin and dry vermouth, served up, i.e., not over ice, in a martini glass.
Traditionalists will get quite offended at the mere suggestion of using vodka in a martini, and boy did that damn James Bond really make a mess of things by asking for his shaken, not stirred. Again, traditionally speaking, an all-spirits drink should be stirred, and the only drinks which require being shaken are those with citrus, egg whites, dairy, or thick syrups or liqueurs.
What kind of impact does shaking vs. stirring a drink even make? Shaking is going to bring the drink to a colder temperature, faster, will more heavily dilute the drink with water from the melted ice, and will also impart a different texture or mouthfeel to the drink for those paying that much attention.
That matters because colder temperatures mask flavors and aromas and extra dilution does the same. But you may be looking for that in your martini—something ice cold and easy drinking, and while dilution and cold temperature mask flavor, they also mask the oomph of the alcohol, too.
As for the difference between gin and vodka, the choice obviously results in a different flavor profile. Now the traditionalists may harp—and I mean really, really harp— on the strict usage of gin, but tradition is funny, because the martini actually debuted as a drink with Old Tom style gin and sweet vermouth, gradually morphing over time. That means that traditionally speaking, the traditional martini is nothing like the original martini. Or something like that.
Therefore, tradition matters less than evolution, with the theoretical domain of the martini growing to include the de facto usage of gin and dry vermouth, but then further evolving to include vodka in place of gin as well, if you’d like.
Ultimately, it’s your drink, you’re paying for it, so have it however you want, whether it’s made with gin or vodka, and whether it’s shaken or stirred. Don’t forget to choose your desired garnish—olive or citrus peel, for starters—and whether you want it dry or wet, with drier martinis including less vermouth. Put all that together and you have a few quadrillion choices to run through before finding your single, exactly perfect and perfectly exact personal martini. Better get to it.
Jake Emen is a freelance spirits, food, and travel writer working diligently to explore the world’s finest offerings so he can teach you about them—how selfless of him. He currently resides outside of Washington, D.C. when he’s not on the road. Keep up with his latest adventures at his own site, ManTalkFood.com, or follow him on Twitter @ManTalkFood.