Spring has finally sprung, and with the change in the weather comes a change in many folks’ drinking habits. In particular, the increased orders of the king of all drinks—the martini.
This time of year, we bartenders see a rise in sales in the clear spirits categories like vodka and gin. Now I’m not saying, by any means, that people don’t order such standbys in the winter, but they definitely order more martinis once the weather breaks. This is a very sensitive category. It’s pretty easy to upset a few people at once by mentioning the proper way (or ways) to make the clear elixir. However, regardless of how it’s made—shaken, stirred, up, rocks, etc.—there are three things that are a must in a martini: gin (O.K., O.K., or vodka), vermouth, and ice. It needs to be strong and cold.
Different variations on the drink include with or without vermouth (we’ll get to that in a second); with or without dashes of bitters; shaken (gasp!); stirred (ahh); gin (hells yes!); vodka; twist of lemon; olives on a pick. Then comes the fun—ratios! Do you like it 50/50? Ice rinsed with vermouth? How about a half-ounce stirred in? All of these variations are key to the happiness of the person partaking in the ritual. Yes, a ritual. This drink is held in such high regard that the process of making it and the questions asked are so revered that this is the holy grail to some folk of the drink world.
Now back to vermouth. With or without? Here’s the better question: Why not? A martini void of vermouth is nothing more than a chilled shot of vodka. Vermouth brings the sexy. It brings texture and silkiness and depth of flavor. It makes it a drink. The problem is that we, as a majority, don’t treat vermouth properly. It’s a wine at heart. Aromatized and sometimes fortified, it still begins as a wine. You have to keep it cold and sealed to lengthen its life in all forms-, red or white. If you work at a bar or have it in your liquor cabinet at home and it’s been open longer than a couple of weeks without being kept cold, throw it out. When you walk into your local watering hole, ask if it’s kept cold. If it isn’t, order a gin and tonic or a Moscow Mule instead. This is how we abandoned the practice of using vermouth in our drinks. When stored and applied correctly, it creates a magical mix of serenity in a glass. So I ask you, please try it again. Try different ratios, bitters, and garnishes.
After you throw out your vermouth, here are the brands I recommend, both sweet (for the Martinez and Manhattan) and dry:
All of the Dolin brands. It’s a product from Chambery and it’s very versatile in so many variations of the martini.
Cocchi makes a few products that are very well worth visiting, including Americano (a blanc aperitif wine), Vermouth di Torino (a rich and vibrant sweeter style of vermouth), and Americano Rosa (a new product from this house—a flavorful addition to the aperitif family).
Lillet makes aperitifs in the bianco and rosa styles, too. You’ll recognize the Lillet Blanc in the recipe for the Vesper, the original drink of James Bond.
Stir 2 oz. London dry gin (like Tanqueray or Beefeater), 1 oz. Dolin vermouth, and 3 dashes of Regan’s orange bitters over ice, strain up, and garnish with a twist of lemon and a lemon rind-stuffed, gin-soaked olive.