Mixology Classics: Demystifying the Martini

The martini is undoubtedly a long standing staple in American culture, and it’s difficult to think of another cocktail that has a more sophisticated and glamorous reputation.

There’s no arguing that the martini is associated with a touch of class. From the suit-clad business man to the woman in stilettos, a martini in hand can elevate anyone’s persona. The timelessness of this cocktail has made it one of the most recognizable concoctions at the bar.

We’re not talking about apple-tinis or the like. This is all about the classic martini: vodka or gin, twist or olive, and vermouth - nothing more.


Why are martinis so popular?

While the origin of the martini has become shrouded in confusion, many attribute the martini’s rise in popularity to the American prohibition due to the ease of the illegal manufacturing of gin. Its popularity waned in the mid twentieth century because of the emergence of new cocktails,  but the martini’s prevalence surged again toward the end of the last century. It seems like it’s finally here to stay, and we’re not surprised.

Here’s some of the lingo you should know:

Dirty martinis: a fairly popular variation of the martini, the dirty martini uses olive brine for a salty flavor

Wet martinis: Wet martinis have more vermouth in the cocktail than your standard vodka or gin to vermouth ratio

Dry martinis: A dry martini simply means that the client prefers little vermouth in their cocktail.

Extra dry martinis: This variation is made with a small amount of vermouth that’s swirled around a chilled glass. Any excess vermouth is dumped from the glass, leaving only a touch of the flavor of vermouth.

Dirty ice: Clients who ask for “dirty ice” are asking for the ice used to stir or shake the martini. This ice is poured into a rocks glass and served alongside their cocktail to water and chill the drink at their pace

Gibsons: While technically not a martini, a Gibson is essentially a martini served with cocktail onions instead of olives or a lemon twist

How do I order a martini, anyways? 

When ordering a martini, there’s several pieces of information that the bartender should know. Make sure not to mess up your order, the class of the martini experience can easily be compromised by a confused patron!

Here’s what should be specified when ordering a martini:

Gin or Vodka?

Some variations of the cocktail include both gin and vodka. This was popularized in part to James Bond.

Shaken or Stirred?

Purely down to preference, though some would argue that stirred is the traditional and proper way to order this cocktail.

Straight up or On the Rocks?

A straight up martini is always served in a cocktail glass. A martini on the rocks is served in a rocks glass. 

Lemon Twist or Olive?

It should be noted that when garnishing a martini with olives, bartenders tend to use either one or three olives. It’s a common superstition that an even number of olives brings bad luck.

It may be a mouthful to order, but laying all of your preferences out in a clear manner helps both the bartender and the client. Prepare to spend a little time getting to know your bartender for this one, that’s a lot of questions to answer!

Shaken versus stirred martinis: what’s the difference?

Goldfinger.  Directed by Guy Hamilton (1964)

Goldfinger. Directed by Guy Hamilton (1964)

Traditionally, martinis were stirred as to not bruise the alcohol and to prevent excessive melting of the ice. Shaking a martini tends to water it down more than stirring would, although the decision is ultimately up to preference. Martini purists, however, would argue that stirred is the proper way to enjoy this classic cocktail. Sorry Bond!

Join us at our next bartending class to learn more about martinis, manhattans and more mixology basics.