The martini is structurally identical to the Manhattan, but flavor-wise the drinks are anything but alike. People also tend to have more feelings about the appropriate amount of vermouth used in a martini, so it’s useful to consider the martini and Manhattan as distinct drinks.
My recipe might contain more vermouth than you’re used to seeing in a martini, but I have very strong feelings about it. These strong feelings stem from the fact that this drink works for the same reasons the Manhattan does: there is enough vermouth to balance the base spirit. A martini isn’t just a glass of chilled gin; a martini is a bright, herbal blend of gin, dry vermouth, and orange bitters, capped with an aromatic hit of lemon oil.
People love to ask for their martinis “dry,” and I suspect this is the case for two reasons. One, because in this context, “dry” means the opposite of sweet―people love to think they don’t like sweet things, even though they actually do. And two, because people wrongly believe the deeply harmful myth that vermouth is somehow gross. Vermouth is fucking delicious. I will guarantee you that most if not all of the people who think vermouth is gross have never actually tasted good fresh vermouth. In my years of bartending, unless someone specified that they wanted it dirty, no matter what they specified in terms of “dry,” I would literally make them the drink according to this recipe.* None of them were ever sent back.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the unfortunate phenomenon of a shaken martini. I blame the James Bond franchise for this―people just hear some cool, attractive dude order something “shaken, not stirred” and want in. In addition to introducing over-dilution and over-chilling, shaking breaks the ice into small chunks, and those chunks can end up in your drink. Not many people want a martini with ice chips in it.**
While I seem pretty strict about the definition and recipe for a martini, there are a few ways to riff on it that rely solely on dialing up or down the amount of vermouth and gin. Yes, you can make a martini with a 7:1 ratio of gin to vermouth, or a 1:1 ratio, or even a 1:2 ratio. These are all valid and tasty, depending on your palate and where you like your balance to be. But if you think you like your martini with no vermouth and you’ve never tried it any other way, you owe it to yourself to try it the way I’m suggesting and take things from there.
The vodka martini is an example of a riff that has outshined the original in popularity, and so is the dirty martini, made with the inclusion of ¼ to ½ ounce of olive brine. The dirty martini is a great introduction to savory cocktails, illustrating that you can totally transform a cocktail with the small addition of an intensely flavored ingredient. As for other ways to riff on a martini aside from playing with proportions, you can play around a lot with the vermouth, replacing it with Lillet blanc, white vermouth, and even a light Fino or Manzanilla sherry, which are all structurally similar. Or you can replace the vermouth with sake and you’ll have an honest-to-god saketini that you won’t hate yourself for drinking, although you might still hate yourself for altogether different and valid reasons.
* Unless they asked for no vermouth at all, in which case they just wanted chilled gin or vodka in a glass, which is a legitimate beverage choice but not really a cocktail as far as we’re concerned.
* Some people do, though! And that’s okay, but not most people.
Drink What You Want: Martini
Makes 1 cocktail
- 2 ounces gin
- 1 ounce dry vermouth
- 3 dashes orange bitters
- lemon peel garnish
- In a mixing glass or shaking tin, combine the drink ingredients. Add ice and stir for 20 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with a lemon peel, expressed and then perched on the rim.