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How to order a Martini like you know what you’re doing

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The Martini might be one of the most famous cocktail orders of all time thanks to James Bond taking his his Martini shaken, not stirred. But please, we’re begging you, don’t order a drink this way if you want to enjoy it. It’s a mystery why Bond enjoys his cocktail made in what most bartenders will agree is objectively the wrong manner, but we’re sure you’ll have a better time drinking a Martini if you have it stirred.

However, there are still a bunch of other details that you can play around with when it comes to ordering a Martini — from what spirit to use, to what garnish you prefer, to the glass in which you’d like it served. To learn about all the options, we asked New York City bartender Tom Walker about how to order a Martini. Walker is a gin enthusiast and has worked at some of the best bars in America and the world, such as Attaboy in NYC, The American Bar at The Savoy in London, Bramble Bar in Edinburgh, and George Washington Bar at the Freehand Hotel. It’s safe to say he knows a thing or two about ordering a Martini the right way.

Gin or vodka?

wild ink bartender matt
Francesco Sapienza

The first thing you need to decide is whether you want gin or vodka. As you can read in our guide to vodka Martinis, this in and of itself is a dividing topic. As a gin-thusiast, Walker goes with gin (and of the gins, he picks Boodles). The choice is entirely up to personal preference.

Generally, a gin Martini will be a bit more aromatic. A vodka Martini tends to be a bit more subtle and smooth. But again, it’s all about your palate and we encourage you to try both styles to see what sticks.

Wet or dry Martinis?

oysters with martinis
Castle City Creative/Getty Images

Once you’ve picked your spirit, then comes the fun part. Think of it as accessorizing your Martini. Say you want it dry. Do you even know what that means, or are you ordering a dry Martini because you heard someone else do it once? A Martini is pretty much a combination of vermouth and liquor. Let’s break it down for you:

  • Dry: Less dry vermouth.
  • Extra dry: Even less dry vermouth or none at all. “Possibly even taking it the way Sir Winston Churchill preferred it, which was iced cold gin with a glance at an unopened bottle of vermouth,” according to Walker.
  • Wet: More dry vermouth.
  • 50-50 or perfect: Equal parts gin and vermouth in the mixture.

Walker’s favorite way to build a Martini is to use a two-to-one ratio of Boodle’s gin to dry vermouth, poured from a bottle that is fresh and already chilled. Some people refer to this as a “wet” Martini due to the presence of vermouth, as it still contains more dry vermouth than your average Martini order.

Dirty Martini

juniper cocktail lounge park mgm dirty martini
Park MGM

Once you’ve gotten the vermouth thing settled, it is onto the question of being dirty. You may like other things in life dirty (we won’t judge), but if you don’t like olive brine, then you’re not going to like your Martini dirty. If you love olive brine, then you can get one extra dirty, where the bartender will add even more olive brine to the drink.

Garnish for Martinis

Then, Walker says, it’s time to think about the garnish. Again, we’re not talking about the drinks that were first popularized in the 1990s and feature, well, just about everything as long as you add “-tini” to the end of it. “A classic Martini is not a sweet drink and never has been,” Walker reminds us.

Your options for garnish, then, are a twist of lemon or an olive. If you get your Martini dirty, you’re going to want to keep that train going and get the olive. If you’ve ordered your drink sans brine, then think about ordering with a twist.

“For me, always a twist; the lemon peels help perk up the drink and bring it out of its alcohol-heavy dimensions,” Walker admits. If you’re an onion fan, you can always order a Gibson, which is a Martini with a pickled onion garnish.

Shaken or stirred Martini?

Martini cocktail
Don LaVange/Flickr

Finally, there’s the issue of shaken or stirred. As we already established, the suave-est spy alive takes his shaken, not stirred, but is this right? In short, no. Not in the least. Though, if you want it that way, more power to you.

“Ten times out of 10, stirred,” Walker says. “The Martini is a silky smooth drink that should be super velvety and cold as steel. All of these can be achieved by stirring, using the right equipment and the right ice.”

