The martini is a prince among cocktails, oozing style and panache in every sip.
But for a drink that has endured so long through the ages, it remains stubbornly difficult to master.
Many will tell you the secret to mixing a great martini comes down to selecting the right ingredients and then balancing them perfectly. But there are a few other factors you need to consider when embarking on this fascinating journey.
So what exactly is a martini?
At the most simplistic level, it is a cocktail made from a blend of gin and vermouth, and then garnished with an olive or lemon twist. But this description doesn’t do it nearly enough justice.
Because this cocktail does not feature mixers, its contents must comprise good quality gin or vodka, and dry vermouth (though some recipes ask for sweet vermouth). Other important additions are bitters and (of course) your choice of garnish.
Large, pure and fresh ice cubes are also a must, so use filtered water in your tray and make them just ahead of time (allowing time to freeze, of course).
Now for the tricky bit, how to master a martini?
If you asked 100 martini enthusiasts you would probably get 100 different methods; dry, wet, dirty, stirred, shaken and so on.
So, to keep things simple, we’ll go with the method we’ve perfected here at the wildbrumby distillery.
First things first, ensure everything is chilled ahead of time, including your mixing glass, the martini glass, and all of your ingredients.
Then you can fill your mixing glass with lots of ice (big blocks work best), and drain any water before adding your gin and vermouth.
We use 6 parts gin/vodka and 1 part dry vermouth, and then a couple of dashes of bitter (orange bitter comes to mind).
Stir your drink for 15 turns to get it as cold as possible, (and add a little bit of water from the melting ice), then strain it into your chilled martini glass and garnish with your preferred garnish — our favourites are a green olive or a little twist of an organic lemon.
And then all that is left is to sit back, relax and enjoy your drink, preferably within 15-20 minutes while it is still icy cold.
Want to play with the ingredients?
For those who like to experiment a bit with different ingredients, there are a few ground rules you may like to consider.
While gin is generally the star of the martini show, not every gin will work in this cocktail.
There really is no place to hide in a martini because you won’t be adding tonic water or fruit juice, so it has to be of exceptional quality.
We recommend you stick with a good quality ‘London Dry’ style gin, which tends to lead on juniper and spice. A fruity gin, like a pink gin or sloe-gin just won’t cut it.
Vodka is sometimes used as an alternative to gin, and once again, quality is the watchword — so invest in a good one.
Now to the vermouth. Thankfully, there is a growing range of these available in Australia. Still, you want something that compliments the gin rather than overwhelms it and ideally, you would start with white vermouth.
Some recipes suggest you rinse the martini glass with vermouth and then tip the excess away. But rather than wasting it, we suggest you just use a little less. Someone put their time and passion into making it, so let’s be respectful.
The bitter is a crucial ingredient that elevates the martini with an extra layer of complexity, but it should only ever be used in moderation.
If you can’t find an orange bitter (which we recommend) then it is fine to roll with the more traditional Angostura bitters.
When it comes to the garnish, this really depends on your taste.
A green olive is a safe and traditional choice and we suggest you use the unstuffed variety stored in brine, not oil.
For those who would rather dodge the olive, a twist of organic lemon or orange is lovely, especially if you prefer a bit of zest.
A small sprig of rosemary or thyme are also good contenders, and a Gibson Martini asks for a cocktail onion. So just play around and find out what works best for you and your choice of ingredients.
Shaken not stirred
Ian Fleming didn’t do us any favours when he decided James Bond would take his dry martini shaken, not stirred — given that most martinis are best when stirred, not shaken!
And if you consider the Vesper recipe we associate with Bond (3 parts gin, 1 part vodka and 1/2 part Kina Lillet) then it is understandable given that shaking a drink breaks the ice into smaller pieces, watering down his rather potent mix.
But we still maintain that most martinis will benefit from a more mellow touch.
For the same reason we don’t generally shake our martini, nor do we use small, mass-produced ice cubes. You really want to fill your mixing glass with larger ice cubes to chill your ingredients when you stir it with just enough melted water to make the drink softer.
Should you drink it dry, wet or dirty?
Wet and dry martinis have exactly the same ingredients, what varies are the quantities. So, as a rule of thumb, the more vermouth in a martini, the wetter it gets.
For a dirty martini, you add a touch of the olive brine to give it a more distinct flavour. We’ve also been known to add some spent botanicals (from our gin still) to the brine for additional layers of complexity.
Now you know the ground rules for making the world’s most famous cocktail it is time to start experimenting for yourself. Here are some of our favourite recipes to get you started.
Sour Apple Martini
60ml Sour Apple Schnapps
30ml Kosciusko Vodka
Add all your schnapps and vodka to an ice-filled mixing glass and stir until very cold. Strain into a chilled Martini glass and garnish with a twist of organic lemon.
30ml Classic Gin
30ml Kosciusko Vodka
30ml Apricot Schnapps
Add gin, vodka and schnapps to an ice-filled cocktail shaker (I know earlier I said we don’t shake our martini but trust me on this one) and shake until cold, double strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with an orange twist.
(Courtesy of Philip Jones aka The Martini Whisperer)
Sour Cherry Martini
60ml Sour Cherry Schnapps (available seasonally)
30ml Kosciusko Vodka
Two dashes Morello Bitters
Add your schnapps and vodka to an ice-filled mixing glass and stir until very cold. Strain into a chilled Martini glass and garnish with a fresh cherry.
45ml Coffee Liqueur (available seasonally)
30ml Kosciusko Vodka
One double shot Espresso
Coffee Beans to garnish
Add all your ingredients into an ice-filled cocktail shaker and shake until very cold, double strain through a fine sieve to get the silky finish on the top and garnish with a few coffee beans.