National dry martini day
June 19th, 2012
09:00 AM ET
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While you're frying up some eggs and bacon, we're cooking up something else: a way to celebrate today's food holiday.

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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Filed under: Breakfast Buffet • Food Holidays • News • Sip • Spirits

soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. JC

    "James Bond shook his martini instead of stirred"

    Only in the movies. In the books on which the movies are based, Bond always ordered "stirred, not shaken". It was changed for the movie because it sounded better when spoken. Similar to how John Wayne changed "load and lock" to "lock and load".

    June 19, 2014 at 2:21 pm |
    • JC

      Also, try storing your bottles of gin in the freezer. "Surgically cold" Martinis indeed.

      June 19, 2014 at 2:24 pm |
      • ORChuck

        Vodka and light rum are also just about always better ice-cold, so store them in the freezer. And no, they won't freeze... they're 80+ proof.

        June 19, 2014 at 3:29 pm |
    • The Observation

      Until Casino Royale Bond didn't drink gin. He's a wus when it comes to martinis, he only drinks vodka. By shaking a martini it gets colder, but it also adds more water – whimpy whimpy whimpy

      With the Vesper, he's right, its good thinking martini, doesn't even whisper vermouth over it.
      Again he is wrong on one note, Potato vodka beats grain spirits by a large margin. Scientifically ethanol is ethanol but preferences prevail.

      June 19, 2014 at 3:12 pm |
      • ORChuck

        "Until Casino Royale?" No. Bond actually starts with Casino Royale.

        And don't forget that there are actually three movie versions of Casino Royale in addition to the book.

        June 19, 2014 at 3:31 pm |
      • ORChuck

        And as for the Vesper Martini, I'm afraid that it's lost in time. You can't make one today.

        The Gordon's Gin Bond (Ian Fleming) calls out has been reformulated. And Kina Lillet is no longer made (The very-similarly-packaged product you can buy today is, if you read the label carefully, Lillet Blanc. It's sweeter and softer. Most importantly, it lacks the quinine note of Kina Lillet which gives a proper Vesper Martini its famous "bitter aftertaste."

        June 19, 2014 at 3:39 pm |
  2. Ally

    I'm more of a vodka martini gal. I find that gin sometimes has an unpleasant taste. But bring on the olives and olive juice!

    June 19, 2014 at 1:22 pm |
    • ORChuck

      Try a blend. I often like 3 parts Vodka and 1 part Gin. This gives the character of the Gin without the overwhelming strength it can have straight.

      June 19, 2014 at 3:41 pm |
  3. aspblom

    Martinis were originally made by Vikings in the 800's. They used frozen human blood

    June 19, 2014 at 11:00 am |
    • The Observation

      distilled fermented blood of their vanquished. I still have a bottle.

      June 19, 2014 at 3:13 pm |
  4. Cavale

    I prefer Tomolives (those little green pickled tomatoes) with my Extra Dry Sapphire Martini. Actually, just a 'mist' of vermouth, I use a little cobalt blue mister that I keep in the refrigerator, so its always ready to go, Then, hand shaken so you can skate across the top. And why wait for 5'O Clock,? And always on Saturdays when sailing back from Malibu on Blue Norther (Some of the crew prefers Grey Goose, but that just means there is always more Sapphire Gin for me). Is it Saturday?

    June 20, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  5. Mark Glicker

    This should be a national holiday.

    June 19, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
  6. tsenator

    Are you SURE you got that right ?! I've been to classic Gin Drinking events where the well known " sommelier" (or alcoholic expert equivalent) said that the MORE vermouth the drier the martini is. Which makes a LOT of sense because the vermouth "dries" out the taste – not the Gin or Vodka

    June 19, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • tsenator

      As a reference here is the history of how strangely adding "More Dry" vermouth now makes a martini "Less Dry"...LOL Link below -- > " Nick Van Tiel from Behind Bars says: “If you look back in history, the ‘dry’ Martini was more likely to be a reference to a shift from using sweet vermouth (as in the Martinez cocktail) to using dry vermouth, not a reference to the amount of vermouth used. Back in the old school days it was likely that distillers were, in general, much better at making aromatised wines like vermouth than Gin or Vodka. So, these spirits were probably added in much smaller quantities to lift the alcohol content of the cocktail, and over time as the popularity of white spirits overtook that of vermouth, the ratio of vermouth to gin slowly reversed and evolved into the ridiculous measure that we see today.” Read the whole story and real information here ! ->

      June 19, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
  7. Steves


    June 19, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
  8. AleeD®

    Susan Chun advises, “for all you vodka martini lovers out there, try the gin martini. You’ll never go back to vodka.”

    Annnnnnnn that's where you lost me. Did you ever stop to think that there may be people out there who can't stand the taste of gin?

    June 19, 2012 at 9:27 am |
    • Sir Biddle@AleeD

      10-1 odds you love dirty martinis?

      June 19, 2012 at 9:33 am |
      • AleeD®@Sir Bid

        HA! Never had one, but I like the way you think. ~_~

        June 19, 2012 at 9:58 am |
        • Craig

          I'm with you! I hate Gin. It's what I imagine drinking Kerosene would be like. I prefer a Vodka martini – dirty and straight up. 'Dirty' means it uses olive brine instead of vermouth. If you like salty foods, you'd probably like a dirty martini.

          June 19, 2014 at 12:44 pm |
        • The Observation

          I've tasted kerosene by accident, when siphoning diesel fuel out of a tank (RH, I bet that happened to you but it wasn't me). Gin is far more palatable an leaves a no oily after taste. Have you ever eaten a pine tree? That's what some gins taste like. Have you ever sucked on a lemon? Some gins taste like that too. Gins have a vibrancy that few other spirits do. I mean rum, by gum, tastes like rum and tequilla – the real stuff, will never taste like bourbon – do you see where I'm going? Gin is almost like the wine of spirits because so many different formulas of botanical can be distilled with it. I can have three different bottles of gin and each one tastes unique.

          June 19, 2014 at 3:25 pm |
        • The Observation

          And I can have three different bottles of vodka and after the first sip they all taste the same because at the point the nuances of triple distillation and filtering through charcoal or clay can not alter the flavor of pure ethanol and that is just what vodka is.

          June 19, 2014 at 3:29 pm |
    • ORChuck

      Straight gin can be overwhelmingly strong. Try a blend. I often like 3 parts Vodka and 1 part Gin. this gives some of the character and complexity of the Gin, but tones it down a bit.

      It is a myth that Vodka is tasteless. No. Bad Vodka has bad flavors. And good Vodka has wonderful and complex flavors... they're just a little bit delicate.

      June 19, 2014 at 3:44 pm |
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