Ordering a martini in all but the most meticulous bar scares me. First there is the vodka issue – if you are not careful, you order a martini and instead of gin, you get a glass of cold vodka with no vermouth. Might as well do vodka shots. Second, there is the vermouth issue. Nine out of ten bartenders are under the mistaken impression that spritzing a little vermouth into the glass makes it a martini. It doesn’t. There is also the side issue that the vermouth likely has been improperly stored and gone bad. Finally, even if all this goes right, the bartender will likely shake it, creating a cloudy mess in your glass. It is almost not worth the trouble, which is a shame for such a lovely cocktail. Especially one that traces its lineage to Martinez, California!
2 1/4 oz gin
3/4 oz dry vermouth
dash of orange bitters
Stir with ice for 10-20 seconds until ice cold. Strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon peel, oils expressed into glass.
With such a short and simple list, quality ingredients are essential. For the gin, this is the time for that bottle of top shelf you own. Personally, I am partial to the rose/cucumber profile of Hendricks, but there are plenty of good gins out there – Martin Miller’s, No. 209, Old Raj, Bluecoat – the list goes on. Plymouth is an excellent and affordable choice. It is frequently mentioned as the original or classic gin called for in a martini. Plymouth is a medium-bodied gin with excellent balance and slightly sweeter than a London dry. On the gin spectrum of sweetness, with London dry as the driest and a Dutch-style genever being the sweetest, Plymouth sits between a London dry and Old Tom gins. Its also a great, all-around mixing gin.
For the vermouth, its important to use fresh vermouth. If you have a bottle of opened vermouth in your liquor cabinet and cannot recall when you opened it, then toss it. It has probably gone bad. Vermouth is a fortified wine, but still a wine. Much like a sherry in that it lasts longer than ordinary wine, it does eventually go bad once opened. Once opened, you can expect the vermouth to last a few weeks if left on a shelf. To extend its life, store the opened bottle in the refrigerator. In addition, if you have a wine vacuum pump, use that as well. When vacuum-pumped and refrigerated, you can get up to two months from an opened bottle of vermouth.
If you find that you aren’t drinking it quickly enough, dry vermouth also makes a great all around cooking wine. Don’t take my word for it – the Oracle at Delphi (AKA the fine folks at Cook’s Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen) have pronounced dry vermouth as the best go to cooking wine on the quality/value scale. My favorite dry vermouth is Dolin Vermouth de Chambery, a very light, very dry French vermouth that is well worth the extra dollars. It is easily drinkable over ice with a lemon twist as an apertif in the summer, similar to Lillet or Dubonnet. And tasty, tasty in a Martini.
Finally, go nuts with some orange bitters. Bitters in a martini is essential. It is what transforms the drink from gin with vermouth into a cocktail. The bitters adds an aromatic component to play with the astringent qualities of the gin as well as the herbal components of the vermouth. Besides orange bitters, I would imagine other citrus bitters such as lemon or grapefruit might work. Bitters, bitters, bitters!
Oh, and don’t forget your garnish. I prefer a citrus peel of either lemon or orange. with some of the oils expressed into the glass. I save my olives for eating. Cheers!