Taking your Martini education beyond Bond level
First published in Prestige Magazine (Issue 100).
If you were to bring up the Martini in arbitrary conversation you’d likely get a response that alludes to James Bond. He’s almost come to own the drink and the drink him, such is the strength of their association. And it’s not difficult to understand why Ian Fleming imbued his famous superspy with this predilection. They fit like hand in glove. They’re both suave and sophisticated, they’re both single-mindedly serious (with a certain dry wit), and they both get the job done, always. The Martini has played no small part in fashioning the 007 legend, and he in turn has transported the drink into today’s popular imagination.
We thank him for it, for keeping the flame alive. At one time of course – for long stretches on either side of the Second World War beginning with the roaring twenties – the Martini was wildly popular of its own accord, the symbol of an unrestrained golden age of excess. It has ebbed since, but now, resurgent, is flowing again – perhaps though having evolved into a vehicle for discerning rather than uninhibited drinking.
In this new phase of its existence there seems to be real attention to quality. As an example you’ll be hard-pressed to find any credible establishment that recommends a shaken Martini, despite the influential force of Bond’s iconic prescription. Shaking risks overdilution, and introduces foamy agitation on what should be a static presentation. Some also say that it ‘bruises’ the gin, but what that means isn’t obviously discernible. That it’s still a drop-two-gears-surge of a drink is without question – this is a stiff injection of booze – but the balance has shifted somewhat to a greater appreciation of its other charms: it’s also cultivated, elegant, and, if made properly, outright delicious.
On how this should be accomplished you’ll find Martini aficionados often pitted against one another in passionate disagreements, but whilst differences abound, there is widespread consensus on two vital elements: that the botanical-loaded favours of gin make a more interesting (and varying) base than vodka’s bland neutrality (Movie Bond prefers vodka, but Book Bond drinks both), and that it should be drunk deep-chilled i.e. stirred with lots of ice, and dispensed in frozen glassware. The rest is down to personal preference, notably the ratio of vermouth to gin, which ranges from rinsing the ice in vermouth before discarding it, to the recent 50:50 trend. Noël Coward famously suggested that “a perfect martini should be made by filling a glass with gin, then waving it in the general direction of Italy”, but given that the best dry vermouths come from France rather than Italy this ill-informed opinion should be treated with some scepticism – gin without vermouth is just gin, not a Martini. The addition of bitters can be considered and dry sherry substituted for vermouth, although purists would sneer at both suggestions. Garnishes are essential and play a defining role; an expressed twist of lemon produces a completely different result to olives, and both to olive brine. In fact, such is their effect that the employment of another garnish, a cocktail onion, confers a distinct name to the drink: the Gibson. There’s much to be said for taking an open-minded position and evaluating all these options, in-field.
The Martini has persisted through the decades, with Bond’s help, for good reason: it is intrinsically exceptional, allowing it to weather fluctuations and impress itself on one generation after another. And once you’ve acquired a taste for it, you’ll be hooked for life. Ice breaker, conversation flamer, party blaster – it ticks all the boxes. Go forth and stir.
The PRESTIGE Martini (recipe makes two)
125ml Inverroche Classic Gin
25ml Dolin vermouth
Stir well with ice and strain into chilled glasses
Garnish each with three queen olives on a spear