“You are my Marilyn. You are my lake full of fishes. You are my sky set, my ‘Hollywood in Miniature,’ my pink Cadillac, my highway, my Martini, the stage for my heart to rock and roll on, the screen where my movies light up.”
-Francesca Lia Block, Weetzie Bat
I remember the odd decade or so ago, on a business trip to New York, downing three martinis at lunch – I was keeping pace with a man who was clearly a seasoned, regular imbiber – and thinking, as with Weetabix, that three was probably one too many. So discipline is required: you have to savour a dry Martini.
The correct proportions? I’m with Noel Coward…or maybe Ernest Hemmingway
Some say one part Dry Martini to four parts gin, some say one to five, some one to six, while others mutter vaguely about waving the Martini bottle around (Noel Coward was less vague, specifying that the bottle should be waved in the direction of Italy where it came from).
At Harry’s Bar in Venice they make a martini which they call a Montgomery, so named by Ernest Hemingway after the British general who said he would fight the enemy only if he had fifteen soldiers to their one. That was Hemingway’s preferred proportion, although customers today get a proportion of 10:1 with the martinis being frozen in their glasses before serving. Harry’s Bar uses Carpano vermouth.
But before you go overboard on the excuse-for-drinking-straight-gin approach (in which case why not simply go for a Pink Gin) bear in mind that part of what makes this mix a great cocktail is the herbs in the vermouth working with the juniper in the gin. If you effectively eliminate the vermouth you need a damn good gin, or you may as well go for a vodka martini.
If you were at Ferran Adrià’s El Bulli you’d be having a different experience altogether. Your martini would be deconstructed, and consist of a spherical olive (an olive juice sphere with very delicate membrane which bursts in your mouth), administered together with a gin and a vermouth spritzed on your tongue.
“At Harry’s Bar in Venice they make a martini which they call a Montgomery, so named by Ernest Hemingway after the British general who said he would fight the enemy only if he had fifteen soldiers to their one.”
A dry Martini must be fresh every time
Historian, Bernard DeVoto, writing in the ’40s, has some useful, and more poetic advice on this:
“you can no more keep a Martini in the refrigerator than you can keep a kiss”.
So don’t even think of making it ahead of time – it doesn’t keep.
What’s all this about ‘shaken, not stirred’?
James Bond (who drank vodka martinis – a completely different drink) always specified shaken not stirred, but for all kinds of reasons, scientific, pragmatic…. (go here for details) the best result comes from stirring… with a wooden spoon.
Where’s the best place to have a martini made for you?
The place to have your classic martini cocktail made for you is probably Dry Martini in Barcelona – they’ve served up more than a million of them since 1978 so they’ve had a bit of practice. If you happen to be in Rome, then the 1950s-style Bond Bar in the Hotel D’Inghilterra claims to make the best you can find in that city.
Developments on the Martini theme but honestly, how can you improve on perfect?
- Available at the Oxo Tower bar in London – PORNSTAR MARTINI – Crystal Head vodka shaken with passionfruit, vanilla syrup and lime juice. Served with a mini Crystal Head skull of OXO Brut Champagne. I promise to try it sometime!
- A Cardinale combines six parts gin to one part dry vermouth to three parts Campari….
- One variation I can definitely vouch for is The Pig On The Beach Smoky Dirty Martini – one of the best cocktails I’ve ever tasted.
- There’s a vodka Martini which uses vodka instead of gin
- ….and so on…
“Where’s your joy? Where’s your dancing-round-a-handbag-enjoying-Lambrini joy? I was somewhere in Newcastle two days ago and ordered a Porn Star Martini, which came with a little cutting of actual porn, and a side shot of Lambrini. That was absolute happiness, how could you not love that?”
Marina O’Loughlin, Guardian restaurant critic, in Noble Rot, Issue 13
How to make the perfect dry Martini
You will need:
- Export strength gin, chilled. I like Bombay Saphire. I understand Ford’s is excellent. I go for the six parts proportions but see above. Alternatively you could do a lot worse than go for Jensen’s Bermondsey Dry gin. This gin was developed by Christian Jensen, originally a banking specialist working in Tokyo and bemoaning the difficulty of finding an authentic London gin for his wind-down Martini.
- Dry vermouth, also chilled. I cook with Noilly Prat so I use that, however it has a slightly briny taste. If you prefer something more citrusy go for Dolin, for a neutral taste go for Martini & Rossi. Or enjoy experimenting with Carpano or Vya. Vermut Blanco Bodegas Emilio Lustau NV from Spanish sherry producer – includes rosemary, marjoram, orange peel and camomile.
- A twist of lemon for garnish
- Optionally a dash or two of Angostura or Orange bitters – Adam Elmegirab’s Spanish bitters ideally
- Optionally an olive if you want a dirty martini – I usually leave this out especially if I’m using Noilly Prat which has a sort of ‘dirty’ taste of its own
Then all you have to do is to mix and garnish with the lemon.
Finally, don’t drink too many…otherwise you may suffer from the same symptoms Caro Emerald describes in Liquid Lunch.