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Do you like it dry or dirty? The story of the martini cocktail

The martini cocktail is one of the world’s most iconic of cocktails, but where did it come from and how can we vary the classic recipe to our own, debonair tastes?

Martini – the classic cocktail, not the branded vermouth of the same name – is arguably the most iconic of cocktails that will continue to stand the test of time in our bars, at our parties and on our screens. But where did the martini cocktail come from? What is the traditional way to drink it and how can we vary the classic recipe to our own, debonair tastes? This is your Clos19 guide to finding your own style of classic martini.

‘Martinis are the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet’

By H.L Mencken, essayist and author, 19th century

Birth of a legend in drink form

There are many assertions about where the martini was invented and by whom, but we do know that it happened in the US during the mid to late 1800s, in or around San Francisco.

The first iterations of what would become the English most famous fictional spy’s favourite tipple were originally sweet, with cherry liqueur and sweetened gin. Fairly soon though, sweetness was ditched in favour of a much drier style and today, the traditional recipe contains gin and dry, white vermouth served in a long-stemmed, ‘V’-shaped glass with a ‘twist’ of lemon peel or green olive garnish. The go-to vermouth at the time used was made by Martini & Rossi and some say that this is where the cocktail got its name. The martini cocktail trend took hold during the 1950s and 60s in the US, when the advertising industry’s top executives would do ‘three Martini lunches’ and the cocktail has been a global icon ever since.


Gin or Vodka?

The vodka martini: Perhaps the most famous twist on the traditional Martini recipe is to take it with vodka instead of gin. Using a pure, high quality vodka such as Belvedere instead of gin ensures a less bitter, purer flavour profile that many palates prefer. This vodka twist is also known as a vodkatini or a kangaroo cocktail.

Get down and dirty: the classic styles of martini

While the traditional recipe above is still incredibly popular, there are several other ways to request a Martini that can still be described as ‘classic’:

‘dry’ vs. ‘wet’ Martini: The ratios of spirit to vermouth in a martini often depend on the house style or your own personal preference but if you prefer a drier taste, your ‘dry’ martini should have more spirit than vermouth. By the same token, a ‘wet’ Martini has more vermouth. Try the dry, with this recipe for the Belvedere Signature 06:01 Martini: Mix 60mL of Belvedere vodka with 10 mL of Dry Vermouth, stir over ice, strain and finish with a grapefruit twist.

A ‘dirty’ martini: This quirky, cloudy style involves the classic recipe but with a dash of olive brine and a green olive garnish rather than lemon rind.

A ‘perfect’ martini: This means it has equal parts of sweet and dry vermouth.

Shaken or stirred: other ways to enjoy a martini cocktail

Whether you prefer your martini shaken or stirred is strictly a matter of personal taste. You get to the same place in terms of chill and dilution; it’s just that stirring takes a bit longer. They key difference between these two methods is texture: a stirred martini will be sleeker and silky in consistency, as it doesn’t have air forced into it when you shake it. Whatever style you choose is up to you and how you’re feeling.

There are literally hundreds of martini variations to discover; some are more faithful to the original than others. If you still haven’t found your favorite after reading this short list, go and try some out!

The Gibson: Created in San Francisco by Walter D.K. Gibson, the Gibson is what you call a martini when a cocktail onion is preferred as a garnish instead of an olive. This more savory style becomes a vodka Gibson when gin is not used.

The Vesper martini: Made famous by James Bond in Casino Royale, the Vesper martini uses three parts gin to one part vodka. Add to this a half measure of dry vermouth with a large, thin slice of lemon peel. And of course, it’s shaken, not stirred…

The Burnt martini: A rare find, impress your bar person by ordering this twist on a martini with a small splash of peaty scotch whisky such as Ardbeg Ten Years Old.

There are literally countless versions of a “perfect” martini if you really start looking around. Even just using the twenty most popular variables such as vermouth style, garnish, ice type etc., it’s said that there could be just under seven quadrillion (yes, really!) martini recipes to try. The choice is exciting and the world is your oyster, so don’t feel intimated – start creating your own martini! And you can name it after us, if you like…