The search for a great Gin Martini is a lifelong pursuit. We start here with the basics you need to know.
Before Mr. Bond sipped “vodka shaken, not stirred”, and before we entered an era when the Martini was synonymous with any and every cocktail, there was the Classic Gin Martini. The Gin Martini is a cocktail with a rich history steeped in legend, myth and lore. The quest for the perfect Gin Martini is a noble (and enjoyable) lifelong pursuit.
Bernard DeVoto, author of The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto, wrote in 1948, “the proper union of gin and vermouth is a great and sudden glory; it is one of the happiest marriages on earth and one of the shortest-lived”. Sometimes, our Veruca Salt, “I want it now” mentality makes it hard to slow down and remember a time when “Martini hour” spanned entire evenings, when it was revered as a celebration of good company, character and conversation. But after getting to know this staple of the American cocktail culture, you might take an hour, and enjoy this fine libation.
The Gin Martini has evolved over time, according to both the preferences of the American drinkers and the availability of ingredients. There was a time when vermouth and bitters were necessary to mask the rather unpleasant flavor of bathtub gin during Prohibition, and a time when dry vermouth from France was not yet available in the US. Throughout these changes, the cocktail remained popular in parlor rooms of sophisticated intellectuals of the late 1800s and flappers in back-alley speakeasies of the 1920s. Though there is much debate about what makes the “perfect” Gin Martini, there are three solid practices that will have you headed in the right direction.
1. Don’t shake. Stir.
“The Gin Martini should showcase the botanicals in the gin, and shaking adds too much air to the cocktail and muddies the flavors,” says Jason Bran of Roger Room in Los Angeles, CA.
2. Use good quality vermouth.
Cheap vermouth is the easiest way to screw up this cocktail. Leave those $5 bottles for your grandma to drink with her friends at Canasta. Insist on stepping up to a higher quality vermouth. Try a bottle of Dolin Dry ($14), or splurge for Vya Dry ($20) to take your Martinis to the next level.
3. Experiment with different gins.
There are literally dozens of readily available gins on the market. Experiment! Try Leopold’s gin ($32), a lightly floral gin with the juniper turned down a notch, or House Spirits Aviation ($28), a citrus-forward gin with hints of lavender and licorice. Vodka Martini drinkers should commit to trying at least five different gins before writing this classic cocktail off.
“Not everyone will love a Gin Martini, but fans of other gin cocktails will have a newfound appreciation for the spirit with the Classic Gin Martini,” says Bran. Give history a chance. It may pleasantly surprise you.
Classic Gin Martini
2 ounces Gin
3/4 ounce Dry Vermouth (Bran recommends Dolin)
2 dashes Orange Bitters (Bran recommends Regans Orange Bitters No. 6)
Add all ingredients in a cocktail mixing glass with ice. Stir for 30 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Gently squeeze lemon zest over the cocktail glass to express lemon oils into the gin cocktail, and drop the twist into the glass for garnish.