“You are my Marilyn. You are my lake full of fishes. You are my sky set, my ‘Hollywood in Miniature,’ my pink Cadillac, my highway, my Martini, the stage for my heart to rock and roll on, the screen where my movies light up.”
Francesca Lia Block, Weetzie Bat
I’m off to see the new James Bond this month. Heaven only knows what my hero will be drinking these days, but I’m a traditionalist and in any case I happen to think that a good Martini cocktail is a damn good drink. Whatever Bond is imbibing now, I’m sticking to the knitting.
I remember the odd decade or so ago, on a business trip to New York, downing three at lunch – I was keeping pace with a man who was clearly a seasoned, regular imbiber – and thinking, as with Weetabix, that three was probably one too many. So discipline is required: you have to savour a dry Martini.
Shaken versus stirred?
I’m a massive fan of James Bond but I can’t really be doing with this ‘shaken, not stirred’ nonsense. I hate to sound pragmatic, but the shaken approach involves unnecessary washing up. And as W Somerset Maugham reasoned:
“a Martini should always be stirred, not shaken, so that the molecules lie sensuously on top of one another.”
And moving from the practical to the scientific, there are further arguments against shaking which takes the essential chill out of the drink. Science also dictates (metal conducts heat and cold away, wood does not) that a thin wooden spoon would be the implement to do the stirring rather than a metal one.
Even Fleming himself, in a letter to The Manchester Guardian, responding to its criticism that his novels were ‘symptomatic of a decline in taste’ admitted that he’d “had to fit Bond out with some theatrical props…. I proceeded to invent a cocktail for Bond (which I sampled several months later and found unpalatable”.
The correct proportions? I’m with Noel Coward…or maybe Ernest Hemmingway
Then there’s another contention – that of the proportions.
Some say one part Dry Martini to four parts gin, some say one to five, some one to six, while others mutter vaguely about waving the Martini bottle around (Noel Coward was less vague, specifying that the bottle should be waved in the direction of Italy where it came from).
At Harry’s Bar in Venice they make a martini which they call a Montgomery, so named by Ernest Hemingway after the British general who said he would fight the enemy only if he had fifteen soldiers to their one. That was Hemingway’s preferred proportion, although customers today get a proportion of 10:1 with the martinis being frozen in their glasses before serving. Harry’s Bar uses Carpano vermouth.
Historian, Bernard DeVoto, writing in the ’40s, specified his recommended proportion to be 3.7 parts gin – weak as that – on the grounds that “at any moment we may see the unicorn. But it would not be a Martini if we should see him”.
How to make the perfect dry Martini
You will need:
- Export strength gin, chilled. I like Bombay Saphire. I understand Ford’s is excellent. I go for the six parts proportions but see above
- Dry vermouth, also chilled. I cook with Noilly Prat so I use that
- A twist of lemon for garnish
- Optionally a dash or two of Angostura or Orange bitters – Adam Elmegirab’s Spanish bitters ideally
- Optionally an olive if you want a dirty martini – I usually leave this out especially if I’m using Noilly Prat which has a sort of ‘dirty’ taste of its own
Then all you have to do is to mix and garnish with the lemon.
A dry Martini must be fresh every time
DeVoto, has some more useful, and more poetic advice on this:
“you can no more keep a Martini in the refrigerator than you can keep a kiss”.
So don’t even think of making it ahead of time – it doesn’t keep.
Where’s the best place to have a martini made for you?
The place to have your classic martini cocktail made for you is probably Dry Martini in Barcelona – they’ve served up more than a million of them since 1978 so they’ve had a bit of practice.
Developments on the Martini theme but honestly, how can you improve on perfect?
Available at the Oxo Tower bar in London – PORNSTAR MARTINI – Crystal Head vodka shaken with passionfruit, vanilla syrup and lime juice. Served with a mini Crystal Head skull of OXO Brut Champagne. I promise to try it sometime!
A Cardinale combines six parts gin to one part dry vermouth to three parts Campari….
There’s a vodka Martini which uses vodka instead of gin….and so on…
One variation I can definitely vouch for is The Pig On The Beach Smoky Dirty Martini – one of the best cocktails I’ve ever tasted.
This post is dedicated to H and D du V de B
Below you will find the classic shaken not stirred request, and some sublime music by Vivaldi, which features in the new Spectre film to listen to as you sip appreciatively. Finally, don’t drink too many…otherwise you may suffer from the same symptoms Caro Emerald describes in Liquid Lunch.