Today is National Dry Martini Day

Tuesday, June 19, 2012 - 3:00pm

For such a simple drink, the classic dry martini has an incredible amount of mystique surrounding it. And with today being National Dry Martini Day, let's celebrate the lore of a true classic. The history is muddled, even if the drink isn't; no one can agree who invented it or where it originated, and the recipe has evolved over the decades though it consists of just two main ingredients.

These would be gin and vermouth. Martinis made with vodka are a relatively recent variation, but they don't have as much flavor as ones made with gin. CNN producer and martini drinker Susan Chun advises, "for all you vodka martini lovers out there, try the gin martini. You'll never go back to vodka."

Despite the short ingredient list, you can produce endless variations on a theme. You can change up the proportions, garnish or technique. The only commonality is, according to cocktail maven David Wondrich, that everyone's preferred martini is different from everyone else's. Much like the universally held conviction that we are all above average drivers, Wondrich writes that "where mystique and simplicity collide, you get religion. Everyone swears their proportion of gin to vermouth, their choice of garnish, is the only true one; all others are in the way of heresy." So, how do you like your martini? It's your martini. Make it how you like.

Pick a gin you favor: there are several different styles, from the classic London Dry gins to the aromatic, light-bodied Plymouth, to the often softer New World-style gins with unconventional botanicals.

Don't be afraid of vermouth, either! It's not poison: your drink can contain vermouth and still be a dry martini. Vermouth is an aromatized wine-based product: it's wine with extra botanicals and herbs infused into it. A glass of dry vermouth on the rocks, with maybe a bit of seltzer or a lemon or orange slice, makes a refreshing low-alcohol summer drink. And since it's made with wine, vermouth can go bad; consider buying half-bottles and keeping them in the fridge rather than using that old dusty bottle that's been cooking at the end of the bar.

So we've got the gin and the vermouth, but how much of each to use? Some of the earliest martinis recorded were half gin and half vermouth. This "Fitty-Fitty" can be a fun and different variation if you're used to much drier martinis. If you make it with Plymouth Gin and mix it 2:1 and add some orange bitters, you have a Hoffman House, the signature cocktail of an old New York bar. As Prohibition approached in the 1930s, martinis got drier, and a 3:1 gin-to-vermouth ratio became more popular. By the 1950s, the prevailing ratio had moved to 5:1, and then the martinis got extra-dry: a 7:1 martini is also known as a Third Degree, and many martinis in the 1980s only had a miniscule splash of vermouth or none at all. Whatever proportions you use, consider adding a dash or three of orange bitters, which can really light up a martini and play with the gin's citrus flavors.

James Bond shook his martini instead of stirred, of course, but if you stir your cocktail, you'll get a crystal-clear drink with a different texture and no little bits of ice in the glass. What you're after is a bit of dilution to smooth out the drink, and you want that drink to be surgically cold. (And if you use a smaller glass rather than those big eight-ounce boats, you'll be able to finish your drink while it's still nicely chilled.)

And then it's time to pick your garnish. Some people are olive people, some prefer lemon twists, and then you've got the people who like cocktail onions, which transform a martini into a Gibson. Olives stuffed with blue cheese or smoked salmon can be awesome. Chun swears by hardboiled quail eggs in her martinis; she pickles them herself and says they're delicious soaked in gin.

Is it five o'clock yet?

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