Mastering the Martini

The basic building blocks of a classic cocktail


You're asking for a fight. The second you throw down one notion of the ideal martini, you will be rebutted. Martini drinkers aren't shy -- especially while, you know, drinking martinis -- and will correct you at every turn: The right martini is vermouth-rich or bone dry, made with gin or vodka, garnished with olives or a twist. And the list goes on.

Luckily, the martini takes all comers (except for those who want to append some other word before -tini). All you need to jump into the fray is a solid understanding of your options; let The Spirit breakdown of martini basics guide the way.
Whichever selections you make as you mix your martini, don't forget to chill your glass. There's nothing worse than a lukewarm cocktail; don't risk it by pouring your lovingly-chilled liquor into steamy stemware.

Vodka or Gin

Historically, ordering a martini without clarifying your choice of spirit means you're going to get gin. If you perfer a vodka martini, go ahead and order it that way -- and consider skipping the vermouth altogether.

Shaken or Stirred

The primary issue here is dilution; shaking breaks more ice, introducing more water into the cocktail. Once you've settled on your preferred proportions of spirit and vermouth, we say diverge from the James Bond method and break out the bar spoon. (If you simply must shake, use good, well-frozen cracked ice that's not on the verge of melting).

Perfect, Dry, or Dirty

A perfect martini, like a perfect Manhattan or Rob Roy, simply means equal parts sweet and dry vermouth. Ordering your drink dry means you'd like only a little vermouth in the mix, while bone dry will get you no vermouth at all. A dirty martini includes a dash of olive brine.

Go-to Garnishes

If you don't want your martini naked, you can take it with a twist (a curl of lemon peel), or with an olive or two on a skewer. You can also opt for cocktail onions, a decision that turns your martini into a Gibson.

Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: cleere
    97952 57

    Our bartender says you should only shake martini-style drinks if they have juice in them, others should be stirred?!

    Jul 09, 2010 at 6:24 PM

  • The shaking-versus-stirring debate has more to do with the appearance of the drink than with dilution, which is probably why Cleere's bartender distinguished between drinks with and without juice. Shake a martini, and it pours cloudy. Stir it, and it will pour clear. Of course, the clouds will eventually disappear.

    But you want some dilution in a martini. As I recall, Gary and Mardee Regan recommend about 25 percent.

    Jul 09, 2010 at 9:47 PM

  • Snooth User: fishback
    314227 2

    The lady in my life prefers her martini from Bombay Sapphire, in a shaker of ice, bone dry, shaken until the ice is "fractured", and poored into a glass with three large olives. The gin is so cold it's almost creamy. With the first sip she says, "Oooooooo it's soooooooo good!"

    Jul 09, 2010 at 11:41 PM

  • I'm happy that you didn't dictate a 'recipe' for the perfect martini, as I agree it's a personal thing. My top tip is for you to visit the bar in Duke's Hotel in London where Fleming was inspired to create the line "shaken not stirred" - if you're not happy with the martini they serve you there, I'll eat my hat.

    Jul 10, 2010 at 5:44 AM

  • Snooth User: auldtoad
    216394 5

    When I was learning about drinks, I was taught that a vodka martini was called a Gibson (originally a cocktail made with water for a man who didn't want to drink alcohol) and served with a pickled cocktail onion or two.

    Jul 10, 2010 at 8:10 AM

  • After 50 years of consuming martinis I am firmly of the opinion that one should always use Noilly Prat French vermouth and not the Italian version. It is drier and has a distinct taste.

    Jul 10, 2010 at 9:46 AM

  • Snooth User: churchdf
    295108 3

    I make a great Martini, but this is the first time I have ever heard of adding a dash of bitters. None of my bar books include this. I will give the bitters a try tonight when I make my cocktail and see what I think. Anyone else care to chime-in on this?

    Jul 10, 2010 at 12:12 PM

  • Snooth User: solomania9
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    6331 2,963

    Same sentiments here, churchdf. Curious as to what dimensions a touch of bitters could add to this old standard. Tonight I'm thinking I'll experiment with Hendricks and some Urban Moonshine lemon bitters - these are hard to find but a great bitters to have up one's sleeve.

    Jul 10, 2010 at 12:22 PM

  • Snooth User: gr
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth
    6339 1,074

    The Martini, some (Gaz & Dale, at least) suggest originally a modification of the the Martinez (with rosso vermouth), comes from a time when bitters were in just about anything, but it traditionally takes orange (not aromatic) bitters, and they were put in the mixing glass first, rather than being applied as an aromatic garnish as in the recipe here. The only dimensions it'll change, when applied as described here, Mike, are in your nose, but do try mixing some orange bitters in: it brightens the vermouth (of which I generally use more, but who's counting).

