Earlier this month, Dish Deputy Editor Alice Galletly and I attended a martini masterclass hosted by Belvedere mixologist Garth Foster. I've often been too scared to order a martini, anticipating the list of questions that will be fired back at me from behind the bar: Gin or vodka? Wet or dry? Dirty or with a twist? And of course, the question no bartender can utter without a slight smirk: shaken or stirred?
Reassuringly, there's no right answer, and my perfect martini could well be different to yours. The best way to learn is to experiment, ideally under the supervision of an expert mixologist like Garth, who will guide you through the dramatic effects different vermouths, gin and vodkas can have on overall flavour.
Gin or Vodka?
While gin has traditionally been the mainstay of the martini (it was invented using it), vodka is increasingly the go-to ingredrient in trendy bars. There's not much to split the two, as gin begins life in a similar way to vodka, owing its unique flavour to the addition of botanicals. Opt for vodka if you prefer a neutral base for your martini, or experiment with different gins to add variously herbacious and fruity notes to your final cocktail.
We made six cocktails using different volumes and types of vermouth with Belvedere Pure Vodka. Vermouth is a fortified, aromatized wine; the ingredients are wine, herbs and plants, grape spirit and sugar.
We found the drier vermouth, Dolin to work better with salty olive brine and a higher vermouth-to-vodka ratio, its complex bittersweet palate lending itself to a wet martini. On the other hand, the floral Lillet Blanc (which actually isn't strictly a vermouth but an aperitif wine) was complemented nicely by citrus, delivering flavour with a mere splash.
You'll note a drier vermouth doesn't necessarily equal a dry martini, rather the amount of vermouth in comparison to vodka dictates if it's dry or wet.
Shaken or stirred?
We tried both, and noticed a marked difference in shaken martinis, they taste lighter somehow, which is perhaps to do with the way shaking vigorously causes the ice to melt faster, diluting the alcohol ever so slightly, and creating air bubbles. Stirring supposedly creates a smoother mouthfeel as less ice shards are created.
Dirty or with a Twist?
Order a dirty martini and your drink will be served with an olive and a splash of olive brine; a tiny amount goes a long way. 'With a twist' refers to a twist of citrus peel, which is cracked over the drink to lightly coat the surface with lemon or grapefruit oils. Once again, personal preference is key.
Dry Martini with a Twist (stirred) – Alice Galletly's perfect vodka martini.
50ml Belvedere Pure Vodka
10ml Lillet Blanc
1 x lemon or grapefruit
Fill martini glass with ice and leave to chill while you prepare the cocktail. Add the vodka and Lillet Blanc to a mixing glass filled with ice. Stir quickly with a barspoon for a minimum of 90 seconds. Strain into the chilled martini glass (ice removed). Cut a ribbon of zest from the lemon or grapefruit, taking care to ensure none of the white pith beneath is attached. Squeeze the peel over the martini to release the citrus oils, and then drop into the drink.
Wet and Dirty Martini (shaken) – Alice Harbourne's perfect vodka martini.
45ml Belvedere Pure Vodka
15ml Dolin Dry Vermouth
10ml Sicilian olive brine
Fill martini glass with ice and leave to chill while you prepare the cocktail. Add ingredients excluding brine to mixing glass filled with ice. Place shaker on glass and shake until frost appears on the outside. Add olive brine. Shake for another 45 seconds and strain into the chilled glass (ice removed). Garnish with as many olives as you like.