A friend recently forwarded a link to a blog post for making a "perfect martini". Of course, his credibility went far downhill when it was revealed he is talking about making vodka "martinis", but there are some good pointers. So I figured I would repost my steps to martini nirvana. You really should use a high quality gin, but if you must make a vodkatini, you can still follow these steps.
- Most importantly, you need cold ingredients. This is where most bars fail. Store your vodka and gin in the freezer. Store your vermouth in the refrigerator (it's a wine, so it will freeze up solid if you put it in the freezer). You don't necessarily need to store your cocktail glasses in the freezer, although I do. If you put them in the ice tray about a half hour before you need them, you'll have nicely frosted glasses.
- Fresh, perfectly cracked, ice. Not ice that's been sitting in your freezer for months, slowly desiccating away, absorbing strange odors. And you need it cracked just the right size. Too big, and it won't chill things nicely. Too small, and it will water down your drink too much. Up until recently, I found the best tool for doing this was the Lewis Ice Bag. You put ice cubes in the heavy canvas bag, give it a few whacks with the wooden club, and you have correctly sized ice pieces. You can easily control how big or small the pieces are, just by how many times you whack it. It comes in a nice container, with some classic cocktail recipes, including the martini one I now use. Electric ice crushers don't work very well, as they tend to make the ice chips too small - more like slush than ice cubes, which means they melt too rapidly. But now I use the ice machine in our new refrigerator, which makes some pretty good crushed ice. Maybe a tad too small, but servicable nonetheless for making the perfect martini.
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- Top shelf ingredients. Because there is nothing masking the taste of the liquor in a great extra extra extra dry martini, you have to use great booze. We're a Bombay Sapphire family here. Tanqueray is a solid gin, especially the No. Ten label. We also recently enjoyed a bottle of Knockabout Gin from a nearby distillery, Ryan & Wood. Its 80 proof went over easier than the much stronger Bombay Sapphire. However, gin seems to be affecting us a little more and for a little longer, as we get older, so moderation is the key here. There just isn't enough taste to regular vodka to make it all that interesting as a martini. I'm not nearly as wedded to a premium vodka brand as I am to Sapphire as a gin. We've done some taste testings in the past, and while you could taste some differences, it was more that - a difference - and not something that would create a preference either way. I've enjoyed all the big names in premium vodkas, like Belevedre, Grey Goose (what is it with these liquor web sites? Addicted to Flash and asking a stupid question about how old you are, like they are pr0n peddlers or something), and the like. I also like Three Olives Vodka, for something that tastes great and is a good price. For a handcrafted vodka, try Tito's Handmade Vodka.
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- The vermouth you use is amazingly important, despite the fact the the modern martini uses very very little (the Winston Churchill martini recipe calls for gin in a cocktail glass, and then look at a bottle of vermouth:-). This is especially true for a vodka martini, with the (dry!) vermouth adding most if not all of the flavor. I'm a Noilly Prat man myself, even with the "new" formula. I guess we use little enough that it isn't badly affected by the complaint of a yellower, more aromatic vermouth. Besides, it is still a damn sight better than other commonly available vermouths, like Martini & Rossi or Stock. Remember, vermouth is a wine, so you need to keep it cold but it can also get old, which is why I don't stock up nor do I like buying the 1 liter bottles. Don't let it sit around in your refrigerator!
- Okay, now that you have your ingredients, it is time to make the drink. Put the perfectly cracked ice pieces into your cocktail shaker. I love to collect cocktail shakers, but I really only use the standard stainless steel tall cup, topped with a glass mug. Like James Bond, I like my martinis shaken not stirred. I used to stir it, but then I tried this recipe from the Lewis Ice Bag and have been shaking it ever since, never mind the tale about "bruised gin". Pour your cold vermouth into the shaker, give it a couple of vigorous shakes and then strain out all the vermouth you can get out, leaving just coated ice in there. That'll be plenty of vermouth.
- Now add your vodka or gin that you've pulled from the freezer. Don't be stingy, add plenty, because you have nice big cocktail glasses, chilling in the freezer right? Now shake it again, until your hand gets too cold to hold the steel cup. Set it aside to let it rest.
- While the martini is resting in the cocktail shaker, get out your olives. I don't like fancy olives. Give me a nice Queen pimento-stuffed green olive any day. All the other kinds add more flavors I don't want in my martini - anchovy, pepperoncini, bleu cheese, etc. I have to admit, we did try almond-stuff olives once. I figured the almonds wouldn't add flavor to the drink anyway. I still prefer standard ones. Put the olives (don't be stingy here either!) on a paper towel and squeeze. Try to dry them off. Again, you don't want olive brine to ruin your perfect martini, do you? While some (like FDR) like a "dirty" martini, where you actually add extra brine on purpose, the very idea of mangling a perfect cocktail like that makes my skin crawl. Stick the olives on a colorful toothpick and set them aside.
- Take your chilled cocktail glasses out of the freezer. You want a clear glass, so you can enjoy the transparent perfection of your creation. Don't hide it behind a colored cocktail glass please! Now strain your martini into the cocktail glasses. Don't worry about a few ice chips getting in there; that just adds to the beauty of the whole thing.
- Gently place your toothpick of olives into your cocktail glass and bask in the perfection that is a martini. Take a sip. It should almost take your breath away, even a vodka one. Freezing cold on the tongue, yet with a burning warmth down the throat. Ahhhh, I can taste it now!
So that's my process for making the perfect martini. And I've never gotten any complaints, either! The main thing is to use cold ingredients, the right vermouth and to make it dry.