How to Make a Great Martini

Bitter Bartender Columns, Lawyer 6 Comments

There are as many ways to make a martini as there are first-year associates making asses of themselves in Las Vegas dance clubs. Fortunately, you don’t risk catching an STD if you get it on with a bad cocktail, because many martinis are awful. Many others are high-maintenance, and require some serious bar tools. That does you no good when you are trying to make yourself a cocktail at a colleague’s poorly-equipped home bar.

I’m going to teach you how to make a really good martini with or without fancy tools. Because life is too short for bad drinks, and because knowing how to mix a great cocktail can only mean good things for your career — as long as you don’t mix too many with the wrong people (see STDs, above).

What you need:

  • A cocktail glass
  • Dry vermouth
  • A cocktail shaker, glass pitcher, or pint glass
  • Good dry gin or vodka
  • A lime, lemon, or olive

You should be able to find this stuff in most liquor cabinets, and you can definitely stock your favorite versions in your own.

Chill the glass by tossing in a few ice cubes and filling it with water. Leave it that way for a few minutes, then dump the ice water and dry the glass with a dish towel. Put in about an ounce of dry vermouth and swirl it around so it coats the inside of the glass. Toss out the vermouth. We’re making a very dry martini, and that film on the inside of the glass is all we need.

A textbook martini calls for more dry vermouth. The problem is that vermouth is like wine, and spoils fairly quickly. It should be refrigerated after opening, and replaced after a few months. (That’s why it comes in such small bottles.) If you are working with a strange liquor cabinet, assume the worst and use as little dry vermouth as possible. Plus, a dry martini just tastes better, and this is the way to do it even with a freshly-opened bottle.

Now, pour two ounces (two small jiggers, or a little more than one shot) of good dry gin or vodka into a cocktail shaker or glass pitcher filled with ice. (If you are stocking your home bar, get a glass pitcher and stirrer) You can use a pint glass too, in a pinch.

If you choose vodka, use the best (read: most expensive) stuff you can get. If you choose gin, use a dry gin. Skip the Tanquerray and Bombay Sapphire. Those are fine for gin and tonics, but not much else. Beefeater is fine for a gin martini, although there are plenty of fancier options.

Now, stir — don’t shake — the booze. If you have a glass stirrer handy, use that, being careful not to touch the sides. I usually just swirl the ice and liquor around gently. Either way, keep going until there is a good frost on the outside of the container, then strain the cold liquor into the glass.

Garnish with a twist of lemon or lime. You can use an olive, but a lime peel twist makes a martini taste fresh instead of salty. (If you do opt for an olive, keep the juice in the jar; dirty martinis are for amateurs. And skip the toothpick.) Plus, a twist looks classier, especially if you aren’t using an actual cocktail glass (in which case you should probably have picked a different drink, dumbass).

There are a couple of ways to make a twist. If you have access to a channel knife, use that. For a bit more flavor, cut the twist over the glass, so the oils that spray off land on the surface of the drink. Then twist the peel and drop it in the glass. Or, you can just cut the rind away from a slice of citrus, roll it into a twist, and drop it in the glass.

Now relax and enjoy your drink, and stay classy. Keep in mind that each martini is about 1.4 drinks. Mix them one generous shot at a time, and sip slowly — but not so slowly that your drink gets warm.

(photo: isolated martini on a white background from Shutterstock)

Share this Post

  • Guano Dubango

    I would like to be able to make one of these, shaken, not stirred, as I model my behaviour after Sean Connery in the old James Bond movies. In this way, I can be more attractive to the women attorneys who may be interested in marriage and family.

  • Bitter Bartender

    If you shake vodka, all you will do is water down your drink. Do you need to water down your drinks?

    If you shake gin, you will “bruise” it, as well as watering it down. Bruising doesn’t mean that you damage the liquor, but you will change the flavor. Shaken gin is sharper. Some people like that.

  • The Dean

    Then why does Bond prefer shaken martinis? WHY . . . !?! Oh James, I so trusted you.

    • Lauren

      Yes, he said he would pull out but forgot!

  • Louis

    Here are the facts: I think the final vote is up to you.

    Shaking cools a drink more quickly.
    Shaking is more likely to chip small shards off the ice, some of which will make their way into the drink, no matter how carefully one strains and pours. Which may be part of the reason why…
    Although the gin spends less time with the ice when the drink is shaken, shaking a drink actually dilutes it more than stirring does.
    Very rarely, shaking can produce a chill haze (the precipitation of very small solid particles) from the vermouth, giving the drink a cloudy appearance.
    Shaking creates tiny bubbles in the mix, which temporarily impart a cloudy appearance to the drink.
    Shaking causes a certain class of molecules in the liquor (aldehydes) to combine with oxygen more than stirring does. The oxidation of these molecules also slightly alters the flavor, making it “sharper” (Miller and Brown 57, et al.).

    So, shaken Martinis and stirred Martinis are different, but they are also equivalent, in that neither has a firm claim on being “better.” Each Martini drinker will have to decide for him- or herself whether one method is “more equal” than the other.

  • John Foster

    Finally. News we can use.