Two things that give you away as a novice martini drinker are pretending you’re James Bond and ordering it “shaken, not stirred,” or pretending you’re Winston Churchill and ordering “gin, poured in the same room as a bottle of vermouth.” Now James Bond was a cool cat. Women wanted to be with him, and men wanted to be him, but he knew very little about martinis. And as for you Churchill aficionados, if you want a glass of cold gin, order a glass of cold gin. Just don’t call it a martini.
To get the secrets to the best martini, The Vivant talked with two of New York’s finest martini experts, head bartender Josh Cameron from Boulton & Watt, and Will Benedetto, Cocktail Curator for all of the In Good Company venues.
First of all, let’s call it what it is: Gin with vermouth and some olives. Fruit flavored drinks with vanilla-infused vodka may be appealing to some, but those fruity beverages are not, in any way, a martini just because they are served in a martini glass.
Josh is a true martini classicist, and shared his insights with The Vivant on martini myths and his own classic recipe: “For the longest time, cocktail writers, YouTubers, and then even media influenced bartenders were swearing by not using dry vermouth at all. It was common to hear the ‘go ahead and pick up the bottle of vermouth, swing it around and then put it back in the fridge’ joke (not overplayed at alllll). Maybe there were some bad vermouths out there ruining the reputation of the drink, but these days I make my martini classically (at least 70s classically), with vermouth (unless otherwise specified), two and half ounces of gin or vodka, then a light quarter of dry vermouth. Sorry Fleming, ours are stirred, never shaken.”
Will shared his own thoughts on the martinis that are served at all of In Good Company’s absolutely fabulous New York City venues, including the Park Avenue Tavern, which simply oozes New York when you walk in the door. “The Martini is perhaps the most personal drink that exists. Sure it may seem simple. To put it concisely, a Martini is essentially just chilled booze with a few accents. It’s a bare yet elegant cocktail finding elegance in simplicity.
What about the vermouth?
Vermouth is perhaps one of the most misunderstood and too-frequently maligned drink. It’s actually a fortified wine infused with botanicals, which makes it the perfect match to gin. Josh always splashes some dry vermouth in the glass and swirls it, dumps it out, and then adds the requisite amount of chilled vermouth and gin, stirring, not shaking, until the glass is cold. ” Because there have been so many wild opinions about vermouth, I have rarely heard most bartenders choose the same amount of vermouth as each other. It seems the cocktail was so famous, and has been through so many variations, and been the topic of so many a legend, that the exact ratio is something of a myth.”
Wil’s rule: “Don’t fear vermouth!” He suggests refrigerating the vermouth, and using it up within two weeks, otherwise it becomes over-oxidized. “This is why I think most people don’t like vermouth,” he says. ‘or at least they think they don’t like vermouth.”
Sorry Bond, stirred is better
Will tells bartenders, “Unless otherwise specified by your guest, always stir or roll a martini. Rolling, tossing a cocktail from tin to tin to dilute and incorporate ingredients, is the best way to mix a martini but it is also acceptable to simply stir it.”
Josh adds three olives, or upon request, a fresh lemon twist, and he too, insists on stirring as opposed to shaking. “The martini is the original choose your own adventure cocktail with so many ways to go. Classic, which classic? Dry? How dry? Wet? Yeah baby! Gin or vodka? Stirred or …sorry…stirred. Dirty? Alright…Olives, lemon peel?”
Most of all though, bartenders need to know how to make a classic martini and understand the myths behind the drink, but they also need to listen to the guest. Will’s rule for bartenders is, “If someone orders a martini a specific way…make it for them. Look, I die a little inside every time I shake well vodka with a bunch of olives and have to call it a martini but I’m happy to know I served my guest what they wanted.”
Dan Blacharski is editor-in-chief of TheVivant.com.