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Why Martinis Suck (And What to Do About It)

Why Martinis Suck (And What to Do About It)
JK Grence

Why is it so hard to get a good Martini in this town? Hell, why is it so hard to find a good Martini anywhere? For such a simple drink, you'd think you could saunter into any bar short of a sleazy dive and get a Martini done right. The effort it takes to make a memorable Martini is barely more than it takes to make one I'd rather forget. Here's what at least 90 percent of bartenders do that they shouldn't:

5: They Shake The Hell Out Of It. It happens to the best bartenders. Sometimes they get in over their heads, and they fall prey to a shortcut. In their frenzy, the bartender gives your Martini a good hard shake instead of a long stir. That shake introduces tiny air bubbles to the drink, lightening its texture. A Martini should be silky smooth on the tongue from a good stirring.

4: The Dreaded Courtesy Stir. The other side of shaking it is not stirring it enough. Gin needs the chill and dilution of melting ice as the drink is stirred; 20-30 seconds of vigorous stirring does the trick.

  3: They're Afraid of Vermouth. Vermouth has a bad rap (see #2 for details). Over the last few decades, vermouth use has dwindled until you now see just straight up gin (or vodka). Use a good splash! I am fond of the 1930s proportions of 3 parts gin to 1 part vermouth. Play around; see what you like.

2: The Vermouth Went Bad. This is why everyone thinks they hate vermouth. Vermouth is fortified wine; once it's opened, the wine oxidizes and spoils. If it's darker than Sauvignon Blanc, toss it. Get as much as you'll use in six months (the 375 ml bottle if you're playing along at home) and store it in the refrigerator. I like Noilly Prat, but anything not in the bargain section works. Once chilled, try some plain. It's great.

1: It's Too Big. Whose idea was it to serve giant martinis? By the time you're halfway through, it's room temperature. There are few things in a bar worse than warm gin. And forget having more than one if you plan to drive for the rest of the day. Martinis consumed in three-martini lunches of days gone by probably had an ounce of gin -- an ounce and a half at the most.

You may notice I glossed over gin versus vodka. Ever since alcohol giant Heublein got their tenterhooks into James Bond (note the product placement for Smirnoff in Dr. No), everyone thinks a Martini is made with vodka. I will concede that vodka may be used in a Martini (technically it's a Kangaroo, but even seasoned bartenders will give you a blank stare if you order one), but it really is better with gin.

One Damn Fine Martini 1.5 ounces gin .5 ounces dry French vermouth 1 dash orange bitters (optional grace note) Combine in a mixing glass with plenty of ice cubes. Stir well (20 to 30 seconds). Strain into a well-chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with one olive, or a strip of lemon zest.


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