Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The perfect martini

At a friend's James Bond-themed party I discovered how much I like martinis.  There's something that really works about that combination of gin, vermouth and olives, making a flavour truly "greater than the sum of its parts".  Afterwards, I set out to try the different variations on martinis to see which ones I liked and which I didn't.  This is what I learned.

Lets look at the three ingredients.


While gin's the classic base for a martini, some people like to use vodka.  To my taste that's losing out on a lot of flavour - you're basically making a different kind of drink.

It's important to use a reasonably good gin for a martini because it's the main ingredient.  While a cheaper gin can be fine in a Gin & Tonic, because the tonic water has a stronger flavour, it can ruin a martini.  I tried using Vickers gin once and the result wasn't that nice.


Some people have their martinis with none or almost no vermouth - that is, 
they're basically having straight gin.  All I can say is prefer the 
combination of gin and vermouth to just straight gin.

There's three common types of Vermouth
  • Sweet (aka 'Rosso', 'Rosato', 'Italian')
  • Semi-sweet (aka 'Bianco', 'Blanc', 'White')
  • Dry (aka 'French')
Cinzano Rossi Vermouth Martini & Rossi Rosato Vermouth

Cinzano Bianco VermouthMartini & Rossi Bianco Vermouth

Cinzano Extra-dry VermouthMartini & Rossi Extra-dry Vermouth

There's lots of different brands of Vermouth.  Cinzano and Martini & Rossi (labelled just as "Martini") seem to be the most common here in Australia.  The Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth (their 'Rosato') is a noticeably sweeter than the Cinzano sweet vermouth (their 'Rosso').

Most recipes seem to refer to only the sweet and dry vermouths.  The Bianco vermouth is often called a sweet vermouth, but it's less sweet than the Rosso/Rosato.

The different types of vermouth don't just differ in terms of how sweet they are - they each actually have a fairly different flavours.

The Rosso and Bianco vermouths have stronger, more fragrant flavours.  In comparison, I find the flavour of dry vermouth a bit flat.  For me, the Bianco has the nicest flavour.

The classic martini uses dry vermouth, but I actually prefer it with bianco vermouth.  I like its flavour more, and the slight sweetness it adds.

The other thing about vermouth is that it's only around 15% alcohol, so it should be kept in the fridge not on the shelf.  Apparently an opened bottle will maintain its flavour for a month or two in the fridge.


I skewer three olives on a toothpick and drop that in the glass.  Lemon peel can also be used [2], or even cocktail onions (in which case, the drink is called a Gibson), but I don't think their flavour suits it as well.
[2] to make a lemon-peel twist use a fruit peeler to peel the rind off a lemon.  Start at one end of the lemon and work you way around its circumference in a spiral - just like you would when peeling an apple.  You can get enough peel for several drinks from the one lemon.


Martini's taste better very cold, so you want keep all the ingredients cold.  They don't taste that nice if they're only slightly cool.  Keeping in mind that the drink will warm up in your hand and that it'll take a bit of time till you've finished drinking it, you want to get the initial ingredients as cold as possible
  • keep the vermouth in the fridge
  • keep the gin in the freezer
  • keep the martini glass in the freezer

My perfect martini recipe

A ratio of 5:1 of gin to vermouth.
  • 2.5 oz/shots good quality gin
  • 0.5 oz/shots bianco vermouth
  • 3 stuffed olives, skewered on a toothpick.
Add the gin and vermouth and lots of ice (enough to at least cover the liquid) into a cocktail shaker.  Shake vigorously for about thirty seconds. (You can also just stir it for about the same amount of time.  I'm not sure if shaking vs stirring makes much of a difference to the flavour).  One thing this does is adds some water into cocktail.  Pop the olives into a martini glass and then strain the cocktail shaker mix into it.


  • The best variations I've come across
    • Cranberry martini (tastes good and has quite a nice colour)
      • 2 oz gin : 0.5 oz vermouth : 2 oz cranberry juice
      • Fresh, frozen or dried cranberries for garnish
  • Others
    • Add a little extra olive brine to make a 'Dirty Martini'
    • There's all sorts of variations on the ratio of gin to vermouth. E.g. a 50-50 martini uses equal quantities of gin and vermouth (you could use 1.5 oz/shots of each).
    • Cranberry Lime Martini (this one was a bit sharp for my tastes, but a friend really liked it)
      • 2 gin : 2 freshly squeezed lime juice : 2 parts cranberry juice
      • Lime wedge for garnish
    • Breakfast Martini (thought this one wasn't bad, but didn't think it was that great).
      • 2 gin : 0.75 cointreau : 0.75 lemon juice. plus 5ml orange marmalade
      • orange twist to garnish
    • There's two variants that add orange juice: the Bronx and the Minnehaha.  The difference between them is that they basically switch the vermouth and orange juice ratios.  Personally neither of these did that much for me
      • Bronx
        • 1.5 oz gin : 0.25 oz dry vermouth : 0.25 oz sweet vermouth : 1 oz orange juice
        • Orange slice for garnish
      • Minnehaha
        • 1.05 oz gin : 0.75 oz dry vermouth : 0.75 oz sweet vermouth : 0.25 oz orange juice
    • Marguerite
      • 2 gin : 0.75 dry vermouth. plus a dash orange bitters
      • Lemon twist to garnish
  • Haven't gotten around to trying these variants yet
    • Broadway Martini
      • 3 Gin : 0.5 Creme De Menthe (ideally the clear 'white' type)
      • mint leaves for garnish (optional)
    • Emerson
      • 2 gin : 1 sweet vermouth : 0.5 lemon juice : 0.5 maraschino liqueur
    • Dirty Blues Martini
      • 4 oz gin
      • 6 green olives stuffed with blue cheese
      • 1/4 teaspoon olive juice (adjust to personal taste)

Here's some other ways you can use vermouth
  • bianco goes quite well with equal portions of orange juice.
  • rosso goes well in equal portions with cranberry juice, and well with cola (though seems to be better if you add a larger proportion of cola).
  • dry goes not bad with pineapple juice.
  • and you can use them for cooking.