The Martini has come a long way. From it's roots using bitters, Old Tom gin and sweet vermouth all the way to today where bartenders use tasteless vodka and brag over how little vermouth they use (a fair amount of the time they use none). Now that we've gone about as dry and listless as we can - come on we're drinking iced vodka - let's turn back the clock and go back to a Martini with flavor.
From my perusing of Imbibe!: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash (I can't say enough about this book...) I found that when the Martini was first being codified in bar books it was a sweeter and more full flavored beast than what we know today. The base spirit was gin, though at first it was Old Tom followed later by the London Dry style. The vermouth was predominantly sweet and there were flavor modifiers here and there such as Maraschino and Curacao. Bitters were commonly used as well.
Towards the end of the 19th Century (or maybe early 20th), the Martini started drying out and the recipe above is what a cocktailian of the time would call a dry Martini. Today this recipe looks very un-dry and you might be freaking out about how much vermouth is in it. Fear not, quality vermouth is easier to obtain today and that's what you need for this drink. 2 ounces of wonderful London Dry and an ounce of bottom shelf $4 a bottle vermouth will not make the world go around.
What I'm saying is good vermouth has a wonderful flavor that goes well with gin so you should use some in your Martini. I am in the 1900 school with a 2 to 1 ratio, but I love good vermouth. And the cocktail is strong enough for me since London Dry gin is 94 proof. But if you like it more on the dry side, of course you may adjust the ratio to 3 or 4 to 1. But do try to use some vermouth.
One side note here, I know you want to get your Martini as cold as possible but please, don't store your gin or vodka in the freezer. If you stir frozen gin with ice, the ice won't melt and you won't get any dilution which leads to an unbalanced cocktail. Some of that ice in the mixing glass is supposed to melt. Also, your strainer can quite literally ice up which means you can't even get your undiluted cocktail out of the mixing vessel.
The orange bitters add a nice dimension to the Martini and they are a requirement for me. If you don't have orange bitters a single dash of something darker such as Angostura can be interesting.
For the garnish it is purely up to your personal preference. I love the smell of lemon peel expressed onto the surface of a Martini - and the oily surface of the drink as the lemon oil pools on top of the gin and vermouth. However if you like olives, go for it.
There are more variations of a Martini than you can shake a barspoon at and if you include all the "Martinis" we see today, well, I don't want to get depressed. But there are some legitimate variations that change only one or two aspects of this cocktail that merit attention.
First, the Dry Martini dials back the vermouth in the recipe. When you start getting to 5 or 6 to 1 you are in dry territory. A Perfect Martini uses half sweet vermouth and half dry. Use a half ounce of each. For a Sweet Martini use only sweet vermouth.
Today vodka is the predominant spirit in Martinis so if you just order a Martini, chances are you'll get one with vodka. But on this website the basic Martini is made with gin, so we'll call this other beastie a Vodka Martini.
If you use a cocktail onion for the garnish you have a Gibson. Some drinkers like to dump some of the brine from the olive jar in their drink for a Dirty Martini.
For a more exotic variation we go to the The Savoy Cocktail Book.
Martini Special Cocktail
2 oz dry gin
3/4 oz sweet vermouth
1 tsp orange flower water
1 dash absinthe
2 healthy dashes Angostura bitters
Stir with ice cubes and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Lemon peel garnish.
I would love to hear your thought and ideas on what makes a great Martini. Chime in below and let us know.