Clear or pale yellow in a distinct martini glass with the signature olive or lemon twist. It’s classy, decisive, no frills. A drink for the discerning palate, for those ready to get right down to relaxing...but not for the faint-hearted who might cringe at the strength of it. A drinker’s drink because there is no masking the taste of alcohol; but a balanced burn for the connoisseurs.
Martini fans enjoy the ritual of the process starting with selecting just 2-3 bottles from the bar. A dash, two splashes, and eyeballing a third. Shaken, not stirred, if you want a more diluted effect from the ice -- of which Bond was apparently a fan. The chill of the stainless shaker lid in your hands and the unmistakable crash of ice on glass. The thrill and pop of the seal breaking and anticipation of refreshment while pouring through the strainer. The freshness of a twist, turned by hand to release the lemon oil that floats gently on top of the drink -OR- the hearty plop of a briny green olive.
From the clean, crisp lemony flavors on the nose, the classic gin martini is an invitation to tickle your tastebuds, to discern the gin maker’s infusion of juniper and various botanicals, and to revel in the simplicity while the stress of the day melts away. If you go with olive, enjoy it after the last sip, which is when this quintessential aperitif tells your appetite it’s time for dinner!
Two ingredients that most bars have: a decent gin and some dry vermouth in a ratio of 5:1. Perhaps a dash of orange bitters. Shake. Pour. Decide “Oliver Twist?” One to three green olives or a long spiral strip of lemon peel. Boom. Time to savor your crafted libation! If you don’t have “fancy” bar equipment, you’ll just need a glass, ice, and a knife for the lemon. I deftly peeled a nice, long pith-free strip of lemon thanks to my plastic Pampered Chef orange peeler I found hiding in the back of a kitchen drawer. I enjoyed seeing the oils release under the pressure from my fingertips as I spiraled the peel. I adore lemons and they’re always on hand, but I’m up for trying olives next time which will easily keep in the fridge for their future use.
This is not a vodka drink designed to deceptively taste like fake red fruit punch for college drinking parties. Remember, friends, this is classy and elegant sipping! Thankfully, the very low sugar content and lack of additives will keep you guilt and headache free. This easy drink doesn’t require maraschino cherries (bleh!), exotic liqueur, muddling, creme de anything, a blender, an umbrella, smoke, sugar cubes, nor any other complication. You could even simply stir (the more manly approach touted by critic’s of Bond’s preference) the 2-3 ingredients and go.
With so few ingredients there isn’t room for poor quality and it’s time for your gin to shine. I’ll offer some pointers for those who might find themselves overwhelmed while staring at the shelves of clear liquid in unique bottles in the gin aisle. Once, in an attempt to be overly frugal, I grabbed an $8/1.75L bottle of Fleischmann's Gin. Hand sanitizer and notes of rubbing alcohol come to mind...Eh, let’s use this for the bottom of a Long Island Iced Tea, to remove ink from your carpet, or to keep your Christmas tree alive (True story: the year we added a tablespoon or so of gin when watering was the year our tree lasted to Valentine’s Day with nary a needle on the carpet). Or use inexpensive gin as a base for infusing your own flavors and herbs ripe from the garden, perfect for gift giving. When I make French 75’s, we find that a few dollars more for Gilbey’s Gin at $14/1.75L isn’t a bad option as the champagne and lemon juice overpower most nuances in better gin. We all know Tanqueray, Bombay, and Beefeater as solid choices which will cost around $30/1.75L.
But, my hubby, Marshall, did a bit of research and thoughtfully presented me with a bottle of Monkey 47 Schwarzwald Dry Gin for our martini tasting experiment. It.is.exceptional! I actually had admired it on previous shopping trips and was unwilling to spring for the $40/375mL price tag. In a sea of blue and green botanical colors on clear bottles, the berry hue of the label on a dark bottle stands out, as should “the world’s most expensive gin.”
Marshall’s selection was on the money and I am entranced by the claim of this 47% ABV gin’s recipe “to unite great British traditions, the exoticness of India, and the purity and nativeness of the Black Forest...In total, 47 handpicked ingredients, prepared in extremely soft spring water from our own Black Forest source, give MONKEY 47, whose pièce de résistance is the use of local lingonberries as some sort of “secret weapon” typical to the Black Forest, it’s unrivaled complexity and quality, which is fully brought to bear through masterly distillation and maturing in traditional earthenware containers...with the distinct and pure scent of juniper, a tangy and crisp citrus note, a sweet, floral aroma, a hint of peppery spices, subtle bitter fruit, and a deep and harmoniously balanced complexity with a tremendously racy finish!”
Reviewers found Monkey 47 to be very smooth when mixed, wasted in tonic, and best appreciated neat. My husband picked up on the light floral and berry notes just from popping the bottle, itself reminiscent of an 1800’s apothecary decanter. It was bright but in no way sickly syrupy sweet or obnoxiously fake as I find many flavored liquors (the subtle taste owing to the natural use of botanicals). For purists and the health conscious: gin is not allowed to be made with artificial flavors or colors and has no sugar! We paired five parts Monkey 47 with one part Italian Martini & Rossi dry vermouth, a dash of bitters, and a lemon twist. The best of England, India, Germany, and Italy in my glass was simply lovely!
Gin Martinis are incredibly versatile. Experiment with different gins in your martini as they each have uniquely infused botanicals and secret recipes made by various distilling methods. You can read more about the magic of the process in this infographic. In addition to the requisite juniper giving the distinct piney taste, other top botanicals often used are coriander, angelica, lemon, orange, orris root, cardamom, licorice, cassia bark, and cinnamon. Fully a third of Monkey 47’s botanicals are native to the Black Forest! You may enjoy their clever story and beautiful style on their homepage.
These days gin martinis are made with everything from floral riesling to tart kombucha, lychee syrup, honey, lemon juice, wasabi, cucumber, lavender, and rose petals! Now that we have explored the foundation of gin martinis, have fun with ingredients, brands, ratios, and garnishes. Grab a bottle of Chef Brendon's favorite Barr Hill Gin, made with raw honey, so it's perfect for those lemon and honey martini recipes. They even have a barrel aged version! A diverse selection of Gin Martini reipes can be found over at Spruce Eats for your sampling pleasure. Be adventurous and ask your bartender create a martini just for you and your taste!
Screenplay writer Kristen Fischer notes, “On film sets the last set up of the day is called the ‘Martini Shot’ so named because ‘the next shot would be out of a glass!’ This long-standing tradition marked the end of a hard workday and the transition into nighttime festivities. Much like in Hollywood, martinis are a fabulous way to unwind from an exhausting day or to start your evening. Classic, dirty, wet, or any other variation, this cocktail always makes you feel sophisticated and a little dangerous!”