The point of this column is not to denigrate the humble pint; more often than not a pint is a perfect tonic for what ails you. The point of this column and indeed future columns is to provide a basic repertoire of drinks so you are never at a loss for an appropriate drop wherever you find yourself. We begin with a classic: the Martini.
1. Do not underestimate this drink
This might sound bizarre when telling you how to order a drink, but you should practice first. An astonishing number of people, girls particularly, have seen me drinking one of these at a cocktail bar (one place the Martini comes into its own) and wanted to try my effeminate sounding drink. More than once it has been spat out. At its heart the Martini is a glass of 40%+ spirits, and it will get you smashed before you can slur your ridiculous choice of garnish to the barman.
2. Weapon of choice
While purists will say that a Martini must be made with gin (and indeed specific brands of gin), this is very much down to taste. It’s your dime and if you prefer vodka then go with that. My personal favourite spirit might be Tanqueray but it’s pretty hard to go wrong in a decent cocktail bar. Note: if you’re ordering a martini somewhere that probably doesn’t serve them often you’d better be able to specify exactly what you want (I was once served a glass of vermouth and orange squash at a cocktail bar so it’s not exactly fool proof mind). You don’t even just have to choose one, you could have a Vesper (see end, pro’s only)!
3. Wave it in the general direction of Italy
How dry or wet your Martini is refers to the amount of vermouth in your cocktail, the less vermouth, the “dryer” it is. This will greatly change the taste of the cocktail and so boils down to preference at the end of the day. I usually don’t specify the first time I go to a bar (where they’ll give you around ¼ the amount of vermouth as base spirit), then change it if I think it’d help. One exception to this rule is if they have a gin I’d really like to try but I’m not feeling sufficiently like Withnail (or I) to order neat gin then I’ll order it dry.
4. Would you like some saltwater in that sir?
A dirty martini is one with some brine or olive juice in it, I would say this changes the flavour even more than the amount of vermouth in it and can completely ruin the drink if you don’t like it. In fact, the worst dirty Martini I’ve had was at the bar of the same name in London. That being said, some people are huge fans of it, but I’d try it somewhere you’re not paying a tenner a glass before you start freestyling to this extent.
5. Probably don’t go for pickled onions, cheese, and pineapple
Lastly you’ll have to choose a garnish; the usual suspects are a twist (of lemon peel) or an olive. At some more tarty bars, left to their own devices they’ll fan you an apple like a deck of cards and give it to you with a sparkler in it. But you’re not interested in that, this isn’t your first time at the rodeo. There are myriad other garnishes that you’ll find and see in bars all over (I’ve heard a “Teddy”, after Roosevelt, is a triple olive garnish for example), but stick to “with a twist” or “with an olive” and you’ll do fine.
Shaken and not stirred
Obviously this phrase had to make an appearance in the post. This makes a pretty minimal difference to the taste in my opinion, Wikipedia has a small entry on it (unless you’re reading this on 18th January 2012, in which case you’ll have to wait a few hours). Even if you prefer it a certain way I’d keep quiet if you’re going to have to see anyone you’re with again. It’s one way to guarantee you look like a plum and total novice to the entire bar staff and everyone around you (if you can pull this move off, you don’t need to read this column).
Another reference to Bond, and with it a particularly brutal tilt on the Martini recipe. This is made with half a measure of Lillet (a French alternative to vermouth), three measures of gin, and one measure of vodka (at inception the gin and vodka were 45% and 50% ABV respectively). Handle with care.
A note on consumption
As mentioned before, this is a punchy drink. If you’re planning on necking it, stick to Sambuca and Tequila for a while. Not only will you look ridiculous, but it’s a pretty difficult move to pull off without redecorating your clothes with a colourless, but highly pungent cocktail for the evening (thanks to the shallow glass). This shape of glass also informs where you should be drinking it, it’s like a built in safety catch. If you shouldn’t be drinking a Martini there, you’ll probably throw most of it on the floor anyway. Enjoy responsibly, it’s tough to stay classy when you’re a sprawling mess on the floor (see Hasselhoff).