Yoknapatawpha Crossing

Martinis

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The subject under discussion is the proper mixing of a martini. Because it needs to be discussed.

A few days ago, I was lucky enough to find myself at an event with a wide open bar, the services of which I did not hesitate to avail myself. After padding my tongue with a few of the more subdued libations, I placed the order that any gentleman of discriminating taste has to place at some point during the evening. I called for a martini.

The bartender proceeded to use the cap of the vermouth bottle to measure out a portion of that spirit, and followed it up by freehanding a rather significant fraction of a bottle of Tanqueray into the shaker. The resulting drink contained, needless to say, much too many parts gin and far too few parts vermouth.

Now, there have been many claims regarding the best way to combine the rare effervescence of vermouth with gin. Some say you should pour a scant quarter ounce into the martini glass, swirl it once, and discard the rest. Others say that you should merely place the vermouth bottle in a ray of the morning sun that is subsequently incident on the martini glass. Still others say the ideal method is to concentrate very hard on the bottle of vermouth that you have left unopened in your liquor cabinet as you shake two ounces of gin. (Winston Churchill, you alcoholic.) This is all poetic bullshit.

The mystique surrounding the extra-dry martini is ridiculous. Show me a man who orders a martini extra-dry, and I’ll show you a man who doesn’t have the balls to order a shot of cold gin. Vermouth is absolutely essential to the perfect martini. Consider the gin and tonic: all by their lonesomes, tonic water and gin are both fairly unappetizing ingredients that few willingly drink. But mix them together, and you have one of the truly classic, and classy, concoctions of any generation. The same holds true with gin and vermouth. They complement each other; one falls flat in the absence of its partner. The quality that makes the drink is not the flavor of gin drowning out vermouth, it is the dynamic interplay between the two.

Gin tastes like Christmas; this is a fact that has been observed by so many reliable witnesses that it brooks no disputation. But like any Christmas present, gin is naked without a wrapping. You cannot simply pour a slug of Bombay Sapphire into a glass and expect to please. It requires some accoutrements, some dressing. In the case of the martini, this is the vermouth. The vermouth tempers the gin; it calms it without robbing it of any vital characteristics. This is why the martini is the truly classic cocktail: it takes the base spirit with the most complex flavor, and allows one to savor that flavor without being overwhelmed by it. The taste of vermouth should not be anemically intrusive. It should be strong but submissive, pronounced but restrained. Balance must be maintained.

The real martini is mixed with 1/2 ounce dry vermouth and 2 ounces London gin, and it is served straight up and ice cold. It is not made with apple schnapps, it is not made with orange flavored what-have-you, and it is not ever, ever goddammit, made with vodka. If you go to a bar and order a martini, and they ask you if you’d like it with gin or vodka, they are insulting your intelligence as a drunkard and connoisseur. Never drink a vodka martini. An angel dies every time you do. End of story.

Go drink. Now, dammit.

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Written by Daniel Grady

February 12, 2006 at 12:56

Posted in Alcohol, Consumables

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