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Here's Everything You Need To Know About Martinis

Rule number one: Never let a Martini snob tell you you're doing it wrong.

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But for a drink with only two ingredients, there's a LOT of contention about how to make one.

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Do you shake it or stir it? Do you make it with gin or vodka? Do you serve it with a lemon twist or olives? HOW DIRTY IS TOO DIRTY?

There are so many questions and so many strong opinions out there.

We asked Jared Brown, master distiller of Sipsmith gin, co-author of Shaken Not Stirred: A Celebration of the Martini, and all-round Martini expert, for his tips:

Fun fact: Jared and his wife Anistasia also wrote the cocktail trivia in the DVD release of the James Bond film Dr No.


1. The classic Martini is made with gin, NOT vodka.

Laura Gallant / BuzzFeed

"Gin was the original spirit in a Martini. A Martini is always made with gin. A vodka Martini is made with vodka. The Vesper Martini – the first drink to appear in Casino Royale, Ian Fleming's first Bond book, and made famous by Gilberto Preti of Duke's bar – is made with both vodka and gin."

2. The first Martini recipe we know of appeared in 1888, and is very different to the Martinis we know today.

Laura Gallant / BuzzFeed

"No one has ever tracked down the inventor of the Martini or else there would be a monument and his birthday would be a global holiday. The first recipe appeared in the 1888 edition of Harry Johnson’s New and Improved Bartender's Manual, and was made with equal parts gin and sweet vermouth, a drop of absinthe, a dash of sugar syrup, a drop of orange bitters, and garnished with a cherry. Now, it's simply gin and vermouth (or vodka and vermouth) diluted with ice, and garnished.

"The first dry Martini (made with dry vermouth) showed up in 1895, but the dry Martini we know today (made with less vermouth) was popularised in the early '40s, because vermouth was in short supply. Vermouth is made in France and Italy; during that time the French Vichy government was prohibitionist and Italy's leader, Mussolini, was teetotal. So, vermouth-making was prohibited, both governments banned exports of the stuff, and there was a shortage."

3. "Dry" means two things: the type of vermouth you use, and how much vermouth you use.

Laura Gallant / BuzzFeed

"Dry originally meant that a Martini was made with dry vermouth; this separated the dry Martini from the first Martini, which was made with sweet vermouth.

"Today, there are three-kinds of vermouth-based Martini: A sweet Martini is made with sweet vermouth, a dry Martini is made with dry vermouth, and a perfect Martini has a little bit of sweet and dry in it.

"But dry can now also refer to how much vermouth is in the Martini – a dry Martini has less vermouth, a 'wet' Martini has more."

4. There's no "right" or "wrong" gin to use: Choose a gin based on your flavour preference.

Laura Gallant / BuzzFeed

"Gin is as broad a category as whisky or rum. There are all sorts of styles available, from light and floral to heavy and piney, citrus-driven, dry to surprisingly sweet. In general, I prefer a classic London dry profile with balanced pine, citrus, floral, and earthy notes in my Martini.

"If you want a traditional flavour profile, choose Sipsmith, Tanqueray, Beefeater, or Bombay Dry (the one in the clear bottle), to name but a few.

"If you want a citrus-driven gin, go for Tanqueray 10, Damrak, or Beefeater 24. Floral gins include Martin Miller’s, Bloom, Geranium, and Hendrick's with its famous rose and cucumber flavours added after distillation. For spicy flavours, Opihr is your gin. For both a sweeter and spicier drink, choose an Old Tom-style gin.

"I have an enormous advantage, as I spent years tailoring a gin to my own palate – Sipsmith. Drink your way through all the possible choices until you've found your favourite, or have reached the same conclusion as me – that Sipsmith is the best."


5. The key to a good Martini is using fresh vermouth.

Laura Gallant / BuzzFeed

"To me, the ideal recipe for a Martini is about four parts gin to one part vermouth. But more importantly, the best Martini is made with fresh vermouth. Vermouth is a wine; it breathes, it rots, it dies. You wouldn’t reach into the back of the liquor cabinet, find a half-empty bottle of chardonnay that’s been sitting there for six months and drink it (or at least I hope you wouldn't). Vermouth is the same alcohol strength.

"Once you open a bottle keep it in the fridge. Or, if you want to make the world’s best Martinis, buy miniature bottles of vermouth and open a fresh one for every round."

6. Keep your vermouth in the fridge once it's opened.

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"Vermouth that's been opened will last about a week on the shelf at room temperature. Refrigerating will extend the life of a bottle 10 to 15 times, so a bottle of vermouth will last 10 to 15 weeks if it's kept in the fridge.

"If you walk into a bar and see the vermouth displayed proudly on the back bar, order a beer, not a Martini. But if you don't see the vermouth, that means it's in the fridge, where it should be."

7. Martini vermouth inspired the Martini cocktail and it's still the best vermouth to use in it.

Laura Gallant / BuzzFeed

"Martini vermouth was the original vermouth in the drink – that’s where the name Martini cocktail comes from, and why the drink name is traditionally capitalised. It still makes a great Martini and the vermouth is excellent despite the rather low price. Noilly Prat is another popular vermouth for Martinis. The difference between the two is Martini is bottled without being aged in barrels. Noilly Prat spends about 18 months in used oak barrels in the Mediterranean sun.

