Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | December 31, 2009

Martini Primer

Via Gaz Regan, Jon Bonne had a great analysis of how to make a classic dry gin martini in the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this month. He joins with some of the Bay Area’s top bartenders to evaluate gins, vermouths, ratios, shaking, stirring, stirring time, ice quantity and a few other details to produce a set of recommendations on how to best make a dry martini. As an introduction to people who have not yet developed their own preferences for martini composition, it’s a fantastic jumping off point. The Martini is an intense cocktail in its simplicity and you only begin to understand how limitless it can be until you begin to embrace its variation in search of your own balance.

Regular readers of this blog know that my preferred Martini contains equal parts of gin and dry vermouth, along with two dashes of orange bitters. My personal variations come in changing which gins and vermouths are pared together. But lately, when out at bars or restaurants, I’ve taken to trying new combinations. After getting frustrated with the inability for waiters to correctly relay the fact that I want a 1:1 Martini (or bartenders’ refusal to accept that someone would want to drink that), I’ve started to explore downward ratios of gin to vermouth. I’m doing this by ordering a Martini and only specifying the gin and a twist. At that point, I’m leaving it up to the guy behind the stick.

What’s interesting about this is that I can actually pass a judgement on who’s behind the bar. When I get a cold glass of gin back, I know that, at minimum, the bartender doesn’t have much of an appreciation of this classic cocktail, instead paying homage to the overwrought bravado of customers who want a glass of gin with their dinner. On the other hand, when I get  a Martini back that’s made at around 4:1 or 5:1 (which is the sweet spot Benne and his experiments showed), I have a great deal of appreciation that at least the cocktail I was given was made to a somewhat standard ratio of gin to vermouth. It’s not necessarily the version of the Martini that makes my heart sing, but I can enjoy it nonetheless.

And after all, beyond making it for myself at home, there are only a few bartenders around DC who really know how I like a Martini. Getting a Martini that is perfect for me outside my home is tough and I always enjoy it that much more when it’s done exactly right. The poor imitations that often emerge when stale Martini & Rossi dry and Beefeater are combined 1:1 just don’t do justice to the drink I love.

What’s odd about this is that I am a firm believer that it is the bartender’s job to give a guest whatever they order, exactly as they order it. In this sort of situation, I normally would oppose not ordering a drink how I want it. Maybe it’s a phase I’m going through, maybe I’m bored with explaining a cocktail recipe to dumbfounded waiters. But for now, at least, I’m relaxing my Martini standards when I’m out.



  1. I found the article that you referenced really helpful as a starting place and your post has inspired me to find my own version of the “perfect martini” – or at least perfect for me. Thanks!

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