December 23, 2010
The Dry Martini Postulate
For some unfathomable reason, and despite the fact that I have been pouring them down for many years only lately have I repeatedly been asked for my dry martini recipe.
To make it absolutely clear, under normal circumstances I would not share it, but the prospect of maybe achieving that just one person in this world stops drinking dubious concoctions ill-named after such a noble drink clearly trumps the dark clouds of resignation hanging over me as I prepare to reveal a secret that’s dear to my heart.
I should also warn the reader that what he’s about to read is certainly my recipe, not the recipe. I’m sufficiently familiar with the drink’s history to realize there is no one recipe, but rather variations or interpretations (some might call them “religions”.) Mine was not handed down to me by some higher dry martini authority but rather born from decades of selfless, persistent and dedicated experimentation. In the name of science, no effort is too small.
Thus, please refrain from commenting that my recipe is “wrong” or that you have a better one. I fully trust you do, but understand that it will not be the first time I’m confronted with such duels, but that time having taught me to trust and love my own chemistry, I will not enter them; if you absolutely must, please describe your rebuttal on your own blog, I’ll be more than happy to link to it here.
What you need
These are the basic materials and ingredients you need for a perfect dry martini; if you seriously intend to achieve before-dinner-bliss, please do not even think of deviating an iota from this list.
- A martini glass, (which is a misnomer, as it is in fact a “stemmed cocktail glass which has a cone-shaped bowl placed upon a stem above a flat base”. The size of the glass is important, i.e. it’s not a shot-glass, nor is it a bucket. And no, you certainly cannot drink it from a tumbler or a wine glass. The perfect size is around 13 centilitres, or 4.5 fluid ounces, for our metric-challenged readers. Please make sure it’s clean, crystal-clear and that no traces of detergent remain. We are aiming for purity and any additional inspection of your glass is not futile.
- Vermouth; I use exclusively Noilly Prat, which is a french vermouth, fully aware of my disrespect for the wine’s origin (which is Italy). I understand that Noilly Prat is not readily available everywhere and hence this is the only item where I will allow a very controlled exception: if you cannot find Noilly Prat, after a thorough and honest search, you may replace with Martini & Rossi’s (the brand) Extra Dry Vermouth. Only. Not the ghastly Rosso variant, nor the intriguing, sweetly Bianco. The disgusting Rosatto is obviously a marketing invention and not a real drink, so no need to mention that.
- Gin: opinions vary as to which gin to use. You are of course free to use any of the better ones. Most of this cocktail is actually gin, so that the choice of a good gin is crucial. I’m partial to Plymouth (a classic, use Original or else Navy Strength, if you’re feeling adventurous), or Martin Miller’s (a unique creaminess), but if none of the better ones are available I’d then recommend Bombay Shappire or Tanqueray. If the situation is desperate, you are allowed to sink to Gordon’s Dry Gin but only if it is truly unavoidable (you’re climbing the Himalayas and notice in horror that the Plymouth was forgotten at the last base station, say).
- A mixing glass or cocktail shaker, if you plan on shaking your chef-d’oeuvre. I am of the opinion that if you shake it, it will be a chef-d’oeuvre no more, but will defend my snobbery further ahead.
- Ice cubes. This might seem like a trivial debate but, and again in the name of perfection, this choice also bears a few considerations. First and foremost, you should try to stick to tap water for two very simple reasons: its is normally better than bottled but also you will reduce your drink’s carbon footprint. That said it really depends on the quality of the water you usually drink. If your region’s tap water quality is dubious and you don’t usually drink it please don’t use that to make ice either (again, if in the Himalayas, I’m pretty sure that you can safely bank on the purity of the ice coating the Annapurna). Chauvinistic as I am, I have found Luso water to be the best emergency replacement for tap water.
- I’m partial to pimento-stuffed green olives in my dry martini (for the protein, I try to stay healthy) but other schools may prefer a plain green olive or a small twist of lemon peel. Do not use anything else, especially shallots (used in preparing a Gibson, which is a fine drink, but not the subject of this diatribe), as the taste of onion will overpower the delicate balance of the drink. This decision is entirely up to you but please ensure that the olive or lemon peel are clean of other odours, most notably of the brine sometimes used to preserve the olives. Black olives, or anything else, are out of the question (and before you ask, yes, even if your sherpa has left the green olives at the last base station). A martini “dirty” with brine is not a real drink, it’s just… dirty.
- Fill both your mixing glass and your glass with ice. Store the ice-filled glass in the fridge while you go through the remaining steps.
- Pour a little vermouth into the mixing glass. About half to a full shot (1.5 cl) is enough, depending on how strong you want your cocktail to be. Alternatively you can follow Noel Coward’s advice in preparing the Dry Martini with no vermouth at all and just “wave the finished concoction in the general direction of Italy”, or Winston Churchill’s which seemed to consist of taking a focused look at the closed vermouth bottle.
- Stir the vermouth (do not shake), so that the ice is fully coated in it. Let it chill for a few seconds and pour most of the vermouth out of the mixing glass. I personally pour all of it out, relying on the vermouth-scented ice cubes for the final flavour, but you may need to experiment until you find the proportion that’s perfect for you. Remember that this is not a drink which blends vermouth and gin, but rather a vermouth flavoured, very cold, gin.
- Pour the gin in, about 13 cl. of it or whichever amount is needed for the size of your glass (and, by the way, is it clean?)
- Again, stir the gin and ice-cubes. Do not shake. I do not care how many James Bond movies you have seen and am sorry to say that 007 not only has no idea, but is also single-handedly responsible for having introduced the appalling habit of shaking a dry martini as a “cool” thing to do. It’s not cool, it’s just sad; Bond’s drink has a name, a Vesper or a Bradford, different recipes. Also, and aside from W. Somerset Maugham’s entirely subjective allegation that “dry martinis should always be stirred, not shaken, so that the molecules lie sensuously one on top of the other”, there is actually a scientific study on the difference between stirring and shaking a dry martini (this never fails to remind me that I should’ve paid more attention in science class, had I known then that they could be used for such noble purposes).
- The stirring will eventually make the shaker ice cold. This is the signal that the drink is ready. Please make sure it is indeed very very cold.
- Take your ice-filled glass from the fridge an discard the ice cubes. Now pour the contents of the mixing glass through a strainer, into the glass. Your drink should be transparent, not cloudy. If it is cloudy, you’re doing it wrong (you shook it, didn’t you?).
- Place the olive on a wooden pick and the pick on the glass. It should be long enough so as to not drown in the dry martini (unless you want to fish it out with your fingers, which is revolting). I use two olives, mainly as an accessory to stop me from drinking it too quickly.
- One last step: lightly squeeze or twist a lemon peel, to coat the surface of the drink with the volatile citric oils. Don’t go overboard with this, a few drops are enough.
You are ready and can now enjoy your authentic dry martini. A moment of contemplation is perfectly acceptable. The speed at which you should drink it obviously varies according to geography and climate but a good reference is to finish it while it’s still cold.
No further verbiage is necessary. If you’ve followed the steps above the dry martini in your hands will now tell you the rest of the story. Should the story not be finished by the end of the drink you should absolutely prepare another one.