What is a Martini?

After my recent post on Eggnog Martini (Egg Nog Martini??? Really?) in which I generally described my amusement, if not disdain, of various cocktails described as “Martinis”… or more typically, ‘somthing‘tini a person very close to me asked “OK, what makes a Martini a Martini”.

To answer that I’ll ask, “What makes a chocolate chip cookie a chocolate chip cookie”?  Bear with me here and all will be clear.

There are a lot of ‘-tinis’ out there that are, or have been, popular, even trendy;  Appletini, Chocotini, Cranberrytini, Peachtini, Watermellontini, Peppermintini, Bacontini, etc.  These cocktails may indeed  be delicious, fun, and frivolous.  The common element in these cocktails is that they are served in a martini stem and usually made with vodka.

But a martini stem does not a Martini make.   Similarly a small baked bit of batter alone does not a Chocolate Chip Cookie make.

A Martini has a definite recipe.  It is composed of Gin, Vermouth, and a garnish.  Vodka is an acceptable, if not traditional, substitute for Gin.  The garnish may be an olive or twist.  And it’s traditionally served in a martini stem, but that does not make it a Martini.

A Chocolate Chip Cookie has a definite recipe with very few variations.  It is a cookie made with Chocolate Chips.   And maybe some walnuts and / or marshmallows.  It is not a biscotti, or bagel, or muffin.  It is a cookie.  And it must have Chocolate Chips.

A Martini does not have apple, chocolate, peach, peppermint, or Eggnog.  A Chocolate Chip Cookie does not have raisins, lemon peel, oatmeal, cranberries, or peanuts.

Oatmeal raisin cookies are delicious and a personal favorite.  The look very similar to Chocolate Chip cookies, but they are not a “Oatmeal Raisin Chocolate Chip cookie”.   And an Appletini maybe fun and tasty, but it is not a Martini.

So what makes a Martini a Martini?  Gin, Vermouth (proportions to personal taste) and a garnish; olive or twist.  Preferably served chilled in a chilled martini stem.

Shaken, Stirred, or Smashed???

Not long ago while on travel I stopped in at a fine restaurant for a ‘nite cap’ on my way ‘home’, i.e., the current hotel.  I ordered my usual dry Sapphire martini.

The bartender took a stem from the freezer and placed in on the bar.  Next he took a metal shaker, put ice in it, and then poured in the gin.  Finally instead of putting the top on the shaker he took out a long stirring spoon.  At this point I thought he was going to stir the drink.  Not a problem, I always let the local barkeep make the Martini at his discretion.  At least the first one.  😉

To my amusement and surprise he proceed to pound the ice with the spoon.  Sort of like a muddler with mint for a Mojito, but with much more enthusiasm.

When he served the martini I jokingly asked if that was considered “Shaken or Stirred”.  He smiled and responded with “Well, more like smashed or crushed”.  He went on to explain that this establishment liked to serve their Martinis with a thin layer of crushed ice on the surface of the drink and this was the best way to achieve that effect.  I think he referred to it as the ‘ice rink’ style.

Personally I don’t mind a few ice chips floating in the martini.  Not sure about a full layer of chips though.   And I think you could easily do that with vigorously shaking the Martini as well.  Having said that, the Martini was excellent.

The Perfect Martini Process, V1.0

Since this blog has existed I’ve advocated and supported the concept that your Perfect Martini is just that, yours.  My Perfect Martini is mine.  And the two may not be identical.   What is important is that we find that which works for each of us.

Having said that, I thought it time to share what I believe works best for me.  Interestingly over the course of the last year researching for this blog and writing about Martinis and Martini preparation my taste has ‘evolved’.  My preference has moved a bit drier and I’m garnishing with a twist much more often.  Lime if available.

Anyway, here is my process.  Note that I say ‘process’, not recipe.  The recipe is pretty simple:  3 ounces of chilled Bombay Sapphire Gin, a capful of Vermouth, and a twist.  But it is the process of putting that together that really makes the Perfect Martini.