"Other great dry vermouth options these days include Dolin, Cocchi (plus their Cocchi Americano), VYA from California, Belsazar from Germany, and many others."

8. Vodka Martinis came into popularity in the 1950s.

"American journalists in Tehran invented the vodka Martini in 1933 by attempting to improve rough Russian vodka with even rougher local vermouth. The first good vodka Martini emerged a year later in America, in a post-prohibition cocktail competition.

"The vodka Martini was then popularised by Hitchcock’s film North by North West, when in the opening scene Carey Grant drank vodka Martinis in the Plaza Hotel. That scene launched a craze for them.

"Vodka became the spirit of choice again in the 1980s when Absolut took over the club scenes. It wasn’t until Bombay Sapphire came along that there was a gin to match it, and gin began to take back its rightful place in the Martini."


9. Vodka Martinis should use a vodka that's smooth and warming but doesn't burn.

Laura Gallant / BuzzFeed

"Belvedere and Belvedere Unfiltered are both rich and round and full of flavour. They both make a great Vodka Martini. Grey Goose makes an elegant drink, too.

"My personal preference is my Sipsmith Sipping Vodka, though. It's made with pure English wheat and finished in Prudence, our original still. There’s a certain magic when grain spirit spends time inside a copper still. Copper is highly reactive and gives the spirit a superior flavour. Our vodka is very creamy, with hints of vanilla and marshmallow, finishing with a bit of spice. It’s warming but it doesn’t burn. Good spirits warm, bad spirits burn."

10. Martinis are traditionally garnished with either a lemon twist or olives, but you can get creative if you want.

Laura Gallant / BuzzFeed

"The classic garnishes are the lemon twist and olives. If you're going the olives route, Nocellara are best, as they give off very little flavour in the drink, and also capture a bit of the gin and vermouth. The first Martini, however, was garnished with a cherry – be sure to use Luxardo, not one of those bleached-white-and-dyed-red imitations.

"But really, the sky's the limit. I've been served Martinis garnished with a black truffle slice, a small octopus tentacle, a slice of strawberry, a slice of grilled apple, an olive stuffed with blue cheese, another stuffed with a garlic clove, another stuffed with an anchovy. One early variation of the Martini was garnished with a circle of orange peel. You can have both a twist and olives. You can have a Martini with no garnish at all. Choose whatever makes you happiest."

11. If you're using a lemon twist garnish, don't touch the rim of the glass with it.

Laura Gallant / BuzzFeed

"I’m partial to a lemon twist cut thin and squeezed directly over the Martini to release the oils. I prefer not having it rubbed around the rim as that adds a bitter taste I find off-putting. The oils released from squeezing are really all you need.

"I'd say a twist is the best garnish for a Martini. It gives the flavour of lemon flowers on it. As Kurt Vonnegut said in Breakfast of Champions, 'I looked down and there were thousands of smiling eyes looking back at me, and I realised, they were the drops of lemon oil glistening on the top of my Martini.'"

12. A Martini garnished with a pickled onion is called a Gibson.

"Many people think the Gibson cocktail is a reference to the Gibson Girls, but that's not true. In fact, it was made by Richard Gibson who created the drink at the Bohemian Club in San Francisco.

"The Gibson is just a Martini garnished with a pickled onion. The olive and lemon garnishes came in during the formative years of the Martini, and because of that no one thought to rename it, which is why they don't get their own name. Plus, Mr Gibson was rather well-known... The Klondike, inspired by the discovery of Alaskan gold mines, is a Martini garnished with a round slice of orange peel, but no one remembers that one."


13. Vodka Martinis should have less vermouth and be served with a lemon twist.

Laura Gallant / BuzzFeed

"A vodka Martini should generally contain a bit less vermouth (about six parts vodka to one part dry vermouth), and I really prefer a lemon twist, because the vodka is softer and doesn't have the botanical backbone that can stand up to olives. However, this is just personal preference. There’s nothing wrong with olives in a vodka Martini either."

14. It's totally OK to eat your garnish – just be sure to eat it first, and with confidence.

Laura Gallant / BuzzFeed

"It's never uncouth to eat your garnish as long as you do it with authority. If it's a lemon twist, look them in the eye when you do it... but don't do it twice as lemon twists taste awful.

"It's best to eat olives or onions placed in your Martini at the start, or to set them aside; otherwise they keep adding flavour, and will warm up the drink as they're usually warmer than the freshly mixed Martini or Gibson."

15. When it comes to Martinis, there is such a thing as too dirty.

Emma Cooke / BuzzFeed

"If you add too much olive brine, you’re in danger of running out of space for the gin and vermouth. Usually four to five bar spoons of olive brine do the trick, but you can add one or two more if you like.

"If you want the world's best Martini though, buy a jar of olives, then discard half the brine and replace it with dry vermouth. Let the jar rest in the fridge for a week, and you’ll have vermouth-soaked olives and brine you can use in place of straight vermouth."

