The success of a martini hinges on the balance of three factors. The temperature of your martini must always be icy cold. Next, the strength. We are trying to stir the martini with ice to give just enough meltwater to soften the approach of the alcohol on the palette. The moment is crucial as if you take the dilution too far you will have a watery martini, there is nothing as unsatisfying. So, select your base spirit, select your vermouth.
Now we must determine how dry we would like our martini and this can be entirely down to personal preference but also the time of day. There might be days when a bracing ultra dry martini might be just the thing to put the working day behind you, I would say this, though, that the wet martini is the most approachable introduction to a martini, and often the best place to begin your journey and would have been how the martini was first intended. Choosing a bianco vermouth will also give you just a hint of sweetness that may round out the strength of the spirit. We call the balance of spirit to vermouth the ratio, and this can vary from a range of 1:1 to 15:1, known as a Montgomery, so-called after General Montgomery, the British official who would only take his troops into battle if they outnumbered the enemy 15 to 1.
The ratio of the perfect martini has evolved with time, so for a 30s era martini you would be looking at 2:1, the 50s 5:1, the 90s 15:1.
Your ingredients should add up to approximately 80mls of alcohol so 1:1 is 40ml to 40ml, 2:1 50ml to 25ml vermouth.
Polish vodka could well have been the first type of vodka ever made. The local grain is rye, a grain that is known for its distinctive white pepper characteristic. Belvedere hails from on Zrardrow, on the Central Plains of Poland, a town known historically for its source of fantastic rye, and water, the perfect place to make vodka, rich in the terroir of its locale. In 1996 Belvedere set out to rail against what vodka had evolved into, a neutral spirit without flavour or identity. They sought out the tiny distillery of Polmos Zradrow, situated on an artesian well more than 12500 years old. Created just as the Iron Curtain was falling, their aim was to bring characterful vodka to the burgeoning martini. Belvedere was named for the Royal Belweder palace in Warsaw, meaning ‘Beautiful to see’, also the inspiration for their bottle, featuring the palace, and the avenue of silver birch that leads to it. Belvedere was part of the Skyfall film and is also currently the official vodka of the James Bond martini.
TASTE: The Dankowskie rye is the star of the show here, offering a creamy mouthfeel with a structured palette, and characteristic pepper notes. The will make a delightful martini, ideally given the space to shine without too much vermouth.
Grey Goose is made from 100% wheat, all grown in Picardie, known as the breadbasket of France, due to its fame for the quality of its wheat. The grain is single origin and unlike many vodkas is milled, fermented and distilled at their distillery - truly field-to-bottle. The distillery is located in the Cognac region of France, where they take their water from an aquifer half a kilometre deep, filtered through the famous Grande Champagne limestone, giving a water that is incredibly soft, with which they cut to bottling strength. The resulting vodka is naturally rich and full-bodied, for an unctuous mouthfeel.
TASTE: an incredibly creamy vodka that will work delightfully in a martini. You would likely choose to go very light with the vermouth, just a wisp! And perhaps a lemon twist to complement the wheat.
Reyka was the brainchild of William Grant, an enormously successful family-owned company, now in their fifth generation of distilling having been the founders of Glenfiddich and Grants whisky. With all their experience they knew that a good water source is always at the heart of distillation, hence why whisky distilleries are prevalent around the river Spey, or why gin distilleries were once clustered in Clerkenwell, around the pure Clerk’s Well. The concept for Reyka was formed after a water sample was sent from Iceland to New York for purity testing. The sample came back completely, impossibly clean. The scientists checked their equipment over and over, not understanding what had gone wrong; the water was so clean they assumed the equipment had broken. It would be perfect to make vodka with. This plentiful supply of Icelandic water led William Grant to an arctic spring that runs through a 4000-year-old lava field in remote western Iceland, so remote that the master distiller is also the village policeman and fireman! This remote location was where they opened the country’s first vodka distillery in 2005. Reyka would go on to win the Vodka Trophy at the IWSC in 2011. The vodka is distilled in tiny batches on the rare Carterhead still for maximum copper contact and then filtered through more of the lava rock.
TASTE: Clean, smooth with subtle vanilla and citrus notes, making a martini with a delightful texture. Perfect with a lemon twist perhaps.
Tito’s has become America’s favourite vodka, and is made from the grain at the heart of American Bourbon, corn. It is the corn that gives this an unctuous, buttery mouthfeel, redolent of buttered popcorn, sweetcorn, and creamy smooth with a hint of pepper spice. Tito Beveridge had been making his own flavoured for vodkas for so long his friends called him the ‘vodka guy’. Eventually, he decides to make a go of it and found his own distillery, only to discover that Texas had never had a legal distillery. In the 1990s he managed to get the approvals and so has the oldest distillery in the state. Tito made all of his vodka by hand, sticking the labels on himself, and delivering the bottles across Austin in a labour of love that for a long time on cost him money. Happily today it is now the top selling vodka in the US. Tito’s take column stilled neutral corn spirit and redistill it in batches on old-fashioned copper pot stills to give it a round and buttery mouthfeel.
TASTE: So soft and round, one to try ultra-dry with a dot of a classic vermouth and garnish at will.
Thomas Dakin is a recent release from the Greenall Distillery, up in Warrington. They are the oldest continuously gin distillery in the world, since 1761, and part of the Industrial North, and location of the era of Enlightenment, a time of enormous innovation, and progression in production methods. Thomas Dakin is a new release from master distiller Joanne Moore, named after the founder of Greenall’s distillery, and using some of the very early botanicals that Dakin would have encountered, including unusually red cole, or horseradish as we now call it. The gin is presently made on a tiny copper pot still and bottled at 42% abv. Their plan is to move this production to a new distillery in Manchester specifically to make Thomas Dakin, celebrating the contribution of the Industrial North, and their long heritage of gin distilling.
