Martini Making


The Perfect Martini 

Lately several folks have asked me how to make a good martini. Frankly, I think the best martini is made by someone else and served in a place surrounded with memorable cachet, preferably lots of nostalgia, romanticism, atmosphere, friends and lovers. The picture above exemplifies this.  In April of 2002 Kris and I were on the cocktail raft of the Regina and Europa Hotel in the mouth of the Grand Canal in Venice - just as the sun had set and a full moon rose over the Bacino di San Marco (St. Mark's Basin) with Santa Maria della Salute right in front of us and Palladio's San Giorgio Maggiore across the Basin (visible in the picture). It is a stunning memory.

Making martinis for guests or just for you and your mate on a must-relax Friday evening is an obligatory skill. There are a few tricks to a great Martini, but really they are ever-so simple to make. Most drink recipe books are to be avoided. They provide the textbook proportions to gin and vermouth which is not to be used. The vermouth, actually, is much like a Stop sign in Italy - only a suggestion.





Dry Vermouth 




Olives for Garnish



Proper Stemmed Martini Glasses 


Picks for the garnish 


A pitcher with a long-stemmed stirrer or a cocktail shaker 


A cocktail strainer 


Cocktail napkins

A martini is much more about form than matter. Much more about ceremony than content. It is very important that it look correct, that it have the right surroundings and atmosphere. This means accompanying linens, proper stemware, silver bowls of nuts, etc. But, of course, a martini is a no nonsense dirk, getting right to the point, as it were.  So spending a little time to do it right, is worth it.

Which Gin? This is a matter of taste, actually. Unlike vodkas which are very much the same one-to-the-other, gins are very particular. They are flavored with various spices and each has its own formula. Juniper plays a strong role in many gins, so one's fondness for the scent of this particular berry will cause you to select this or that gin. Our favorite is Bombay, which comes in a regular and the more expensive Sapphire varieties. We actually prefer the regular. Our friends, Mike and Leslie, are true martini aficionados (they buy their favorite olives by the case) and they prefer Beefeaters. One of the most famous Martinis in the world is made at Harry's Bar in Venice and they use Gordons! - one of the least expensive gins around. (At $10 each, one can only smile at Cipriani's margins!) Tanqueray is another excellent brand. Vodka can be used, but of course, it becomes a vodka martini, which is not really a Martini at all.

Which Vermouth? Doesn't matter, really. Martini & Rossi and Cinzano both have stunning labels (remember it is more fashion then content), and you only need the smallest bottle available.

The Garnish. This actually is a very controversial subject. Martini lovers will quickly change brands of gin, but are jingoistic about their garnish. There are several acceptable alternatives: a green olive stuffed or not, pitted or not; a lemon peal, or a cocktail onion. The latter, of course, changes the name of the drink to a Gibson, which entirely defeats the lore of having a Martini. To our taste we prefer big green olives - generally with a pit - only because they are firmer and tastier than the stuffed variety and avoid the slightly sweet pimento stuffing. There is also the Picholine, a very small pale green pitted olive that is marvelous with martinis. This is what is used at Harry's, served on the side in a silver bowl. Searching out the correct olive is worth the effort. The important thing is to get something with pure olive taste. No garlic or other spices.

The Glass. There is only one acceptable glass, and it is a stemmed martini glass. The larger the better. One can always use an old fashion glass and make martinis over-the-rocks, but it has none of the ritual and all the ice melts and waters-down the martini. Harry's Bar in Venice, in another departure, makes their martinis in small square glasses - like oversized shot glasses. They make them ahead of time and keep them in a freezer behind the bar.  We have some of these glasses, and they can be quite festive, especially since they can be pre-made, stored ice-cold in the freezer and then presented with no fuss, all assembled on a silver platter the moment your guests arrive. This will instantly get your party going.  The garnish in this case is served in a bowl on the side.

the bartender at Harry's serving  a couple of Bellinis.


You will need a pitcher and a long stirrer, or a cocktail shaker, and a cocktail strainer. If you are using a pitcher, choose a clear glass one so that the mixing may be observed. You should also have a nice linen bar towel to keep things neat.

The most important secret to a really good martini
is to insure that it is ICE COLD.

