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Stirred not shaken (eh?) - understanding the Martini family...

Updated: Jul 30, 2022

Welcome to the first of my articles that will hopefully map out the exotic world of cocktails into an understandable subject. My last blog promised to show you the basis of why …..

M...y D...aiquiri S...hould H...elp F...lip O...melettes 

So the first of the six we are going to look at, is the Martini. I don’t know about most people but my understanding of the Martini up until now has been pretty confused - James Bond would ask for a vodka martini, shaken not stirred, then go on to save the world from destruction by the evil SPECTRE.

If I were to criticise I would say to Mr Bond that he

should hold the glass by the stem to keep his drink cold....!

...but who's going to argue with this guy....?

However, whenever I saw 'Martini' it was a label on a bottle on a less well looked at shelf in the off licence I worked in and it was definitely not a cocktail! (Trust me about the off licence - I used to work in one as a student - and learned an awful lot from the Manager - who ended up being the best man at my wedding and her's still giving awesome advice - thanks Norman!) 

Then I look at cocktail books and see that you can make ‘a martini’ from gin and vermouth or vodka and vermouth - how confusing is that….?

This is where the template comes in. The original spirit used, was indeed gin - but James Bond popularised vodka as the spirit component. It appears that the Vermouth trade was behind much of the popularisation - not due to the vodka bosses - as vermouth was pushed hard in the mid 20th century and gained social traction by cashing in on celebrity endorsements and who better than Mr Bond..!

IMHO - the best of the Bond films...!

A Classic Martini goes along the lines of:

  • 2 measures of gin

  • ¾ measure of dry vermouth

  • A twist of lemon or an olive

…. and that’s it folks …. as easy as that ….!

Or is it…?

The more I read, the more it seems that martinis were the forerunners of today's coffee orders. 

Look at the similarities - it’s amazing.

A coffee many years ago meant 

  • Adding hot water to coffee granules

  • Stir

  • add milk

How similar is that - strong soloist (coffee) backed up by a great but nevertheless supporting (milk) band - just as heavy duty gin (soloist) is backed up by less strong backing group called "The Vermouth Singers" that nobody else has heard of….!. 

Nowadays I get confused asking for sugar-free, decaf, skinny, maxi, wet, dry, double/single shot coffees that take 30 seconds to rehearse in the queue at the favourite coffee shop and 2 minutes to describe at check out.....

Martinis are the same. But don’t be confused….


Choose between gin and vodka first. Gin is an aromatised spirit - juniper (by definition) plus however many botanicals according to your choice of herbal with lemon / lime etc bottle. Vodka is not aromatised usually - although watch out as THBC is soon to be producing artisan vodkas with similar flavourings to our gins!)

These characteristics make a difference to the recipe. Gin is aromatised and so to be balanced by the aromatic elements of the vermouth will require more vermouth to achieve a state of equilibrium. Whilst a ‘vodka based martini’ has as its main player, vodka - far less aromatised and so to have a simmilar amount of vermouth will overpower the vodka.

  • So for gin: spirit to vermouth - try 2 measures to ¾ measure

  • But for Vodka: try 2 ½ vodka to ½ of vermouth.

Vermouth - what is it…?

Vermouth is an aromatised wine - dating back into the 18th century when wine with tonics were promoted. Wormwood was one of the main ingredients and in german - this is translated as ‘Wermut’. So no guesses as to how the name was formed! 

There are different styles of vermouth. Oh it just gets better dear reader! But what about I keep it simple.

  • Sweet - many of the clever cocktail guys go for the Italian ones as the best - the red ones are pretty much the sweet ones! (The red is from caramelised colouring.)

  • Dry - mainly French ones are the best according to those in the know…

  • Blanc - somewhere between the two on the spectrum

The best guide I have found regarding understanding the types of vermouth is found here and this article also goes into the subject of comparison of types.

Would you like your martini to be wet or dry …?

