The most commonly ordered Martini is a vodka Martini. I know this, because when I was a bartender, lots of people would say things like, “Hey, can I have a vodka Martini?” Most of these people would ask for shaken Martinis with just a drop of vermouth - and I’d occasionally omit the vermouth altogether in order to see if anyone could tell the difference. No one ever could.
This brings me to my next point: a vodka Martini isn’t really a Martini. It’s just cold vodka. That isn’t an insult - it’s just a fair assessment, and vodka Martini drinkers could save everyone a lot of time and confusion if they’d just start saying, “One cold vodka, please.”
That said, if you enjoy calling your cold vodka a Martini, I’m not going to fight you over it. I just think you should know that real Martinis are made with gin and dry vermouth. That’s Rule No. 1 for how to make the best Martini, and here are a few other rules to help you get the most out of this crystal-clear cocktail that will be your best friend and trusted companion through every stage of your life.
Rules to help you make the best Martinis
Rule No. 2: Always stir your Martini. For a bit of background, there are two main ways to chill a drink: shaking and stirring. Shaking will produce a colder drink than stirring - but it also creates more dilution. Stirring, on the other hand, provides minimal dilution, helps maintain a velvety consistency, and preserves the flavor of your cocktail. There’s one exception to this rule, and it’s the Martini variation known as the Vesper.
Rule No. 3: Have fun with your garnish. If you order a Martini in a bar, your options for a garnish typically consist of a lemon twist, olives, or, if you’re at an establishment that observes old-school cocktail decorum, a pearl onion. But there’s plenty of other stuff you can throw in a Martini - like an orange twist, a grapefruit twist, a sprig of rosemary, or any kind of pickle. Yes, any kind of pickle. Go ahead and experiment with some giardiniera garnishes or throw a skewer of pickled daikon into your next Martini.
Rule No. 4: There is no such thing as a Martini on the rocks. Well, there is. But there shouldn’t be - because when you put a drink on the rocks, the ice slowly melts, and your cocktail takes on water. Some beverages like Negronis and Manhattans can withstand a little extra dilution, but Martinis are subtle and delicate, like your feelings when you watch the movie My Girl - so forget the ice, and stick to stemmed glassware.
Which brings us to Rule No. 5: put your glass in the freezer before you make a Martini. I like to use a coupe or a Nick & Nora glass, but if all you have is one of those angular Martini glasses you see in Dave & Buster’s commercials, that’s fine too. The important thing is, chill your glass for at least five minutes. It’ll keep your drink colder longer.
At this point, you might be wondering why I haven’t mentioned such things as an Espresso Martini, an Appletini, or a Lychee Martini - and you should know that’s because they aren’t actually Martinis. Much like cold vodka, they just tend to be served in Martini glasses, so they’re allowed to piggyback on the Martini name. Still, I’d drink any one of those cocktails in a heartbeat - but I almost always prefer proper Martinis, and you’ll find several of my favorite variations right below.
Ah, the Martini. Find a better cocktail with fewer ingredients. You probably can’t. That said, this is probably the most controversial cocktail, due to the polarizing argument of gin versus vodka.
How It Tastes: Strong, Floral, Pretty Much Like Gin
If you swap out the rye for scotch in a Manhattan, and you get a Rob Roy. And if you swap the Campari for Fernet Branca in a Negroni, you get a Hanky Panky. But what happens when you substitute the olive in a Martini for a cocktail onion? Somehow, you wind up with an entirely new cocktail called a Gibson. This is the only drink variation we can think of that’s defined by its garnish. It is, truly, just a Martini with a tiny pearl onion. That onion brings a subtle, tangy element, however, and sometimes that’s exactly what you want.
You know how James Bond is always drinking Martinis? Originally, he drank a Vesper. You see, Ian Fleming invented this drink when he wrote the 1953 James Bond novel Casino Royale. In that novel, James asks a bartender for a custom drink involving gin, vodka, and Kina Lillet. The formula comes to him like some kind of vision -and while he’s most likely just trying to acquire a buzz, the drink works out well.
Contrary to what many vodka Martini drinkers will tell you, vermouth is not an inherently evil thing. In fact, it’s great - even on its own. And this cocktail goes out to everyone who recognizes that fact.