If your customer insists on shaking it, then so be it. Just make sure it’s with the biggest piece of clear ice you can find, and it goes into the coldest glass in existence. You could technically order a martini on the rocks (aka, on ice) as you would other cocktails, but why would you want to?

“Straight up or on the rocks would probably be the most common request to a drink that is thoroughly defined by how it’s drunk, so much so that it has a glass named after it. In essence, a martini on the rocks also doesn’t make an awful lot of sense, but the drink has become so widespread that it has outgrown any language contradiction that may befall other drinks,” Walker elaborates.

We don’t know about you, but we’re pretty ready for a Martini. Thankfully, Walker’s parting words to us were a Martini recipe. Check it out, and get ready to sound like the smartest Martini drinker in the bar. Feel free to replace Boodles with the best gin in America.

Boodles Proper Martini Recipe

boodles proper martini
Boodles Gin

A great Martini is a straightforward Martini, like this one from Boodles British Gin.

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces Boodles gin
  • 1 ounce Dolin dry vermouth
  • Lemon twist

Method

  1. Combine ingredients in a mixing glass with ice.
  2. Stir until very cold.
  3. Strain in a chilled cocktail coupe.
  4. Garnish with a lemon twist.

How to trick out your Martini

Botanist’s Martini
Botanist

Thanks to the recent espresso Martini craze, the classic cocktail has gotten a bit out of hand. These days, people are throwing any number of obscure ingredients at the cocktail, from fermented soy bean sauce to parmesan cheese rinds. While you’re more than welcome to go this route, we have a few mellower suggestions for improving your standard Martini.

  • With the brine in a dirty Martini, you have more options than just olive juice. Experiment with the brine that houses capers, pickles, cornichons, and more.
  • Play around with the vermouth in the mix as there are many styles to work with.
  • Lastly, try adding complementary ingredients like different kinds of citrus (blood orange, pomelo, tangerine) and consider giving the Martini a Japanese makeover with ingredients like sake, shochu, or yuzu.

Other Martini Variations to Try

While you can’t go wrong with a classic dry gin martini, there are a bunch of other options out there which can making for enjoyable drinking. You will see a huge variety of drinks labeled as a martini, including trendy favorites like an espresso martini or sweet, vanilla-vodka-laden drinks like a french vanilla martini. While these other martini-like cocktails could be a whole post of their post, we’ll focus on variations on the most classic martini formula that stay within that dry flavor range.

The first variation that’s worth checking out is a reverse martini, which uses more vermouth than spirit. A classic martini might be three parts gin to one part vermouth, say, but the reverse martini flips that to three parts vermouth to one part gin. That makes the drink less boozy, obviously, so it’s a good choice when you want a cocktail but don’t want to get too wasted. But it’s also an interesting way to experience vermouth, particularly if you’re somewhere which has a range of specialty or unusual vermouths. Just as the tangy sweetness of vermouth brings out the sweeter notes in gin, so a sharp, citrusy gin can bring out the more vegetal or citrusy notes in vermouth. It’s a beautiful drink to sip before dinner.

Another great option is the Vesper Martini, invented by Ian Fleming: the creator of the world’s most famous fictional martini drinker, James Bond. This uses a combination of gin and vodka for the best of both worlds — the intriguing flavors of gin and the pleasing, cool mouthfeel of vodka — and it also subs in Lillet blanc in place of the vermouth. Lillet is an aromatised wine, like vermouth, but it is bittered with quinine rather than with wormwood. Quinine is most familiar from tonic water, and Lillet has a similar zing of bitterness which makes it a great summer drink. It also mixes beautifully with spirits, creating a martini which is lighter and more citrus-forward than the classic vermouth-based martini.

Next time you step up to the barstool, you’ll be able to get exactly what you want when it comes to a Martini. And speaking of gin and vodka, check out our best gin cocktails and classic vodka cocktail recipes. Cheers!

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Mark Stock
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon. He fell into wine during the Recession and has been fixated on the stuff since…
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