    I'm not so sure how I feel about an aromatic garnish on a Martini... that's good on a Last Word, but a Martini's supposed to be smooth, not punctuated.

    Jul 10, 2010 at 12:57 PM

  • Snooth User: PBLee
    447962 10

    Personally, I follow my father's careful directions( who was generally regarded as a masterful martini maker in our neighborhood during the 50's and 60's.) He maintained that the alcohol in the drink needed to superchilled by stirring, never shaking, for 2 to 3 minutes in order to produce the mouth-filling viscous texture that comes from a sub-freezing temperature liquid.
    So here is his classic version :

    1.Half fill a non-reactive pitcher with commercially made ice cubes straight from the freezer. Home made will not do.
    2. Fill the pitcher 3/4 full with your gin of choice. He was a Fleishman's man. I prefer Hendrick's or Bombay Saphire.
    3. Stir briskly yet gently with a metal bar spoon for 2 or 3 minutes while your guests gaze upon the magic. Be patient.
    4.While this is taking place, have an eager assistant place 1/2 tsp of Noilly Prat dry French vermouth in each martini glass.
    5. Pour the chilled gin into each glass being careful not to let any ice escape .
    6. Garnish with one or two best quality stuffed green olives threaded on a sturdy, unadorned toothpick or silver cocktail pick. (I prefer the festive latter.)
    7. Made to order is the only way. Period.

    Jul 10, 2010 at 10:54 PM

  • Snooth User: fashfoto
    122456 3

    A classic martini is made with gin, garnished with a green olive and served well-chilled in a stemmed glass. Anything else (vodka) is a pretender.

    Happily, I needn't travel far to experience the finest of martinis... a mere 40 feet to my bar. (My friends, unanimously, agree!)

    I do have a secret... not in the gin but in the vermouth. However, were I to reveal it, you might suggest that I am not offering a martini, but a pretender!

    Jul 11, 2010 at 3:09 AM

  • Snooth User: kermitr
    266971 19

    Added a dash of Angostura to my Tanqueray martini last night (made with an Italian dry vermouth) and loved it. Probably won't do this every time, depending on the gin I'm pouring.

    Jul 12, 2010 at 1:26 PM

  • I rarely have a taste for a martini during the warmer months of the year, but it's the first think I think of having during the cold winter months. Is this common, and if so, why?

    Jul 14, 2010 at 9:18 PM

  • Snooth User: rdslag
    428909 1

    Fighter pilots don't use vermouth in their martini - I've seen a whole bottle of gin enptied down the drain because someone mentioned the word "vermouth". Nothing like Bombay Saphire, Tanqueray or any good gin other than Beefeaters over the rocks with a couple of olives. Let's not dilute that gin! I've been drinking them that way for over 50 years. Gunfighter!

    Jul 21, 2010 at 2:34 PM

  • Snooth User: mred163
    487782 5

    I have had the pleasure of trying many of the Gins from inexpensive to very expensive (Kendricks) and I must agree with most of you that Bombay Sapphire is the best.
    I use a 6ounce glass, fill it with ice after putting 2 onions on the bottom
    (Sable and Rosenbluth have the best) and pour the Bombay Sapphire over the ice. Been doing it like that for the last 25 years EVERY evening.

    Aug 07, 2010 at 3:20 PM

  • My version of a great "Gibson". Chill a very large martini glass; 6 spritzes of very dry French vermouth in the glass; 2 oz. Kettle One Vodka; garnish with 3 cocktail onions----rocks optional. Enjoy.

    Aug 13, 2010 at 12:48 PM

  • Snooth User: Scenic58
    572683 1

    The ultimate martini is nether shaken nor stirred.

    The gin is kept in the freezer therefore no dilution of the spirit and a perfect drink results.

    Sep 06, 2010 at 3:06 AM

  • Snooth User: Dingo
    575529 1

    The dilution achieved is an integral part of the classic recipe. Without dilution the base liquor overpowers your pallet causing you to miss the subtleties in this cocktail. If you like your undilluted recipe then enjoy it but be cautious serving this as a classic martini. Maybe call it a Tom Sellek or a balls deep, something that is worthy of such a bold recipe.

    Sep 27, 2010 at 4:55 PM

  • Carly, May I suggest that you read my cocktail contribution entitled: The "Perfect" Martini (not to be confused with the above or Perfect Martini). A Martini has to have history, precision and chemistry, not just qualitative suggestions. - Jaschem

    Dec 12, 2010 at 11:19 AM

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