"There are a lot of different opinions about using gin or vodka in a Martini. On the face of it, a drink that relies so heavily on a huge slug of cold white alcohol should work well with either, in fact there have occasionally been attempts to use tequila and rum (neither of which I'd recommend). The American Bartenders Association reports that two out of three Martinis are now made with vodka. I have no intention of telling you which one is best, I'll just point out that there are names for the vodka version, The Vodkatini and the Dry Vodka Martini (James Bond's favourite) but there is no such thing as a gin martini.... Just a martini. So, hopefully, with that little bit of semantic jiggerypokery, we can lay the debate to rest.
Vodka is defined as the purest possible spirit distilled - if you remember your 'O' levels - from the fermentation products of sugars. The original material can be potatoes, beets or grain but by the time it's been through the process of fermentation and distillation it's just pure flavourless, odourless alcohol, chemically indistinguishable from the fuel in dragsters.
For gin lovers this is merely the raw material.
Gin distillers take this basic fluid and combine it by various dark arts with 'Botanicals' - small quantities of aromatic herbs and spices. The main botanical element is usually juniper, the flavouring favoured by the Dutch inventors of the drink. As it happens, the Flemish for juniper is genever, which the English naturally corrupted and shortened to give us 'gin' - convenient, unpretentious and easier to ask for when you're pissed. The other botanicals are always a trade secret which explains why gins vary so hugely in flavour. Something like Bombay Sapphire, for example is so highly flavoured that it really overpowers anything else you can put with it so it's best avoided altogether or, chucked in a glass with slimline tonic and poured onto a bar carpet.
Opinions obviously vary according to taste but a general, all round best bet is Tanqueray export. It's very strong in alcohol but for my money it has the most basic 'gin like' taste
On to the Vermouth.
The name is derived from German or Old English Vermut or Vermod which mean Wormwood. It is a fortified wine with added flavourings, most of which are in the form of fruit oils. The story has it that vermutvein or wormwood wine was first brought to poularity in Paris in 1500 by an Italian traveller who brought some back from Bavaria. On the other hand, Hippocrates recommended infusing wine with wormwood to cure parasites (hence the name) so, theoretically it was created by the founding father of medicine.
There are dozens of proprietary brands of vermouth. These are seperated into Italian and French, the Italian being sweeter and the French tending to be more dry. My Grandmother used to swear by 'Gin and It' or gin and Italian, which was, considered to be the height of sophistication in Bristol pubs after the war. It bore no resemblance to a martini being a fairly even mix of cheap gin and sweet vermouth, probably without the benefit of ice, but it kept Nan happy.
By an odd coincidence, one of the most popular brands of Italian vermouth is called 'Martini'. Any time any place anywhere except in my Martini. The brand is actually named after the founders, Martini and Rossi and has little to do with the cocktail. Although I've never worked on the brand myself I'm fairly sure they keep the confusion going in order to trade off the impeccable credentials of the cocktail. It does however cause an incredible amount of trouble for travellers and incompetent barmen. If you ask for a martini in a bar and the barman replies 'Red or White?' you're going to get a slug of this foul stuff with lemonade in a grimy glass. Usually it's time to leave.
Thankfully, for appreciators of the real thing, Joseph Nouilly met Claudius Prat in Lyon in 1813 and the perfect vermouth was born. Accept no substitute.
Finally the olive/twist debate. This is the only area where papal law offers no simple answers. You're dealing with a base spirit expertly flavoured with botanicals in a perfect mix with another, immaculately blended fluid, chances are you don't want to drop a filthy great olive, dripping with brine straight into it. Olives should be drained as soon as purchased and stored in a fridge in vermouth. It's the only way you're not going to louse up the drink. You can use the pimento stuffed variety but I can't see why. Black olives contain way too much oil so steer clear of them.
The number of olives is also an issue. One is obviously perfect but may look lost in a large drink, two is acceptable but beyond that is aesthetically difficult. In American bars where the staff are more attentive and you can be checked into a twelve step programme for appearing squiffy in public they've adopted the habit of adding an extra olive for each drink they serve you. This is supposed to help you keep count but is actually intrusive, domineering and completely unnecessary. If anyone tries this on you you're honour bound to either a) leave or b) diligently drink until he can't squeeze another one onto the stick before falling off your stool.
A twist looks great and can add a pleasant hint of lemon oil to the aromatic mix. This is probably why it's most popular in Vodka Martinis which need all the help they can get in the flavour dept.
Frank Sinatra, Sean Connery, Joan Didion, Hunter S Thompson, Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, Lauren Bacall, Dean Martin, Ian Fleming, Tenessee Williams, WC Fields. With such an incredible fan club of self destructive heavy drinkers behind it, it's not suprising that the Martini has become the drinkers drink and that a whole culture of 'Dryness' - basically how little vermouth you can get away with adding - has sprung up.
The original martini, as far as anyone can tell, was poured for a miner in Martinez in California in 1849. There are all manner of other claims for its invention and naming but all early sources agree on one thing - the proportions of 1 vermouth to 4 of gin. This is really not a pleasant drink and ever since the martini has been getting dryer and dryer.
Most barmen today use the shot, swirl or spray. With the shot you use a quill in the bottle top to glug in the smallest amount of vermouth before mixing. With the swirl, you swirl the vermouth around the glass and discard before pouring in the cold gin and with the sprayer, you mist the glass before adding the gin. The American bar at the Savoy favours this latter method
Some aficionados reckon there's enough vermouth in a well soaked olive to do the job and therefore insist on keeping the same olive from drink to drink. For the real fan the 'Olivett' was marketed around 1950. This was a screw topped olive container worked into a gold tieclip. A tiny screw attached to a gold chain was driven into the pit of the olive which was then kept in the container in an amniotic wash of vermouth. A chap was thus able to keep his olive with him for life. I have made it my life's ambition to track down one of these things.
In 1966 the American standard dry martini (ASDM) was first documented at Princeton. This suggested placing a 60 watt lightbulb exactly nine inches from a bottle of vermouth and placing a bottle of gin 23 inches on the opposite side. By illuminating the bottle for between 7 and 16 seconds (shorter exposure for clear bottles) enough vermouth flavour was radiated into the gin to make an ASDM.
In the bar at Chasen's in Hollywood in the 1940s, vermouth bottles were kept on glass shelves in the window and the shaker was passed through the light.
Churchill felt that the gin should be shown the cork of the vermouth bottle to give it the right idea.
Dean Martin said the shaker full of gin and ice should be pointed toward Naples.
So... you get the idea... dryer is better.
Well actually no.
Cold gin in a martini glass is not a martini, however dry and, although the gimmicks are an essential part of martini culture, there has grown up, through years of diligent drinking, an accepted standard proportion and it is...
Which miraculously, can be achieved by a simple, magical process. If the Vermouth is poured over the ice, in the shaker, stirred and poured away, a near as possible perfect quantity of vermouth remains attached to the increased surface area of ice and shaker. Allah, is truly all powerful.
Finally, the vexed question of shaking or stirring.
Though shaking looks great, it chips the ice. It makes the drink cooler, faster, but it dilutes it, however subtly. Not only did James Bond prefer vodka, but he liked his drink watered down. Of questionable masculinity and fond of Russian spirits. Was Fleming trying to tell us something?
Gentle stirring is the way. The gin is poured in gently and silently so as not to 'bruise' or 'shock' the spirit and is gently stirred with a bar spoon, clockwise for at least 20 and no more than 30 seconds in waltz tempo. If you're counting turns make it an odd number. (no-one knows why)".