Huh..? it’s liquid so it must be wet. At least that’s what I used to think, however the clever people describe:

  • A dry martini - spirit heavy - Try 2 ½ spirit  to ¼ vermouth  = very dry

  • A wet martini - more bias to the vermouth - 1 ½ spirit  to 1 ½ vermouth =  very wet 

Cold is key….

Spot the dog in the picture - but be aware his name is Jack... not Spot...!

Above all else, the glass should be cold. If you don’t have room in the fridge (who does?) put cold water with ice in the glass for a few minutes before using for the cocktail and keep your glasses in the fridge.

The ice should be ice from a deep freeze ideally - which at -19 degC is a lot colder than the cold tray of a fridge, but let’s face it, ice of some sort is the important thing.

Shaken not stirred….. or is it stirred not shaken….?

The $1000 question. However, the truth is - there are no rules. You have it as you bloomin’ well like! 

If you’ve forked out the money for a cocktail at a bar or have paid for the recipe ingredients, which, let’s face it, are not cheap - the person with the cash says what happens!

However, for what it’s worth, my understanding of the classic version is that it should be cold / velvety smooth, minimally diluted and should just slip out of the glass.

Smooth is good!

Shaking creates bubbles. Bubbles don’t make smooth….. But if you’re making an espresso martini - you want loads of bubbles to make the ‘crema’ on top of the glass that adds to the flavour and lets a clever cocktail maker float the three coffee beans onto the cream / foam that stand for peace/prosperity/happiness or choose whatever three words you want to use to make the world a better place…. ;-)


Why not. Experiment. I’ve bought some grapefruit bitters, orange bitters and chocolate bitters (Aztec chocolate so I’m told that will obviously make all the South American difference!)

Remember balance though - a dash or two - the gin and the vermouth should sing together - not be drowned out by too heavy a hand with the bitters!


Hooray - it’s not just me - most people I have been reading (ie in the know!) say to bin the posh garnishes with umbrellas and half a Pineapple as well as rubbing the rim of the glass with the lemon twist (it overpowers the drink with citrus evidently).

Try with an olive / pickled onion / lemon twist / orange twist - see what you like - lime doesn’t get a good write up (sorry to say). Just a couple of drops though. Heaven forbid - you could even consider having it ungarnished!

Pickled onions - good - (surprisingly) but...lemon is better

and what about the 3 coffee beans - "Health, Prosperity & Good-will"

When to drink a martini & when not to drink a martini…?

Martini is a drink to be savoured. It’s not about gulping down quantity - it’s about sipping and savouring. If you drink a martini like a pint of beer you are more likely to be appreciating the quality of the carpet in the room, but only after you have woken up from a daze after falling over, rather than being able to compare constituent ratios by simply sipping, an act that will also allow for an appreciation of the silkiness / smoothness of this classic and indeed ...classy... drink.

This is a high ABV% drink - so drink safely.

To all intents and purposes - it seems that you can tell a lot about your bartender by the quality of the martini produced. It’s a bit like a resumé / CV so take note!

Tweaking the template…..

It’s all yours. Remember there are no rules, but the ratios and the spirit / fortified ration.

I will not specify what else to do - but consider this mixture which I have worked on:

Orange Chococcino Martini

2 x shots gin (THGC Herbal gin with a twist of lemon)

1 x shot of chocolate liqueur

1 x espresso coffee

2 dashes of orange bitters

See the similarity to the classic recipe, (these are my preferred ratios - you choose yours). Shake this one vigorously - get those crema bubbles generated!

That’s it folks. No summary - I don’t want to overstay my welcome.

I hope this article has given an understanding of the martini range of cocktails. I would recommend the fantastic book called ‘Cocktail Codex’ (Day, Fauchald and Kaplan) who must take credit for the bulk of the ideas here - I have simply tried to tie them together and pass them on.

Happy cocktail making. Enjoy but drink safely.


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