Ordering a Martini seems simple enough.
But when the bartender asks for specifics, suddenly you’re fumbling — vodka or gin? Shaken or stirred? And what in the world is a dry martini?
Does it even matter?
It does, according to Allen Katz, the director of Mixology and Spirits Education for Southern Wine & Spirits of New York. He helped us break down the different types of martinis on a cocktail menu, and taught us how to order one without sounding like an idiot.
1. Gin vs. Vodka
The classic martini was created as a gin cocktail, so for those interested in having the typical martini experience, give gin a try.
“Each gin you try will have a distinct flavour,” Katz explains. “Different brands of gin are made using different botanicals so they all taste unique.”
If the herb flavour of the gin proves too strong for you, order a vodka martini instead.
2. Dry, perfect, or wet
These three distinctions refer to how much and what type of vermouth you want in your cocktail.
Vermouth is a type of wine that’s flavored with botanicals, and can make a martini “dry” or “sweet.” A modern martini usually calls for a splash of dry vermouth, which is known for its more bitter and less-sugary taste.
“Where people get confused is that when you request a ‘dry’ martini, it doesn’t mean you want more dry vermouth — it means you want less vermouth,” Kats says. A typical dry martini will have a drizzle of dry vermouth while an “extra-dry” martini will only have a drop or two of dry vermouth (sometimes even none at all).
A wet martini then is the exact opposite — you want more dry vermouth. Historically, martinis were quite wet, with old-school martinis prepared with an almost equal ratio of gin and vermouth.
A perfect martini, on the other hand, is made with equal parts dry and sweet vermouth with your vodka or gin.
3. Shaken or stirred
“Shaken” means the alcohol of your choice will be shaken in a cocktail shaker with ice before being strained into your glass. “There’s a bit of an aplomb or style to a well-shaken cocktail,” Katz told us.
“Stirred” means the gin will be placed in a cocktail shaker with ice and stirred for about 30 seconds before being strained into the glass. “This results in a smoother version, with less likelihood of ice shards in your cocktail,” Katz said.
4. Straight up or on the rocks
“Up” means that your drink will be served in one of those familiar tall martini glasses that has been chilled. “On the rocks” means that it will be served in a tumbler over ice.
“If you’ve got an appropriately diluted martini, you shouldn’t need the ice,” Katz said. “Of course, that being said, when it comes to cocktails people should drink them however they prefer.”
5. “With a Twist”
This just refers to how you want your martini garnished. Classic martinis are either garnished with an olive on a skewer or a small twist of lemon peel for an added pop of citrus.
If you have a preference, just tell your bartender “with a twist” for the lemon peel, or “with an olive.”
6. Dirty, Gibson, And Vesper Martinis
These are the three famous types of martini that every bartender worth their salt will know how to make.
Dirty: A little splash of olive juice in the martini. “You still have to ask for degrees depending on how ‘dirty’ you like it,” Katz said. “I’ve found that people who really like dirty martinis like them really dirty, and then you just garnish with an olive to bolster that characteristic.”
Gibson: Can be made either with gin or vodka, but “instead of a classic garnish like a twist or an olive, you get a pearl onion,” Katz said. “I’ve also seen Gibsons made with pickled onions and an olive.”
Vesper: For those wanting to order a martini like James Bond, this is the drink for you. First described in the book “Casino Royale,” the vesper martini was originally made with gin, vodka, and Kina Lillet, a type of bitter wine aperitif.
“Because Kina Lillet has become so rare, people nowadays will substitute another aperitif wine called Cocchi Americano,” Katz told us. “And always remember if you order a Vesper, you’re compounding the booze with gin and vodka.” In other words, this is not the drink-of-choice for a lightweight.
7. Final Tips
If you’ve never had a martini before, Katz recommended trying a traditional martini as a jumping-off point for future orders.
“Tell the bartender you’ll have a martini with a 3:1 ratio of vermouth,” he advised first-timers. “Try it with gin, because a gin martini will be more interesting with the vermouth. Order it stirred, and straight up.”
And make sure to get a normal-sized cocktail, not one of those monster martinis the size of your head. That way, if you don’t like it you can “simply move on to the next cocktail,” Katz said.
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