The martini is famous for being the drink of choice for both high society and Ian Fleming’s fictional British spy James Bond. While Fleming had James Bond ask for his martini “shaken, not stirred,” mixologists understand that the best martini simply must be stirred, and that the best gin to choose is Plymouth Gin.
Shaking a martini aerates the botanicals in the gin, creating a cloudy and unbalanced concoction, while stirring a martini gives it a silky mouthfeel essential to making this drink one of the simplest, yet most sophisticated tipples in the world of drinks. So why did Ian Fleming have James Bond order an improperly made martini? According to one of Ian Fleming’s former bartenders, Fleming purposefully had Bond order the drink made improperly because, during that time period, everyone would have known that a proper martini was stirred. By having Bond order a martini shaken, it was Fleming’s attempt to make Bond the center of attention in the scene he was setting.
A good English gin is essential to making the perfect martini. Plymouth Gin is a legendary gin, distilled at the Black Friars Distillery in Plymouth, England. If you can’t find Plymouth, use the best quality London Dry style gin you can find—Beefeater or Bombay would make excellent substitutes.
Some people prefer vodka martinis, and if you fall into that category, it is essential to find a well-made vodka with good mouthfeel and a rich, clean flavor for the perfect martini. Absolut vodka from Sweden makes an outstanding martini, or look for a high-quality, small-batch producer like Dry Fly from Washington state or Karlsson’s from Sweden for the best results.
Vermouth is also essential. Do not be afraid of vermouth. Without it, a martini is simply a chilled double shot of gin or vodka. Good vermouth is what elevates the base spirit into something greater than the sum of its parts. Dolin, the French vermouth, is highly recommended but Noilly Pratt and Cinzano are both good alternatives. American artisan vermouths such as Imbue and Vya offer an interesting choice of flavors, but avoid cheap American vermouths at all costs. Remember that vermouth is wine, so treat it appropriately. Don’t expect a bottle of vermouth to last more than one month, and keep it refrigerated once opened.
The last option with the best martini is, of course, the olive or twist. Why not do both? A citrus twist brightens the drink, while good quality olives (try Castelveltrano olives rather than the Spanish queens for a more sophisticated take) add a certain culinary flair. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your choice of twist or olives. Grapefruit peel twists add an entirely different dimension to the drink, while the choice of olive can complement or contrast with the gin or vodka selected. While most rules in making martinis are set in stone, this is the one area that experimentation and creativity can have great results.
The Perfect Martini
Makes 1 cocktail
- 3 oz good quality gin (Plymouth) or vodka (Absolut)
- 2-3 dashes dry vermouth (Dolin)
- Lemon peel twist
- Olive garnish
1. Chill a stemmed cocktail glass either with ice and water or by storing in a freezer until ready to use.
2. In a mixing glass, add first two ingredients.
3. Add ice.
4. Stir for 30-40 seconds, until the martini begins to gain viscosity and becomes slightly thicker
5. Strain into chilled glass.
6. Garnish with lemon peel expressed over the surface of the drink. Discard lemon peel.
7. Serve with an olive garnish if desired.