"[The Martini is] the only American invention as perfect as a sonnet."
“Martinis, my dear are dangerous. Have two at the very most. Have three and you’re under the table. Have four and you’re under the host.”
"The martini is an honest drink, tasting exactly like what it is and nothing else. There is no sugar in a martini; no egg whites, no black and white rums, no shaved almonds, no fruit juice, no chocolate, and no spices. A martini is not served in a pineapple shell nor a piece of rolled up canoe bark, and there are no disgusting pieces of flotsam around the top. It is a clear, clean, cold, pure, honest drink …"
Donald G. Smith
I know what you are thinking. “Mike, I like gin, but drinking a martini comes with all kinds of bullshit.” Trust me I understand. This isn’t helped by a drinking culture where all cocktails, no matter how divorced they are from gin and vermouth, are considered martinis. Taking a peek at the Martini Bar Chicago martini list and seeing things like the Red Bulltini (Absolut Citron, Red Bull, Lemon Twist) makes me a little nauseous.
But take another look at that third quote. There is something about an actual martini, a real one, that is distinctly non-bullshit. As my favorite older cousin once explained to me: “It’s just gin in a glass! I know you like gin!” It’s a way to stand your ground with a strong drink while fighting off the forces of precious cocktails (think chocolate-flavored vodka) and better-than-you conspicuously-consumed imported beer and single-malted scotch.
It is the Gin drink, and saving it from the forces of vodka in a culture gone mad is a noble task. Or as that cousin said later: “Never let me hear of you making a martini with vodka. Or anything other than vermouth. Ever.”
(save your lame argument about James Bond having a half gin/half vodka martini. First I think Bond is overrated, even lame most of the time, and second I think Ian Fleming wrote him mixing his drink with the Soviet drink of choice as literary device to question whether or not he was a double agent. So there.)
Indeed, making a martini should be an exercise in the art of perfecting a simple task. As a public service announcement, I’ll present The Only Two Martini Recipes You Need To Know About, as told by Great Men. Personal thoughts are included afterwards:
The Dirty Martini – President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
When President Roosevelt signed the 21st Amendment in 1933, which repealed Prohibition, he went into the oval office with a bottle of gin, vermouth, and olive juice. He then proceeded to make and drink the first legal martini. He made it very dirty.
Dirty of course, means containing olive juice. Since this is the 30s, his martini isn’t very dry; it contains a fair amount of vermouth. There is a large decline between the 30s and the 60s (and carried into the present) as to what part vermouth should be included in the martini. Perhaps the threat of a Nuclear End to Life made the thought of drinking pure gin more appealing. Or, maybe it was a deeper cultural event. As slate puts it:
I can't believe my legacy is being overturned by a born-again Methodist from Texas whose wife got him to stop drinking. Lame.
|After all, the martini was the embodiment of modernism–cool, clean, pure. When Paul Desmond, the saxophonist of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, was asked how he developed the glistening, elegant sound often called '50s jazz or modern jazz, he explained, "I think I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to sound like a dry martini." But as modernism became purer and purer, and its buildings, art, and music all became simpler and shorn of any style, the martini had to follow suit. The dry martini had to get cooler, cleaner, starker–in short, drier. Thus began the race to the bottom, with vermouth levels falling precipitously, from a third to a fifth to a tenth to a splash of Martini & Rossi in a sea of Tanqueray.|
• 1 oz. Gin
• 1/2 oz. Vermouth
• 1 tsp. Olive Brine
This recipe may seem like a bit of an anachronism. These days you’ll have to beg, scream and shout to get a 1/3rd Vermouth martini, and it wouldn’t taste like anything you’d recognize. Most martinis are 1/8th vermouth, and if you ask for a Dry Martini it is code for “no vermouth at all.” If you go down this path, keep the 1/8part vermouth martini in mind. If Social Security can get reformed, FDR’s drinking habits can get reformed too.
Extra Dry Martini – Spanish Surrealist Filmmaker Luis Buñuel
This excellent filmmaker, most known* for his Spanish movies from the 1930s and his French movies from the 1970s, is a must see director. I’ll sing his cinematic praises another day since we are here to discuss gin. Luckily, so is he. From his autobiography, written when he was 83 years old (excellent martini advice):
"To provoke, or sustain, a reverie in a bar, you have to drink English gin, especially in the form of a martini. To be frank, given the primordial role played in my life by the dry martini, I really think I ought to give it at least a page. Like all cocktails, the martini, composed essentially of gin and a few drops of Noilly Prat, seems to have been an American invention. Connoisseurs who like their martinis very dry suggest simply allowing a ray of sunlight to shine through a bottle of Noilly Prat before it hits the bottle of gin. At a certain period in America it was said that the making of a dry martini should resemble the Immaculate Conception, for, as Saint Thomas Aquinas once noted, the generative powers of the Holy Ghost pierced the virgin’s hymen 'like a ray of sunlight through a window – leaving it unbroken.’”
"Another crucial recommendation is that the ice be so cold and hard that it won’t melt, since nothing’s worse than a watery martini. For those who are still with me, let me give you my personal recipe, the fruit of long experimentation and guaranteed to produce perfect results. The day before your guests arrive, put all the ingredients – glasses, gin, and shaker – in the refrigerator. Use a thermometer to make sure the ice is about twenty degrees below zero (centigrade). Don’t take anything out until your friends arrive; then pour a few drops of Noilly Prat and half a demitasse spoon of Angostura bitters over the ice. Shake it, then pour it out, leaving only the ice, which retains a faint taste of both. Then pour straight gin over the ice, shake it again, and serve.
"(During the 1940s, the director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York taught me a curious variation. Instead of Angostura, he used a dash of Pernod. Frankly, it seemed heretical to me, but apparently it was only a fad.)"
• 1 part Gin
• remains of few drops poured out Vermouth
• remains of half of demitasse spoon of poured out Angostura bitters.
This is about as close as drinking pure Gin as you can get. In your shaker, pour a very small amount of Vermouth and Angostura bitters over the ice, shake, and then pour out the liquid. Then pour in however much Gin you will be drinking. Essentially here you are pouring gin over vermouth flavored ice, and then pouring the gin into a glass a few minutes later.
* cinema geek aside: I like his Mexican movies from the 50s the best, above all Los Olvidados and El Ángel Exterminador. There's a real sense of angry humor to go along with a man in exile, pissed. with nothing to lose. I think it's a real shame that they aren't better known, and I secretly believe it's because his latter movies are in French instead of Spanish that they are considered "better" and "more artistic", but that's a whole other story. I was in a used dvd store in LA that had a "special directors" section, which had a Bunuel's section with all of his french movies, and sitting in the ghettoized Spanish/Mexican section was a copy of El Bruto. I was upset about it the same way better adjusted people get upset about world hunger and injustice and things like that.
And there you have it – these are the only two martinis you need to choose from in your day to day drinking. I personally combine them and drink an extra-dry dirty martini, which is also allowed under the house rules. Here are some extra pointers: