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The Weekender Cocktail: The Proper Martini

This one’s for you, dad.

My father never waited until the weekend to make a martini. Indeed, there were always two glasses chilling in the freezer, so when he came home from work they were always ready for him and mom to have a drink.

When my father passed away, amid all the memories that came back to me, the evening cocktail before dinner stuck with me. Dad never wanted dinner waiting for him when he got home. He wanted that cocktail time with mom first, and the martini was their drink of choice.

The martini is a classic cocktail that’s synonymous with The Rat Pack and the music of the Great American Songbook that my parents loved so dearly. Yet I’ve never drank one until now.

That’s not to say that I never made one. Dad was holding court with guests once and their drinks were running dry. I think I was maybe 10 or 11 and wanted to help… and the recipe for the drink was printed on the side of the pint glass he used for mixing them, so I followed it and made it as I had always watched him. He was amused/horrified but he drank it. For the record, I apparently used too much vermouth.

But that was then and now I understand alcohol, so I’m ready to take this on.

Shaken or Stirred?

You’ve seen the movies with James Bond ordering a vodka martini, “shaken, not stirred.” Dad would tell you that’s not proper. First of all, a proper martini is made with gin. The shaken/stirred debate goes deeper. There’s two things going on when you shake or stir the drink. First of all, this is a drink that must be cold, so stirring or shaking with ice is going to get the drink chilled properly. Second, that process will cause some of the ice to melt, which dilutes the drink. You want enough dilution to take the edge off of the alcohol, but not so much that you’ve noticeably watered down the drink.

Dad always stirred his using a cocktail spoon and the aforementioned pint glass. Stirring gives you more control of temperature. Shaking aerates the drink more and makes it look cloudier. Try them both and see what you like.

As for what gin… for years and years dad made his with a humble fifth of Seagrams because it was cheap. However, he liked his martinis better when my uncle would bring him a bottle of Hendrick’s because that gin has some delightful floral notes. Bombay Sapphire was a close second favorite to Hendrick’s.

For vermouth, there’s French and Italian. French is dry, Italian is sweet. You want dry, so pick something French.

Remember, you want this drink COLD. Pop those glasses in the freezer (or just keep some in the freezer all the time on reserve). While the martini glass is legendary, we never had those in the house and dad drank his out of a normal rocks glass. Don’t stress out over the type of glassware. Just keep that glass cold. It’s also good to keep your mixing glass in the freezer, too.

You’ll want the ice fresh from the freezer so it’s dry. Let the liquor melt the ice; don’t start with ice that’s already melting.

Pop some ice into your mixing glass and pour in half an ounce of dry vermouth.

Stir until the liquid is twice its original height.

Now here’s where you experiment: for a “wet martini,” proceed to the gin and use all of the diluted vermouth. For a normal one, pour out half the liquid (strain to keep the ice cubes) and then proceed to the gin. For a “dry martini” pour out pretty much all of the liquid so what you end up with is ice coated in vermouth and then proceed to the gin step.

Add 2 1/2 ounces of gin and give it a stir.

Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an olive or twist.

Here’s to you, dad.

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