The Martini in the modern age is one of the most misunderstood and poorly made drinks in the business, save for a handful of hotel bars, old world steakhouses, and a few old bars with grey-haired portly 60 year old bartenders sporting white button shirts and black bow ties.
A Martini is a type of cocktail. A cocktail is not necessarily a Martini. In 2012, a "cocktail" refers to a drink with a high concentration of alcohol and very little mixer as opposed to a "highball" or some other type of mixed drink. A "cocktail" is generally served in a Cocktail Glass (stem glass) – which is nearly always incorrectly referred to as a Martini glass.
"Cocktails" traditionally had a much different meaning, dating back to the late 1700's. Up until the last few decades, a cocktail always consisted of a spirit, sugar and bitters in some combination. No bitters = no cocktail. That tradition was born out of Colonial and Revolutionary times where (1) fierce was the battle to control spirits production and trade between Colonists and Imperial powers and (2) bitters was concocted by a number of gentlemen to aid in digestion. Naturally, the two found each other and the ideal marriage was born.
There are wildly varying stories surrounding its origin. They run the gamut from (a) an American soldier mixing them in his helmet way back during WWI to (z) the Occidental Hotel bar story out of the late 1800's . Not so coincidentally, this is the same hotel where the king of all bartenders, the legendary Jerry Thomas, created his legend and left his legacy. Whatever the case, a Martini is nothing but gin and dry vermouth. For whatever reason, over the last decade or so, the Martini name has been slapped on hundreds of homegrown cocktails. I speculate that the popularity of vodka and it's incorporation into the Martini lexicon has been a result of (1) creative marketing (2) the disregard many younger folks have for juniper and other gin flavors (3) the "skinny bitch" mentality and the misconception that vodka somehow won't contribute to your jelly roll and finally (4) the belief that vodka, unadulterated by flavorings, leads to less severe hangovers. Who knows for sure?
When most folks under 40 have rolled up to my bar and wanted a Martini, they've often had some preconceived (incorrect) notions of what I should be preparing them. For example, most girls will approach the bar and say something like "dirty Martini please." What 99% of them really want is a dirty vodka Martini. On the same token, many folks will ask for our "Martini list." While I confess many, many bars have Martini lists, it's really a butchery of the name. These should really be called "Cocktail Lists." Just because certain drinks are in a cocktail glass (e.g., French 75, Sidecar, Metropolitan, etc.), does not make them a Martini.
In reality, a Martini is just a fancy/pretty way for alcoholics to get high as hell as quickly as possible while not looking like a drunk seeking a fix. They look "sophisticated." Howver, guzzling a bottle of Georgi Vodka or Gordons Gin from a paper bag whilst straddling a milk crate in front of Guzman's bodega has the exact same physiological effects. I guess life is all about appearances right? A Martini is a bargain at most bars in that you're getting twice the alcohol for significantly less than paying for a double or two shots. Typically, that translates into a dollar or two more than your standard (single shot) mixed drink. Now if you're a big dummy, and there are millions of you out there, and order, for example, a double shot of Hendricks, you'll pay maybe $24. Conversely, ordering a Hendricks Martini might cost you $14 while getting you exactly the same amount of booze.
When a customer orders a Martini unqualified, your responses should be:
- "Vodka or gin?"
- "Straight up or on the rocks?"
- "Olive or twist?"
- "We have [gin/vodka] brands a,b,c, and d. Which would you like?"
If you don't ask these 4 specific questions, you're doing both your customer and the bar a disservice. Quite often, you will also find yourself remaking the drink.
- 2.5oz Gin (sub vodka if asked to)
- .5oz Dry Vermouth
You'll get various opinions on the proportions here but this is how I make them. There has been a general movement particularly with vodka drinkers to make the Martini dryer and dryer (meaning less and less Vermouth). I don't know why – I love Vermouth. You may occasionally get a qualified order akin to "in and out" or "very dry." What that means is Vermouth is added to the glass shaker first, dumped out or very little is added to the mixture.