16. The best way to keep a Martini cold is to serve it in a small glass.

Laura Gallant / BuzzFeed

"A Martini should be finished before it has a chance to warm up. If you find your Martini is going warm before you've finished it, try using smaller cocktail/Martini glasses and serving smaller Martinis. Then, if they're made correctly, they’ll stay perfectly cold all the way to the bottom.

"You can add an ice cube to your Martini, but it’s more traditional to drink it 'up' (without ice) in a Martini glass. The most effective way to chill your Martini without serving it over ice is to put ice and water into the glasses you'll be serving in. Ice on its own will only chill the glass at the points where it touches it. Ice water touches the whole surface area of the glass, so will chill the whole glass. Never pour a Martini into a warm or room-temperature glass."

Editor's suggestion: If you want to re-chill a half-drunk Martini without adding ice, take a freshly chilled glass and pour it into that!


17. If you're making Martinis, buy some ice from the supermarket.

Laura Gallant / BuzzFeed

"It's always worth buying ice from the shop. It will always be fresh, made from filtered water, and tempered by raising and lowering the temperature below freezing, which makes it last longer than ice from your freezer.

"Plus, if your home ice is crusted with the remnants of the curry from last month it's been sitting next to, your Martinis are not going to taste right."

18. Shaken or stirred are both fine; it's up to your personal preference.

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"These days, most bartenders will tell you a Martini should never, never, NEVER be shaken. However, back in the Mad Men days and for decades before then, shaken Martinis were just as common and known as Bradfords.

"A shaken Martini will be cloudy and brighter in flavour because of the increased aeration. It will have a flotilla of tiny icebergs on top unless it is 'double strained' (poured from the shaker through a tea strainer and into the glass). A stirred Martini might not be quite as cold, but it will be perfectly clear and have a slightly thicker consistency.

"As to whether shaken or stirred is better, in the words of Dick Bradsell: 'Make a Martini exactly as the person drinking it would prefer.' Enjoy the Martini you like to drink thoroughly and never let a Martini snob tell you you're doing it wrong."

19. The first Martinis weren't stirred or shaken; they were thrown.

Laura Gallant / BuzzFeed

"Ironically, the first Martinis were not shaken or stirred, they were thrown. Throwing is a very old mixing technique; old enough that it appears on ancient Greek pottery and ancient Egyptian marble carvings. The Incas also used this technique to froth their drinking chocolate.

"It consists of letting the drink fall from a mixing glass or tin held as high as possible into another held as low as possible. The high one is filled with ice, held back by a cocktail strainer so that only the liquid cascades down. This process can be repeated six to seven times. Then the drink is perfectly chilled, has more aeration than a shaken drink, but still has the clarity of a stirred drink."

20. Only ever buy spirits you like the taste of – there's no point cutting costs if you don't enjoy drinking what you've bought.

Laura Gallant /BuzzFeed

"Have you burned your palate on vindaloos for 30 years? Then you can drink anything. But in general, a drink will only ever be as good as the least of its ingredients.

"So use the freshest vermouth and the best gin. By 'best' I don't mean the most expensive. The most expensive gin in this world is, to be honest, not the best. Use a gin you like the taste of – buy a cheap gin if you like the taste of it, but don't buy it just because it's cheap!"

N.B. If you want to find out how to put together the perfect, price-friendly home bar, click here.


21. The best time to drink a Martini is at the end of the work day.


"Unlike an aperitif, which is soft and bitter and prepares your body for a meal, a Martini is a cocktail. A cocktail is a social anaesthetic. It marks the end of the work day by ensuring that you’ll be in no condition to return to work or to even discuss it coherently after drinking a few of them – it's not socially acceptable to walk out the office and shoot each other with a tranquilliser dart, so instead we have a Martini.

"Personally though, I subscribe to the rule that you should drink a Martini when your glass is empty."

22. If you want something a little different, there are hundreds of Martini variations to try.

Laura Gallant / BuzzFeed

"I found a few hundred variations on the Martini all invented before the second world war. There have been far more created since then. Many of them are superb, but I'd start with the sloe gin Martini, the Martinez, and the Arnaud.

"For a sloe gin Martini, add equal parts sloe and dry gin, plus a half measure of dry vermouth. The Martinez was born about the same time as the Martini and includes touches of maraschino liqueur and orange curaçao. The Arnaud, created in Paris in 1920, is made with equal parts dry gin, dry vermouth, and creme de cassis, and is delicious."

23. It's OK to play with your martini.

Laura Gallant / BuzzFeed

"There was a time that every bartender made a Martini a little bit differently, and you went to that bar to appreciate his particular recipe; just like you'd go to a restaurant to appreciate a chef's particular carbonara. You don't go to a restaurant because the chef makes a carbonara exactly the way everyone else makes a carbonara – you go because he's got his own unique take. It's the same for classic drinks.

"Leave it up to the bartender. Let them make you their ideal Martini, and learn from them. And when it comes to the Martini recipe, don't be scared to deviate."