1 part Lillet Vermouth
7 parts imported English gin
twist a lemon peel
serve with an olive (or an onion for a gibson)
That recipe comes from David Embury who, in 1948, wrote the book on cocktails, titled The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. Proportions vary. A few are higher. Most are lower, usually 2 to 1, sometimes going as far as equal parts gin and vermouth. This is saying that food should have an equal portion of salt. The vermouth is an accent, to taste, and to mask the flavor of inferior gin. A more extreme view (one that I hold) could be that good quality liquor should take no garnish whatsoever. This radicalism wins no friends.
David Embury doesn’t address the recent phenomenon known first as a vodka martini that then took on such prominence that a true martini is sometimes called by the retronym of gin martini. Vodka’s presence in an aromatic cocktail is questionable bordering on reprehensible. It is nearly a neutral grain spirit and hardly appropriate as a base liquor. The addition of olive brine to make a martini “dirty” is another modern fashion that is contrary to the vodka trend. Replacing gin with vodka makes the drink blander and the addition of brine returns a sharp vegetable flavor. A dirty vodka martini must have been invented by a schizophrenic.
Lillet is a French tonic wine not strictly vermouth in modern parlance. French vermouth (bianco) is less sweet than Italian red vermouth (rosso) and is the ingredient in a dry martini. A sweet martini featuring rosso is appropriate to a quirky, slightly fey character. Some split the difference with a “perfect martini” consisting of half French and half Italian vermouth. It’s a wishy-washy solution that satisfies neither taste. A dry martini is the classic version. H.L. Mencken considers a martini to be the American rival to the sonnet as a creation of clarity and elegance. He was surely thinking of a dry martini in relation to the Shakespearean sonnet. A sweet martini would be the slightly exotic Petracrhan sonnet.
Shaking v Stirring
This is the favored debate among erudite drinkers and it is an utterly pointless distinction. Science has proven (one may cite Joule among others) that the amount of coldness transferred from the ice to the martini is necessarily equivalent to the amount of water your drink absorbs. You may start with colder ice, utilize a heat pump more directly and avoid water altogether, or take your drink at room temperature in the sophisticated manner of Europeans. But there is no method of ice-jangling that will confer the gift of chill without the curse of water. By definition, a martini is stirred. If you shake it, it is now a bradford. A bradford is cloudy in appearance, but otherwise identical to a martini. Shaking is sometimes clumsily justified by saying it breaks up the oils present in poorer quality spirits. The science behind this assertion is uncertain. What is certain is the fact that a person drinking cheap liquor has no place quibbling about preparation. A counter-superstition states that shaking will “bruise” the gin. This comes out of a tradition of homeopathic medicine that imbues liquid with human properties.
Nevertheless, we thought we’d be the first people in history to subject the question to the rigours of science. Our scientists in the Remains of Style Laboratory (Belinda’s kitchen) mixed a double amount of stock and shook one half while stirring the other.
We fully expected the results to be identical. Imagine our shock and disappointment when the two samples came out distinctly different.
And worse, they agreed the older literature which said that the bradford should be cloudier version. And so it was; we had broken no new ground, only confirmed existing research. And, at first sip, the martini tasted stronger, possibly by virtue of being less chilled and less watery, although the distinction became less certain after repeated tastings.
We disposed of the gin-soaked olives, which were slightly less palatable than mezcal worms.