Note from the quantities above that a Martini, and many other "cocktails" have double the amount of alcohol as most other drinks (1.5oz of 80 proof liquor, 12oz of beer and 5oz of wine). As a professional server, you must consider your customers potential for getting shit-faced, as well as your legal/moral responsibilities to keep them safe. I've seen some skinny guys put down 10 Martinis in a sitting in my early days of bartending – before I knew how or had the balls to cut people off.
The first thing you need to drill into your brain about a Martini is that is should be served as cold as possible. The first step in that process is to ensure you have an ice cold cocktail glass in which to serve it. Ideally, you will have a dedicated glass chiller (fridge), often found in high-end bars. If not, before you mix any ingredients, scoop some ice into your cocktail glass and and let it chill for a minute or two.
In your glass shaker, pour in your gin and vermouth. Fill with ice – the more the better. More ice equals more surface area for your liquor to contact and therefore, a colder beverage. Now back in the day, I'd venture to say most Martinis were stirred at this point with a bar spoon (twisty looking long spoon) in the glass shaker. However, this results in a Martini not nearly as cold as the alternative mixing method – shaking. You have a certain fictional, MI8, licensed-to-kill, super spy to thank for popularizing the shaken Martini. A Martini shouldn't have chunks of ice cube floaties. Shake it gently but for an adequate time that the metal shaker is bite-ass cold.
Every once in a blue moon, you'll get a big fat 6'7" annoying suit or a 4'5" 70'ish year old lady in a mink coat complaining of "bruising" while you shake. It's bullshit. What they really want to say is that they believe you're watering down the booze. These jokers belong in AA. There is no such thing as bruising. The colder the better. Ice meltage accounts for about 20 – 25% of volume in the time you're making your Martini. That's not "watered down" in my book. But, whatevs - accommodate their special requests.
Before straining, garnish your glass with either an olive (or 3) on a toothpick or with a lemon twist. Do not stick your fingers in the olive tray to skewer your olives – that's nasty. Do not use a sip straw for your garnish – that's ghetto. For presentation, I personally prefer not to use a strainer. Instead, I break open the glass/metal shaker combination, right in front of Joe Customer – being a tad showy. When you get the pour exactly right (as I mostly do) customers will love you for it. This is more difficult to do when forced to make several Martinis simultaneously. Do what you can. You can also use the Julip strainer with the glass shaker, or the Spring strainer with the large metal shaker you've just used.
Alternative garnish #1: Twists. For some reason, many folks believe a "twist" is something it's not. Customers often ask for twists when what they really mean is that they want a lemon wedge/slice with their drink. Worse, I'll sometimes get a request for lime twist which is plain stupid and nearly useless.
Give them an actual "twist" and utter confusion will be displayed on their faces. A "twist" is a semi-long piece of lemon skin/zest, usually, that is pushed together with force and twisted (hence the name) to force lemon oil out of the skin. You then rub this oil on the rim of the Martini glass and proceed to drop it in the glass prior to straining. The lemon oil will subtly change the characteristics of the drink. Orange twists/peels are often used in other drinks in the same method.
Twists are best prepared at the beginning of your shift behind the scenes. For one, they take time to make. Secondly, there is the sanitation issue. If you don't have a dedicated twist knife (available at any bar/restaurant supplier), you will be using a knife and spoon or perhaps a knife and your fingers. It's best to wear gloves during prep time to keep things clean and to minimize "bar rot." Routine exposure to citric acid will quickly destroy your skin and separate your nails! Eeewwwww!
Alternative garnish #2: Onions – Pearl Onions (little guys) specifically. Substitute pearl onions for olives or lemon twist and you suddenly have a Gibson. I love 'em more than Martinis. The problem in most bars I've frequented is that very, very few people know about or order Gibsons. As a result, the Pearl Onion jar may be several years old! Yuck! Again, the OCD "old man" bars will sometimes pickle their own (yum!) rather than sell out and buy chemically preserved, crappy, food service junk.
Final thoughts: Practice your Martini making. Get a detailed order from your customer before setting out to make the drink. Serve it as cold as possible. Presentation is critical. Don't go walking across the bar with a filled, wobbling Martini and spill 1/3 of it on the bartop. Drink up!