A True Classic: The Martini

On March 31, 2011, in The Booze Nerd, by Andy Romine

Welcome to another installment of Booze Nerd, dear drinkers. This time, I’d like to talk about the quintessential cocktail — the Martini. Really, no other cocktail has captured the imagination quite like this deceptively simple drink. It’s lent its name to a bazillion pseudo-tinis, most of which have little in common with the original drink (except the shape of the glass), and been the subject of one of the persistent questions in cocktail history:

Shaken or stirred?


The Classic Martini

The origins of the Martini, like many cocktails, are a little murky. It seems likely to have been a direct descendant of the Martinez, a cocktail popular during the 1880s. The Martinez is similar to the ur-cocktail, one of the grandaddies of them all: the Manhattan. The Martinez substituted gin for the Manhattan’s rye. Early Martinis were fairly identical to the Martinez, but over the decades, the drink “dried out,” and dry gin and dry vermouth became the principle ingredients, usually in roughly equal parts. The drink was also often spiced with bitters, Angostura or orange.

Somewhere around the 1950s, it became fashionable to use atomizers to add the vermouth to Martinis. As you can imagine, the vermouth all but disappeared, and that’s the version we essentially drink today. The bitters were pretty much forgotten.

The classic Martini is made with gin, but vodka is obviously a popular choice, too. It pairs well with the vermouth, and retains that clean, refreshing taste you expect from this drink. I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of vodka. I just don’t find the spirit as compelling and flavorful as some do, at least in this drink. (There are some vodkas I’m quite fond of, however, but I prefer them on their own). But even while I’ll tell you that classic Martinis are only made with gin, I’ll also remind you that good mixology is about pleasing yourself and your guests. If you prefer vodka, then use it with my blessings!

As Martinis have become ever drier over the years, vermouth has become the butt of many jokes. Some even say it’s enough to “wave the glass” in the direction of the vermouth bottle and that’s all that you need! The Booze Nerd don’t cotton to that. I suspect (but cannot prove) that low-quality vermouth has been blamed for many a bad Martini. Vermouth is also not eternal. It will go bad after a year sitting in your bar unless you refrigerate it (still potable, maybe, but not tasty). I urge you to try the basic recipes first before changing the proportion of gin & vermouth. But it’s good to keep in mind that different bottlings of gin may demand more or less vermouth to fully compliment them.

I’m old fashioned. I always use bitters in my Martinis. A dash or two really adds extra depth to the drink. Orange bitters, the classic choice, is a good place to start. If you can’t find those, try Angostura. Lately, I’ve been playing with celery bitters (garnish with a slice of cucumber) and cardamom bitters (garnish with lemon or orange peel). When it comes to garnishing a Martini, you really can’t miss with an olive. A strip of lemon peel works remarkably well in some versions, and the Gibson Martini uses an onion. Right now, I’m partial to lemon twists in my drinks, but don’t let that stop you from garnishing the drink however you like.


Finally, the age-old question: Shaken or Stirred? Well, for most people this again comes down to preference—and the customer is always right. Just ask the gentleman from Her Majesty’s Secret Service sitting down at the other end of the bar….

(Dragging out the historian again…) The “proper” way to make a Martini is to stir it in a mixing vessel and strain it into the cocktail glass. Stirring with ice takes a little longer than shaking the drink, but yields a less cloudy, more visually pleasing drink in my opinion. But I’d never try and convince James of that.


The Martinez


The Martinez

(adapted from Gary Regan’s The Joy of Mixology)

  • 2 oz.  gin (classically made with a sweetened gin “Old Tom,” but regular gin is fine, too)
  • 1 oz. sweet vermouth
  • 1/4 oz. maraschino liquor
  • Angostura bitters to taste (I like 2 dashes)

Stir in a mixing glass, strain into a cocktail glass & garnish with a lemon twist or olive.


Classic Martini

(adapted from Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails)

  • 2 1/2 oz. gin
  • 1/2 oz. vermouth
  • Dash of orange bitters to taste

Stir in a mixing glass, strain into a cocktail glass & garnish with a lemon twist or olive.


Vesper Martini (aka the James Bond Martini)

This is a modern recipe for the drink. Kina Lillet, an aperitif wine made with Quinine, which most likely gave the drink the bitter flavor JB loved, is no longer made. I’ve seen some recipes that called for quinine powder for that bitter kick, but I haven’t tried them yet.

  • 3 oz. dry gin
  • 1 oz. vodka
  • 1/2 oz. Lillet Blanc

Shake with cracked ice, garnish with a swathe of lemon peel.


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3 Responses to A True Classic: The Martini

  1. A martini should never be shaken. It bruises the gin. And a vodka martini is not a martini; it’s a chilled shot of vodka in an overly fancy glass. So sayeth this cranky old bartender.

  2. Andy Romine says:

    Hey Dallas, thanks for commenting!

    I’ve heard the thing about “bruising the gin” before, but the research I’ve done suggests that the theory is bunk. Drinkboy has a good article on that:


    Basically, the main benefit to stirring seems to be a better looking drink.

    Although Drinkboy (and Gary Regan in his “Joy of Mixology,” one of my go-to sources) cite an interesting study but the British Medical Journal that suggests shaking may actually be healthier! The study showed that shaking the gin and vermouth released antioxidants, where stirring did not!

    Science is clearly telling us that drinking is good for us, right? 🙂

    As for vodka in a Martini, well, to each their own. I always reach for the gin myself.

  3. […] job, so the blog hasn’t gotten as much love as I like to give it. But I’ve got a new Booze Nerd post up over at The Functional Nerds, though — all about one of the most classic of […]

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