In Praise of the Martini and its Essential Ingredient

Beefeater Gin, Noilly Pratt Dry Vermouth, Fee Brothers Orange Bitters, three crisp queen olives, icy cold: My ideal Martini.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

A man goes into a bar, orders a Beefeater martini up, with olives. The bartender puts a little skewer holding three olives into a cocktail glass, loads the shaker with ice and grabs the gin. He pours the gin into the shaker, stirs it and strains it into the glass. Then he dumps the shaker and presents the drink to the customer.

The customer says, “I didn’t see you put in the vermouth.”

Bartender replies, “Oh, we don’t use vermouth. No one likes it.”

Some bars don’t even keep vermouth anymore, and yet when you order a martini the bartender will serve you a glass of cold, diluted gin and charge you $12 just the same.

I say this is not a martini and this is not right.

The first time this happened I looked around the bar and into the adjoining restaurant. There were a lot of youngish people happily drinking drinks for youngish people, a lot of which had “-tini” at the end of their names. You know them: appletini, chocolatetini, flirtini, peartini, lycheetini. They seem to be named after the glass, which is elegant.

“A martini has vermouth in it,” I said.

“Not here,” the bartender replied.

This was an important moment for me, because I think it was the first time I ever felt like an old coot, one of those guys who will let the train of progress run over him before he will give up his grip on the glorious past.

I don’t care, and I don’t go to that bar anymore.

I think a martini has to have some vermouth in it, and I don’t care if you drink it with gin or its abominable vodka variant. A real martini has vermouth, and orange bitters, because a cocktail has to have three ingredients or else it isn’t a cocktail. It’s just a drink. You’ll hardly ever find a bar that will use the bitters, which add a slight but welcome citrusy sensation.

So, my favorite Martini is about five parts Beefeater Gin, one part Noilly Pratt Dry Vermouth and a dash of Fee Brothers Orange Bitters, stirred in a shaker and strained into a frozen cocktail glass.I find that four ounces, after ice dilution of about 20 percent, is a good amount because I’m likely to finish it while it’s still pretty cold. 

Better to have a second cold one than drink it warm, or drink a big one too fast. Even a short one has the alcohol of about three beers, so it’s well to be careful. If you know you’re going to have a second, dump the other half into a short glass and put it in the freezer until you’re ready.

And speaking of cold, try to keep your vermouth in the refrigerator. It’s wine, and it’ll oxidize if you leave it on the shelf. But it’ll be good to go for a month or two if you keep it cold.

Half an ounce of vermouth to 2 1/2 ounces of gin is a little too much for you? Start with a quarter-ounce; it’ll be extra-extra-dry, but still a martini and you’ll still get a little of the essential taste that made the cocktail the classic it is. You can work your way up, if you like.

Of course, life’s too short to allow someone you don’t know to tell you what or how to drink, so Rule 1 is to do what makes you happy. Not everyone’s standard needs to be the same.

But this is mine, and I’m sticking with it.

Do you like yours with a different gin or vermouth? Let me know in the comments!

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2 Responses to In Praise of the Martini and its Essential Ingredient

  1. ballcaps says:

    I totally, thoroughly agree that vermouth is essential. Only recently have I begun adding bitters, and they improve the perfect cocktail. With gin, stirred, not shaken. We like ours 2-to-1 gin (Tanqueray preferred) to vermouth.

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