The process starts with advanced preparation.  Put the bottle of Gin and your Martini stem in the freezer and the vermouth in the refrigerator.   IF you use a massive shaker, that should go in the freezer too.  This should be done well before you need to prepare the Martini.  (I just leave my gin in the freezer and vermouth in the fridge permanently.)

Then make the twist.  I always prepare the twist before the martini so that the martini doesn’t wait, and get warm, if I make the twist at the end of the process.  No, the twist will not wilt or dry out in the 90 seconds you make the Martini…. it will be just fine waiting for its grand entry at the end of the process.   This goes for olives, if you prefer them…. spear them before the martini.

Finally we start making the Martini proper.  Fill the shaker with about a cup of cold ice.   (See Cold Ice Please! for comments and description of “Cold Ice”).  Take the cap off the Vermouth bottle, fill it with Vermouth and put that in the shaker with the cold ice.  Swirl or shake the Vermouth and ice briefly and then drain the Vermouth.  Keep the ice, of course.

Next put 3 ounces of Bombay Sapphire Gin into the shaker.  (That’s 6 tablespoons or a 3/8 cup if you don’t have a jigger.)  Shake the shaker vigorously for about 10 seconds.   10 seconds is all you need to chill the liquid, any more and your just working your biceps, triceps, and delts.

Now, quickly remove the Martini stem from the freezer and pour the Martini from the shaker into the Stem.  Take the twist and lightly run the rind around the edge of the stem, squeeze a bit of the oils into the liquid, and drop it gently into the Martini.

Finally take the Martini out to the porch, sit comfortable, look at the sunset over the beach, and enjoy the Perfect Martini.


Thermal Flow Thoughts – Keeping the Martini Cold!

We mentioned thermal flow several times as part of discussions on keeping a drink cold.  So I started wondering exactly what are the typical thermal paths for a Martini?

First lets understand that cold doesn’t exist, there is only the absence of heat.  Heat flows from warm to cold… or from cold to colder.  So to make a Martini cold you pull heat out of the fluid by using something colder; using cold ice when we shake (or stir) the Martini.   We sometimes think its the other way around, so some of my comments below may seem backward.

So heat flows to warm your Martini, or other cocktail, in the following ways:
From the air, through the glass bowl, and into the liquid.
From the counter, table, or bar top into the stem and then up into the liquid.
When being held, through the fingers or hand into the glass and then into the drink.   (Note that heat flow is inversely proportional to length, i.e., heat flows less, or slower, through a longer path.  A tall stem will conduct less heat up through the glass into the Martini that a short squat, bulbous stem.)

So where does most of this drink warming heat come from?  Without doing a complete thermodynamic model (I’ve thought about it), it seems pretty clear that it is from the surrounding air.

The thermal path up through the table is limited by a long thin stem.  Heat from the hand is temporary, assuming your not holding the stem constantly.  (See: “What’s the best way to hold the Martini?” for previous comments on how to hold your Martini.)  Which leaves the air which is constantly in contact with the bowl of the Martini, as the significant culprit warming your martini.

So what’s the best solution?  Other than moving to the Arctic or Antarctic, drinking in the freezer!  Kidding aside, I’m stumped on this one.  Surely drinking in an air conditioned bar will keep your drink colder than outside in the sun.   But having a nice Martini on a deck over looking the beach is just marvelous.

Here are a couple suggestions to consider:
Hold the stem as little as possible and by the rim or stem of the glass,
Use a coaster; its a thermal insulator and will minimize heat flow up through the stem,
Keep the drink in the shade if you’re outside.  No need adding the sun’s warmth to the liquid,
Use a Martini ‘coozie’???

OMG, did I really say that?  Sacrilegious!  I’ll suffer penance with a cold Martini….

Shaken vs. Stirred Revisited: Conclusion.

Over the past several weeks I’ve waxed poetic on the differences between Shaken Martinis and Stirred Martinis.    We’ve talked about Temperature, Dilution, Bruising, and Taste.  So what is the combined consensus conclusion?

Lets review the score:
Temperature – Draw                                                   Shaken vs. Stirred Revisited: Temperature
Dilution – Stirring                                                         Shaken vs. Stirred Revisited: Dilution
Bruising – Draw                                                            Shaken vs. Stirred Revisited: Bruising
Taste – Draw                                                                 Shaken vs. Stirred Revisited: Taste

Overall Advantage:  Your call.

Here’s the bottom line.   I like my martinis cold.  I like them with Bombay Sapphire.  You may like yours at a milder temperature with Hendrick’s or Nolet’s or any other fine Gin.  The taste difference between my Cold Bombay Sapphire and your ‘cool’ Nolet’s far eclipses any differences of taste that may, or may not, occur from Shaking or Stirring.

I can hear the screams among you…. “A cope out”,  “I need an answer”,  “I can’t stand the ambiguity”,  “Tell me what to think”, …

Really?    I have said from the beginning that your “Perfect Martini” may not be the same as my “Perfect Martini”.   It’s sort of like that metaphysical philosophical Tao ‘find your own beach’ thing that someone does on TV.  😀

I hope to educate, elaborate,  and engross; to amuse and delight; and, hopefully, perhaps start a discussion or even a bit of controversy.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.  I’d love to hear what you have to say.


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Shaken vs. Stirred Revisited: Bruising

This is my third “Revisited” post on ‘Shaken vs. Stirred’.   The previous two dealt with Temperature and Dilution.  See Shaken vs. Stirred Revisited: Temperature and Shaken vs. Stirred Revisited: Dilution to catch up.   Today we wax poetic on Bruising.

I’m sure you’ve read or heard somewhere that shaking ‘bruises’ the gin and/or Martini.  And by implication, this is ‘BAD’ and you don’t want your Gin to be bruised.    What exactly does Bruising mean?

It does not mean that you’re turning the martini ‘black and blue’!   Nor does it mean that the Gin is ruined.  Nor does it imply that the taste is altered, more on that later.

In our discussion here it means that you emulsify the drink making it cloudy, or if you will, foamy.  Shaking the Martini adds millions and millions of tiny air bubbles into the mix.  Ok, maybe not millions, but a lot.   Enough that all those little bubbles creates the cloudiness in the drink. These tiny air bubbles also make the liquid just a bit less dense. You can feel the difference on your palate – this is sometimes also called ‘Mouth Feel’.

This affect it temporary as the air bubbles eventually work their way to the surface of the liquid and ‘pop’.  This takes approximately 30 – 45 seconds, though I haven’t actually sat there with a stop watch.  Really, who has time to time this when there’s a martini sitting in front of you inviting you to take a sip.  But I digress….  the point being that after about a minute the effect is gone and you’re left with a clear smooth martini.

Next up, Taste …. Which tastes better?  Shaken or Stirred?  Keep your eyes open for the next installment…..

I’d call this a draw. This is ultimately a matter of personal preference. I like the emulsification, but not so adamantly that I ask my drink to be shaken. If the barkeep stirs my drink I’m still a happy camper.

Shaken vs. Stirred Revisited: Dilution

This is my second “Revisited” post on ‘Shaken vs. Stirred’.   The first dealt with Temperatures.  See Shaken vs. Stirred Revisited: Temperature if you missed it.   Today I’m going to elaborate on Dilution …..

Many of my comments on temperature apply to dilution also, so some of this will sound repetitive.  But that makes sense as dilution is a function of Temperature.  (Which is why I started with Temperature.)  I’ve also expounded on Dilution in the past if you want to see my prior comments.

Shaken martinis are generally more diluted.  This is primarily due to the pulverization of the ice during shaking creating smaller pieces of ice and therefore increased ice surface area.   As with temperature, the larger the surface area, the greater the dilution.

