Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | March 28, 2011

What James Bond Didn’t Know: A Martini Primer

My latest column at

What James Bond Didn’t Know: A Martini Primer

Let’s get this out of the way right up top: Everything you learned about Martinis from James Bond is wrong.

A proper Dry Martini should have gin, not vodka. It should be stirred, not shaken. And while there’s certainly a modern version with olive brine and olives for garnish, orange bitters and an orange peel is a more suitable given the history of the spirit.

The roots of the Martini date back to the mid 1800s, when a precursor called the Martinez was popular. Made with Old Tom gin (a stronger, sweeter kind of gin that has only recently become available again in the United States) and an even greater measure of sweet vermouth, this cocktail also included orange bitters and Maraschino liqueur.

By the turn of the 20th century, a version of the Dry Martini had emerged. Gone was the Maraschino. Sweet vermouth was replaced by dry vermouth. And Old Tom gin was replaced by London Dry gin (most popular brands like Beefeater or Bombay are London Dry style gins). The cocktail was elegant in its simplicity: 2 parts gin, 1 part vermouth, 1 dash of orange bitters.

This is a true Dry Martini. Everything else is an evolution of taste. From the early 1900s to the 1950s, the Dry Martini changed to include less and less vermouth—eventually almost none.

One of the reasons for the reduction of vermouth in American Martinis was the arrival of vodka to the U.S. market. A true Martini is a cocktail defined by the balance of gin and vermouth. But while gin is full of flavor and can play with vermouth, vodka is a neutral spirit and doesn’t hold up to much vermouth. As a result, Vodka Martinis had increasingly small amounts of vermouth in the glass and eventually becoming nothing more than a huge glass of vodka with an olive or two dunked in. Sadly, this extended to Gin Martinis, which now are also often large, cold glasses of gin with olives.

There’s nothing wrong with sipping a glass of vodka or gin. People should drink what they like. But the Dry Martini is a specific cocktail, made with gin and dry vermouth. If you’ve never had a Dry Martini with a real measure of vermouth in it, I suggest you try it. You’ll be surprised how light and crisp it is (in contrast to that full glass of booze you’re used to). My preferred version of a Martini has equal parts gin and dry vermouth, with a dash of orange bitters and orange peel.

Dry Martini (Fifty-Fifty variation)

  • 1.5 oz London dry gin (Beefeater)
  • 1.5 oz dry vermouth (Dolin Dry Vermouth)
  • 1 dash orange bitters (Regan’s Orange Bitters No. 6)

Stir ingredients in an ice-filled mixing glass until cold and crisp (about 30 strokes). Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Spray with zest from a freshly cut orange peel. Drop the orange peel into the glass.

Note that I stir my Martini. Contrary to James Bond’s tagline, both shaking and stirring “bruise” a cocktail (a term that refers to how the ice melts and dilutes the drink). Shaking adds water to a cocktail faster than stirring. For an all-booze cocktail like a Martini, you want to slowly chill the drink and keep a silky-smooth consistency, which is why stirring is best.

One closing thought: the word “martini” is not a synonym for the word “cocktail.” Please do not refer to your girlfriend’s Sour Apple Glass of Sugar as a Martini.



  1. =:)

  2. I agree with your favoritism of the Fiddy-fiddy although I reach for a lemon twist, not orange. Well, considering that I enjoy drinking good vermouth on its own, this might not be surprising.

    Have you ever read Lowell Edmund’s “Martini, Straight Up”? A great overview (historical, literary, and social) of the drink. Often can be found for really cheap on Amazon and (I think I got mine for a penny + $3.99 shipping).

    • I used to take my Fifty-Fifty with a lemon twist, but have gotten to a point where if I use one type of citrus bitters, I want that type of citrus peel as garnish. So orange bitters requires an orange peel, lemon bitters require a lemon peel, etc. If I was out at a bar that did not have orange bitters, I would get it with a lemon twist.

      Thanks for the tip on Edmund’s book. Sounds like it’s right up my alley.

      • But lemon and orange play together so well. In fact, the presence of orange bitters is why I go lemon twist.

        Orange bitters + orange twist = orange flavor and scent overload. However, lemon oil gives a sharp citrus scent and note that complements the orange bitters instead of matching them. To my nose and palate, orange oil damn near turns the drink into a screwdriver.

        Same with a good Corpse Reviver #2 – it uses lemon juice, but needs an orange twist to really pop.

      • That’s fair. I’ve evolved more on this and tend to take my Dry Martinis with orange bitters and a lemon twist most of the time, though by no means exclusively.

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