Site icon Tom Lasher Walker

The Cold Hard Truth About the Dry Martini

For me, the Martini is the jewel in the crown that is the holy trinity of mixology that sits not alongside, but above even the Manhattan and Old Fashioned. 

A drink so entrenched in its own reputation and history that it has different variations named after itself.

You want a super dry Martini? Sure, that’s called a Montgomery Martini and is a roughly 15:1 ratio of gin to vermouth. What about a Churchill though? Well that’s just neat gin poured into a glass with the presence of vermouth somewhere in the room. Don’t like olives or a twist? No worries; here’s an onion – which makes it a Gibson – and we’ll call it a day.

My first Martini, made for me by one of my colleagues at the bar I started my career at, started off like the Disney fairytale version of losing ones virginity. 

I had prepared and planned for the event several weeks before had and decided which night I was going to indulge, after a seriously long stretch of double shifts with little time off. 

Having decided to not drink anything aggressive that would wreck or alter the state of my palate, I was selective with what I consumed that night, eventually working up to the point where I was ready for the climax, a velvet fist in an iron glove, anticipating an ice cold liquid sheet of sophistication that was going to change my life.

To say that my first Martini was anticlimactic would be an understatement. 

My bartender friend – who started to shake with nervousness as I realized that he had actually never made a Martini before – built the drink in a Boston glass (fine) and added ice, stirring the drink and watching it dilute. However, as the stirring went on and the dilution increased, the level of the liquid overtook the rest of the ice in the mixing glass. 

He poured the drink into a martini glass that wasn’t chilled, and placed the too diluted drink in front of me, a semi-cold watery mess that I forced down with about six heavy mouthfuls.  

My appreciation for Martinis didn’t really have a firm ground until I had made, tested and served hundreds of them during my time working at Bramble in Edinburgh. 

Each specific request was different and each Martini I made was slightly different from the last one and slightly different to the next one, but all the while when making them, I gained a better understanding about what a Martini should be and what a Martini shouldn’t be. 

I flirted with Martini drinking on and off over the following couple of years until I stumbled across an effective formulae – a 2:1 situation with Plymouth gin and a lemon twist – which resulted in me and my old Bramble boss Jason Scott drinking about six in one night, along with about 14 gallons of water, attempting to offset the inevvitable hangover. 

To like a Martini simply for its taste is to achieve something akin to the apprenticeship in flavor; even if you like gin, no one wakes up one day suddenly craving gin martinis, in the same way someone who has an interest in cars suddenly wakes up with a degree in mechanical engineering.

A good Martini is a delight, but a killer Martini is a rarity; the dilution of the drink, the right gin, the garnish and the use of properly refrigerated and freshly-opened dry vermouth are intrinsic to making a Martini as good as it can be, which is reason in itself to justify its existence as an international symbol and metaphor of drinking. 

The Martini is not just a two-ingredient cocktail, it a global cultural metaphor; whether you remember it or not, you’ve see that iconic and conical V-shaped glass on a street sign or in the movies and in numerous other real life and fictional settings.  

It’s a sign that transcends language, time and space; it communicates the very notion of alcohol, even if it doesn’t necessarily involve Martinis specifically, and became so famous that it even had a glass made and named after it.

If the Martini were a living entity that were to have a biographical film made of it, it would need the very best director to take the helm, such is the importance of the drink and the way it has transcended cultures both in and outside the realms of drinking.

But whatever you think or whatever you do with the Martini, remember this; it’s easier to fuck up than it is to get right. I little love goes a long way when making a Martini, but a little care and consideration are the ultimate currency converters if you want you Martini to be memorable. 

Dry Martini
Add all ingredients to a chilled mixing glass. Add ice, stir 25 – 30 seconds and strained into a chilled coupe. Garnish with a lemon twist and serve. 
Recipe adapted from Hoffman House Bartenders Guide, Charles Mahoney, 1906

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