The best way to achieve this is to put the gin in the freezer at least the day before, or just leave there all the time.  It won't freeze, but it does thicken quite a bit. In a situation where you do not have a freezer, put the bottle of gin on  ice for several hours before serving. Note, however, that it is always best to keep your vermouth at room temperature.  Another good thing to do is to put the glasses in the freezer. They will instantly frost-over when you take them out, looking really cool. If this is not possible, then while you are making the martinis you can put ice in the glasses. 

Put a good quantity of ice in the pitcher or shaker.  Don't use crushed ice. It melts too quickly and will dilute your gin. Next, add the gin. Use enough to fill each glass by just over 3/4. Add the vermouth. 

If you have a full pitcher of gin for a ½ dozen martinis or so, you could put as much as a vermouth bottle capful. Another good technique is to put the vermouth in first with the ice. Just a small pour. Allow it to get real cold and swirl it a bit, then pour out all but a scant amount. 

Anyway, most real martini lovers don't much like the taste of vermouth in their gin, so you want to minimize its contribution. 

Remember that the gin is already cold, so you don't need to leave it on the ice too long (and have it contaminate the gin with too much melted water!). Give it a good shake or swirl with a long stirrer and pour out the martinis into each glass using a strainer to leave the ice behind. If you chilled your glasses with ice, make sure you dump it first along with any melted water.

Use lots of flair stirring or shaking and pouring; it is the ceremony you are creating!  Make your martinis memorable even if it is just Friday evening at home.  You can find lots of discussion on stirring vs. shaking and length of mixing time, with assertions that shaking “bruises” the gin.  Cocky-pock.  There might be some truth that shaking might cloud the martini a bit, and a pristine, clear drink is certainly one of the goals.  Just mix or shake quickly.  

These are the olive picks we use. They are silver lemon forks made by the amazing Venetian silversmith Sfriso.

Add the olive (or if they are small, several). I think it is always best to spear the olives with a cocktail pick of some sort, otherwise you will find your guests unseemly digging their fingers into their martini in order to retrieve the delectable olive.

Serve! Always accompany your martinis with tidbits. It helps to remove the guilt of slurping almost straight gin.  It is best to have two cocktail napkins available for each guest.  One for under the glass and one to wipe finger tips while eating the tidbits.

Drinking Martini Etiquette:

Martinis should always be sipped and never gulped. Eating the olive right away or waiting until the end when it has become gin-soaked is one of the few anxieties of martini drinking. Having a second martini is, of course, another anxiety. Having a third is never an anxious decision, the second having completely removed any inhibitions or sense of reason.

Post Scripts and Amendments:

The Classic Martini:  What I describe here is our preference for an extra dry martini. The degree of dryness describes the preference for less vermouth. The classic martini is actually made with 2 parts gin to 1 part vermouth. While not to our taste, it is still a true martini and just as festive as a very dry one. Of course, any mixture of vermouth and gin between the classic and the extra dry will do. Just remember if you use that much vermouth, you will need to leave it on the ice while mixing a bit longer to insure the drink is very cold.

Gordon's Gin: We mentioned above that Harry's in Venice uses Gordon's, and we dismissed this as being a less-than-ideal product for a martini. As it turns out, we have come to learn that the export Gordon's we get here in the States is not the same as the very good product available in Europe.

Further on the Glass:  After the original posting of this article, a very good friend of ours, Richard Mountain, wrote and said that he really disagreed with my insistence on a traditional martini glass, declaring that "a perfect martini in a jelly jar is still a perfect martini."  Well, Richard is the best customer representative in the gift department at Neiman Marcus here in San Francisco and he can help you do better than jelly jars if you need proper glasses.

On the Importance of a Cold Martini, Julia Knew Best: We all morn the passing of one of the icons of culinary America, Julia Child, who loved her martini.  From a quote by food writer GraceAnn Walden:

"A couple of years ago, I called her at home for an article I was writing and asked her what food and drink she would take to a desert island.
"I will need a solar-operated refrigerator so that I can have a perfectly chilled martini."
I hope Saint Peter greets her with a chilled one, straight up. "

May we all toast our next martini to Julia!


E n j o y  !