The gin martini deserves to be revered. Done well, it's a study in radical simplicity. Done poorly, and you’re better off using it as a cleaning solution.
Each Monday I encourage you to celebrate the start of the week with a classic dry gin martini. A weekly ritual in our house, it should begin with good quality gin, a whisper of vermouth, combined with a shaker full of ice and finished with a twist of lemon served in a chilled glass. (If you'd rather not serve, but be served this classic cocktail, check out our "Martini Map" below.)
An acquired taste for many, the juniper and botanical essence of gin over time will grow on you, especially when paired with an olive or olive juice (the dirty martini), perhaps a pickled onion (the gibson) and of course (my preferred pairing) the lemon twist. Many of us who are fascinated by this drink can probably trace our initial attraction to its status as the ultimate urbane American cocktail and its famous followers that include no fewer than presidents, American writers and international spies (albeit fictitious ones): E.B. White dubbed it the elixir of quietude; James Bond preferred his shaken not stirred; Truman Capote drank them as did his gin soaked characters including Holly Golightly; and Franklin D. Roosevelt was rumored to carry around a Martini kit with him.
Have a favorite place to grab a martini in Fairfield County?
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The Martini is the embodiment of ruthless elegance. Although you'll find many cocktails parading around as Martinis, I'm here to tell you vodka does not belong in a martini. The appeal of vodka is that the almost flavorless liquor can take on multiple personalities when paired with any combination of liqueurs and juices that create the countless iterations that stretch the boundaries of the definition of a martini. There are bars dedicated to serving martinis in every shape and size with names and ingredients that may make you believe you're fulfilling your USDA daily nutrient requirements. Are they delicious? Sure. Are they Martinis? Well, no. Strict constructivist martini drinkers (of which for the sake of scholarship I tend to side with) will tell you a martini derived from gin is the only real martini.
The martini has a storied history dating back as far as the mid-nineteenth century with some claiming its etymology and origins from the name of a British rifle, the Martini and Henry. More convincing (and a bit more fun) is the story of a San Francisco miner passing through California who struck it rich and proceeded to celebrate with a drink in a Martinez, CA bar. With no champagne in sight for a toast to his good fortune, the bartender concocted the Martinez, one part of dry white wine, three parts of Gin and an olive. Over time, the Martinez became Martini. The city is quite proud of this heritage and publishes this recipe on its website. Indeed, a pilgrimage to Martinez, CA may be in order.
And finally, many purists claim the Martini's birth occurred at the Knickerbocker Hotel in New York City in 1911 when a bartender combined 1 part London Gin, 1 part Noilly Prat Vermouth and orange bitters, chilled over ice and then strained into a chilled glass. This recipe seems to have evolved over time with the most current "Classic Martini" recipes calling for five parts gin to one part vermouth. A dry martini drastically reduces the vermouth, depending on one's preference, from a splash to a glance. It is said the Winston Churchill's idea of a dry martini was to look at the bottle of vermouth from across the room.
While the martini as we know it uses very little Vermouth in relation to gin or vodka, pre-prohibition martinis used equal parts gin and vermouth. Indicative of a poor quality of liquor or its high cost during prohibition or a combination of both, the abundance of vermouth stakes another claim to the origin of the drink's name. As distilling techniques became refined, so did the quality of gin and overtime it has become the single most important element of a Martini.
And the rest, as they say, is history in one, shaken or stirred, fell swoop.
Martini Monday for Two
• 4 oz Gin (Hendricks or Tanqueray)
• Whisper of Dry Vermouth (Martini & Rossi)
• Lemon Twist
• Frozen martini glasses
Fill a shaker with ice. Pour 4 oz gin into the shaker. Add the desired amount of vermouth. I recommend a whisper (read:pour in a splash and empty it out to coat the shaker) for a true dry martini. Cover and shake for ten seconds. Strain into frozen martini glasses. Take a lemon rind and twist over the surface of the drink so you can see drops of lemon oil accumulate on top of the liquid. Then take the peel, rind side down and pinch the peel along the rim of the glass. Toast your perfect cocktail and enjoy!
For a more thorough and academic look at the martini other than this woman's obsession, I recommend either bellying up to the bar (with a designated driver) or checking out:
Martini, Straight Up: The Classic American Cocktail by Lowell Edmunds
The Martini: An Illustrated History of an American Classic by Conrad Barnaby
Straight Up or On the Rocks: The Story of the American Cocktail by William Grimes
Famous Martini Preferences - MentalFlos.com