TASTE: Sweet orange and citrus play with the juniper up front, closing with a touch of pepper and savoury red cole in the finish.
The late Martin Miller was a pioneer of the gin revival. He founded his gin back in 1999 at a time when the gin category was completely decimated, London having lost around fifty distilleries since before the war, and only a few well-trodden brands left. Martin Miller was completely obsessed with his quest for returning the sense of adventure to gin, and began by searching for only the very best botanicals for his gin, sourced from the world over. The gin is distilled in a copper pot still in England in two parts, the juniper and root botanicals being distilled together, and then the citrus, enabling them to better control the flavour. Finally, and uniquely, the gin is then finished with Icelandic mineral water. Deducing that as the water made up 60% of the bottle, Martin went searching for the finest water he could find; Icelandic water is so incredibly pure, containing only 8ppm rather than often 400ppm meaning is doesn’t need to be demineralised before being used to bring the gin down to bottling strength. Demineralising water is said to lower the surface tension of the water, making a rougher, hotter spirit, so by using the pure and soft Icelandic water, they are able to retain a wonderfully smooth and viscous texture, ideal for a martini.
TASTE: Martin Millers has a wonderful freshness that will work exceptionally well with the bright botanicals of vermouth. Aromatic and with every botanical displaying a fullness, this makes for a magnificent gin martini.
Fords Gin is a much-loved favourite of the bartending community, and not only because it has been set up by some truly great bartenders! Therefore the starting point for Fords Gin was opposite to many products in that it was designed with cocktails in mind. Starting with a map of all the flavours that gin cocktails need Simon Ford worked out what a gin needed to make these cocktails sing. Once the map was written Simon set out to find the man he needed to bring it to life, approaching industry legend (a word I don’t use lightly!), Charles Maxwell. Charles Maxwell’s family have eight generations of gin distilling, having had a distillery known as Finsbury gin behind Liverpool Street since the 1700s. His expertise has enabled him to distil countless award-winning gins, Fords being one.
TASTE: The martini was absolutely central to the direction of Fords, and they set out to achieve a wonderful texture on the palette by raising the number of botanicals in the recipe, maximising the oil content and achieving a lovely play between the classic botanical recipe of piney notes, floral and citrus aromatics.
Brand new to the market is Nikka Coffey Gin, and one that has been a celebrated release among the bartending community. Nikka Gin is made on the famous Coffey stills at the Nikka Distillery, a tall still like a pots stills with a column of plates over, that baskets of botanicals can be slotted into. The twist for Nikka gin is their unique recipe of native Japanese botanicals, starting with the curious citrus aromas of Yuzu, Kabosu, Amanatsu, and Shikuwasa, as well as the wonderful Shanso Pepper that runs through the finish. Nikka gin also uses pressed apples in their recipe, in a nod to the founders Taketsuru and wife Rita, who while they were waiting for their first whiskies to mature made apple juice to sell to keep their company afloat.
TASTE: At 47% abv this gin is not shy but the palette is much lighter than you’d guess. A wonderful mixture of exotic citrus, spice and the low juniper note present throughout, making a fantastic martini that is open for experimentation with the vermouth, possibly working wonders with a bianco. Pair with a lemon twist, or both lemon and orange together.
Antonio Benedetto Carpano of Turin had trained as a herbalist. He was a fan of all things German and would have been aware of the centuries-old tradition of adding wormwood to wine. In 1786, using spices that had only recently become attainable he began to make his own version of this age-old tradition, adding various mountain herbs, fruit and burned sugar to white wine and naming it vermouth after the German word for wormwood. His little wine shop, where people came to enjoy a glass became so popular that he had to open 24 hours a day to satisfy the demand for his vermouth. Theirs is the first to popularise the category of vermouth.
Carpano Dry TASTE: A structured and aromatic vermouth of fruit, spice, coriander and incense. A classic vermouth for a classic martini.
Carpano Bianco TASTE: Well defined and perfect balance of the base wine and botanicals, with exotic fruit and spice, cocoa bean and vanilla.
Regal Rogue is a new world vermouth, designed to turn vermouth on its head. Founded by industry stalwart Mark Ward in 2009, he was inspired by his love of vermouth to create Australia’s first ever aperitif. Central to Regal Rogue is the wine. Vermouth was traditionally a way of making something delicious from wine that would otherwise be unpalatable but Mark wanted to use the best of Australian produce. The Daring Dry that we have on the mat is made on 100% Australian Sauvignon Blanc, then macerated with native Australian botanicals to give it its savoury profile that works so well in a martini, or on its own, making it a truly quaffable vermouth. Botanicals include anise myrtle, quandong and native thyme, white pepper, olive leaf and juniper. Finally Regal Rogue offers a totally clean finish, unlike many vermouths due to their choice not to barrel age. Clean, savoury and utterly modern.
TASTE: Pair with the spirit of your choice, and perhaps you’ll find that all those savoury botanicals work best with an olive or an olive and a twist together.
Belsazar is inspired by the German centuries-old tradition of wine with (that had originally been the inspiration for Antonio Carpano’s first Italian vermouth) however they have disrupted the vermouth category with their approach. Using the fantastic quality Gutadel wine from the Baden region of Germany, they then add botanicals such as chamomile, gentian, bitter orange, cinchona, coriander and wormwood, fortified with wonderful fruit distillate from a historic distillery in the Black Forest. The result is a vermouth of incredible quality.
TASTE: botanical, fruit driven vermouth. The balance of the vermouth will support any spirit or garnish you choose so you can experiment away!
Keep an eye out for more DrinkUp.London Cocktail Experiments!