Not all martinis are created equal, and any regular drinker of this classic libation will be the first to tell you so. In fact, anyone with a taste for a dirty martini may be shocked to learn this variation was allegedly born out of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's inability to properly make the cocktail.
Dale DeGroff, a mixologist, spirits expert and author, believes opinions vary widely about what constitutes the "perfect martini" because there's no such thing — the drink is deeply personal.
"To the purist, the martini is gin, vermouth and an olive. But look at menus from bars, hotels and restaurants all over the country, and you will find hundreds of cocktails with the word 'martini' tacked on," DeGroff said recently by email.
"Although this may disturb traditionalists, it reflects the tremendous explosion of creativity among young bartenders."
In honor of National Martini Day on Monday, June 19, we got DeGroff's take on the history of the martini, the optimal spirits to use and a few recipes so you can celebrate in style.
So what exactly is a "classic" martini?
DeGroff dates the classic to the end of the 1800s when it was made strictly with gin. By the mid-20th century, however, vodka was becoming a more widely used spirit and shaped the meaning of a classic martini to "a gin- or vodka-based drink paired with an aromatized wine called vermouth, and in some early recipes, with a dash of some sort of bitter," he says.
Where does the traditional olive garnish come from, you ask?
Funny story — it's actually patented.
DeGroff says at the dawn of the 20th century, the classic dry martini was made famous by the Knickerbocker Hotel Bar in Manhattan, and the recipe was half gin, half vermouth, dashed with bitters then stirred with ice and served "up" with an olive garnish. But the hotel didn't patent the garnish, instead the "cocktail olive" was trademarked by S.J. Valk and Bros. in 1896.
But we still haven't address olive juice — where does the dirty martini fall into this?
The dirty martini was allegedly one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's only good martini recipes. He was a consummate drinker, according to DeGroff, famous for his terrible variations.
Alright then, which types of liquors best lend themselves to a martini?
One word: Premium.
"The gin or vodka should be high quality since we are not disguising the spirit with a lot of juices and flavors," DeGroff says.
He suggests a London dry-style gin such as Tanqueray, Beefeater or Bombay White Label, and vodkas like Absolut, Kettle One and Grey Goose.
Let's talk recipes.
DeGroff's favorite martini recipe is the classic extra-dry Beefeater martini with one olive and lemon zest, but in honor of National Martini Day, he's devised a couple riffs for Bar Louie restaurants, which are listed below. The most important thing for those making martinis at home is the stir count — stir (not shake) your libation exactly 52 times, DeGroffs says, and served in a chilled glass for the optimal temperature.
The Martinez (late 19th century)
Adapted from O.H. Byron's Modern Bartender's Guide, 1884
- 1 oz. Noilly Prat Sweet Vermouth
- 1 oz. Hendricks Gin
- 2 Dashes Angostura Bitters
- 2 Dashes Grand Marnier
Stir all ingredients with ice to chill and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon zest by releasing the oils over the top and dropping it into the drink.
The Knickerbocker (circe 1911)
Adapted from Martini Di Arma Di Taggia's Recipe at the Knickerbocker Hotel
- 1.5 oz. Bombay Sapphire Gin
- 1.5 oz. Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth
- Dash Orange Bitters
- Dash Angostura Bitters
Stir all ingredients with ice to chill and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange zest by releasing the oils over the top and dropping it into the drink.
Dale's Second Chance Martini (modern day)
A new Millennium adaptation of the James Bond Vesper Martini.
- 0.25 oz. Lillet Blanc
- 0.25 oz. Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth
- 1 oz. Ketel One Vodka
- 1 oz. Bombay Sapphire Gin
- Optional dash Dale DeGroff Pimento Bitters
Stir all ingredients with ice to chill and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon zest by releasing the oils over the top and dropping it into the drink.