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Dry Martini at the VEA,Sheung Wan. 27JAN16 SCMP/ K. Y. Cheng [2016 FEATURES FOOD & WINE]

Source: South China Morning Post / Getty

The Martini is one drink among my list of classic cocktails I first order at a bar to gauge if one of their in-house creations will pass muster. It is also a drink I use as a barometer with others, paying special attention if they ask for one with gin or vodka. The former, which is how it should be made, is our focus today.

While it is somewhat snobby to judge others on their spirit of choice, some drinks should be experienced as they were intended. Of course, a person should drink what they enjoy and not fuss over keeping close to the original recipes, but as cocktail writer Robert O. Simonson states in his excellent book, The Martini Cocktail, those who order the cocktail with vodka simply aren’t fans of the taste of liquor itself.

This has given rise to a variety of flavored martinis, employing the largely flavorless base of vodka and masking it even further with brightly-colored syrups, sweet liqueurs, and other enhancements. While I do enjoy some martini remixes like an Espresso Martini, nothing approaches the simplicity and refinement of the Dry Martini.

The origin of the Martini has a number of fanciful backstories, but one that a number of writers and enthusiasts seem to hail is that of the origin of the Martinez (which we’ll make here one day). Like the Martini, the Martinez has gone through several transformations, but the version displayed in Harry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book has become the standard.

The lore of the Martinez was said to have inspired the early versions of the Martini, which were sweeter, or “wetter” in comparison to the drier styles that dominate the orders of imbibers in the present day.

From the early 20th Century on, bartenders toyed with applications of dry and sweet vermouth against the boozy backdrop of a London dry gin, which was and still remains a far easier spirit to find in comparison to the sweeter, softer Old Tom gin. The aforementioned book from Simonson does a far better job of explaining this than I ever will, hence why you should really pick that up for the vast history within.

But before I knew who Simonson was, I was introduced to the wide world of gin and the Martini by Erik Holzherr, the owner of the recently-shuttered Wisdom bar in Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C. Briefly, it saddens me that the bar is now gone as it was my favorite watering hole in the entire region, but the pandemic has impacted many great establishments across the nation in similar ways.

Erik and many of the fantastic bartenders at the gin-focused Wisdom possessed what felt like infinite knowledge about gins, martinis, gin-based cocktails, and the all-important vermouths and garnishes. At Wisdom, there was an ordering guide in print and on the walls, and it was there where I experienced my first dry martini.

I immediately fell in love with the drink and was shocked to learn; it was mostly just two ingredients. While I don’t think I’ll ever be as great as Erik is at mixing (he’s known as the Gintender for Pete’s sake), I believe the version I made below is as good as any I’ve had away from his bars.

The Dry Martini:

2 1/4 ounces of London dry gin

1/2 ounce of dry vermouth

Lemon twist or olive as a garnish

Combine the gin and vermouth within a mixing glass and stir for 15-30 seconds, and strain into your cocktail glass. Express a lemon peel over the drink and toss it in the glass. If you’re keener to savory flavors, an olive or three will satisfy that need. Depending on how “dry” (less vermouth) or “wet” (more vermouth) you like, your drink is a matter of taste. I like the taste of vermouth in all its forms, so I may add more when the mood hits.

For my version, I poured the cocktail into a Nick and Nora glass as the martini glasses I own now are massive and makes for a drink that warms up way too fast.

My version of the drink:

Dry Martini

Source: D.L. Chandler / DLC

Now, there are other styles of martinis to make, and using the recipe above, experts such as Simonson will add a dash or so of orange bitters to bring a sense of roundness to the drink. The bitters, in my view, is completely optional but does make a fine drink.

Eventually, we’ll cover other martini styles here at Spirit.Ed, but getting this one right is key. A good gin to play with is Plymouth, although I’ve used Beefeater and Bombay (not the Sapphire) to great effect.

As always, sip safely and surely.