Classics. Pt 2 – The Martini

July 14, 2009

So we continue…

The Martini

Popularly accepted history accepts that the origin of the martini lies in 1862 in San Francisco, named after the nearby town of Martinez, and found in the Occidental Hotel. The recipe oringaly calling for gin and sweet vermouth to be shaken with a slice of lemon and served.

This recipe however altered through the years, and through the easily home-made nature of gin itself became a true prohibition classic. The sweet vermouth being switched in favour of the dry vermouth, who’s taste covered the unsubtle burn of the cheap “bathtub” gin.

As the prohibition finished, and the increase of higher quality gins available began, the amount of vermouth added was steadily removed. The era of the dry martini began.

(The phrase “dry” refers to a martini made with little (to no) vermouth. And a “wet” martini obviously with far higher portions of vermouth.)

The appearance of vodka in a martini replacing the gin was not seen until the 1950’s and became popularised by Ian Flemming’s fictional character, James Bond. Purists still insist that despite vodka’s saturation of most modern-day sold martini’s that gin is still the original ingredient, and as such the vodka martini should go by the name “the Bradford” to prevent confusion.

There is a copious amount of tales surrounding how dry a martini can be made, ranging from the simple to the obscure. Many bars now have begun using spritzers of vermouth to simply coat the martini glass rather than using the vermouth in the prodcution of the drink. Others stick by Winston Churchills appraoch of simply chilling gin and then bowing in the direction of France (Vermouth’s origin), or the equally useful idea of letting sunlight shine through a bottle of vermouth onto the glass.

Garnishing is also quite varied, some sticking by the original lemon zest (personal favourite) and the traditional washed olive, and others varying to the obscure additions of coffee beans, herbs, and varied spices. In my opinion all but the lemon add an unnecessary extra element to the simple and powerful original taste.

As with the Manhattan, the martini can be made either by shaking or stirring. However, as nearly any bartender will tell you, stirring is truley the only way to enjoy the originally intended taste.

Specs for most martini’s served by me are as follows:

60ml Gin or Vodka
10ml Dry Vermouth
1 Lemon Rind

Build the boston glass and tin as you would a Manhattan, and add the vermouth over the ice. Stir to coat the ice and then strain remaining vermouth out of the tin. Add the lemon rind and spirit to the tin and coninue stirring until dilution hits the desired taste. Double strain into a frozen martini glass and garnish with a curled lemon rind.

Notes. Should sit on the tongue imparting subtle flavours throughout with only a mild background burn. Smooth texture courtesy of the vermouth is found in the middle of the drink, along with the lemon’s sharp citrus notes.

Must be drunk swiftly to enjoy the drink whilst it is at its perfect drinking temperature. I’ve known of bartenders to snap the base of a martini glass off, forcing the customer to drink it without putting it down once, through sheer annoyance at commonly seeing martini’s sitting, warming up, and losing their taste next to unaware patrons.

The addition of bitters, as was originally called for in the recipe, is a point of interest for me. They can impart beautifully subtle notes to the drink, and work nicely hand-in-hand with the spirit (particularily Gin) however obviously many bitters colour can ruin the clean appearance of the drink. Both Orange and Peach bitters work especially well for rounding the drink off, and making it a more approachable concoction.

On a side note I can’t really not mention the Vesper Martini.

Invented by Ian Flemming for his character, James Bond, this variation calls for a 2:1 ratio of gin to vodka, the addition of a large amount of vermouth, and the shaking of the drink before serving.

Not exactly my cup of tea, however a popularised (and thanks to its excess dillution, a more approachable) variation upon the classic.

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