But, again, time is also a factor.  A martini stirred for 30-45 seconds may well be more diluted that a martini shaken for 5-10 seconds.

Also, again, the initial temperature of the ice is a factor.  Using cold ice will minimize dilution as the mixing must first bring the ice up to melting temperature, 32 deg F.  It should be noted that the smaller shards of ice created by shaking very quickly come up to melting temperature.  So ‘cold ice’ is beneficial to reduce dilution, but the benefit may be minimal.

So using large, very cold ice cubes and stirring the mix for a decent, but careful, amount of time will give you the Martini with the least dilution.

Stirring, when performed optimally with cold ice.   This is not the time for amateur bartenders busy occupied pulling beer taps.  There’s a skill set required to stir efficiently to chill the Martini just to the point of the ice melting.  This takes experience, attention to the process, and time.

Dilution, Myth or Reality

Have you heard anyone say that a Martini needs to be properly diluted when mixed?? To what are they referring?  What does that mean?

Depending on distiller, gin varies from about 80 proof to 100 proof, or 40% ABV to 50% ABV (Alcohol By Volume).   It also varies from country to country, depending on local laws and customs.   For example, my favorite, Bombay Sapphire (US) is 94 proof or 47% ABV .   Now quiz time: what is the rest of the volume?  Answer: water.  More precisely filtered purified, possibly distilled, water.

When you dilute the Martini you’re adding water to the mix and in doing so lowering the ABV level!  If that’s what you want then why not just use a less strong gin to begin with??

Furthermore, when you dilute the drink by extended mixing you’re adding water which has melted from the mixing ice.  Ice which has come, most likely from the bar or restaurant’s ice maker.  Does your bar use filtered purified water in their ice maker?  I doubt it.  And when was the last time your bar actually cleaned their ice maker?  Who knows what is growing in there.

You might want to look back at my post on “Cold Ice” to see additional comments about bar ice.

Personally I like my Martini full strength with absolutely minimal dilution and absolutely no extra melted ice from a questionable ice source.

Just for fun, here is a brief sampling of ABV levels of various popular gins:
Gordon’s 37.5% ABV (UK)
Gordon’s 40% ABV (US)
Beefeater 40% ABV (UK)
Beefeater 47% ABV (US)
Tanqueray No. Ten 47.3% ABV
Hendrick’s 44% ABV
Bombay Sapphire 47% ABV  (US)
Bombay Sapphire 40% ABV (UK)
Boodles 45.2% ABV (US)
Boodles 40% ABV (UK)

If you enjoy these posts, please tell your friends.  Comments are always welcome.

Perfect Coffee!

No, this is not a post on how to make perfect coffee.  I have my hands full with a Perfect Martini.  But I wanted to elaborate on something about which I’ve been preaching.  And that is properly chilling the martini stem.  And to illustrate that I’m going to use hot coffee.

Have you noticed that when you pour your freshly brewed coffee into your mug in the morning that its not as hot as it was in the pot?  Its because the room temperature mug cools the coffee slightly.  Just as a room temperature Martini stem immediately warms the colder just shaken Martini.

Now you won’t notice this affect at Starbucks (OK, or Peets, or Dunkin Donuts, or Coffee Bean, etc.) because they put their hot coffee in a paper cup.   A paper cup which has a very low thermal mass, so it doesn’t affect the coffee temperature much.

Try this at home.  Brew your coffee and simultaneously pour equal amounts of coffee into both a ceramic mug and a paper cup.  Or plastic ‘solo’ cup.  Then immediately taste the two side by side.   Which one is hotter?

So how to solve this problem?  Well when I turn my brewer on I also take my mug, fill it with water and pop it into the microwave for 3 minutes.  While the coffee brews the microwave heats the water in my mug which  heats the mug.  When the coffee is brewed I dump the water from the mug and put the hot coffee into the hot mug…. problem solved.