The martini is timeless, an embodiment of elegant simplicity. It can say very much about its maker, to those drinkers in the know. It’s also just damned delicious when done well. So let’s talk martinis. The martini has just 5 ingredients (which, I’m betting, is two or three more than you would have guessed) and I’m going to talk about each one and even toss in some method and theory for your trouble. There will be some homework (don’t worry … it’s drinking).
We begin with vermouth. Vermouth is that magical ingredient which turns cold gin into a proper drink and is probably the least understood bottle in most men’s liquor cabinets. Problem number one is generally its presence in the cabinet in the first place. Vermouth is an aromatized wine, meaning it is wine which has had a bunch of herbs soaked in it. If you have even wondered why that 3-year-old bottle under your counter tasted so pungent and nasty, well, imagine keeping an open bottle of white wine in there for that long. Yeah—go ahead and throw that out, there’s no reviving it.
Now, unlike regular wine, vermouth is also lightly fortified, generally with neutral grape spirits so it does actually keep better than plain old Chardonnay, but its proper place is still in the fridge, shelf life about 2-3 months once opened. For martinis, you want the white-wine-based French style, also called “dry vermouth.” Brand? Your grandfather drank Noilly Prat at his business lunches (the white-capped extra-dry). Cinzano makes an affordable and pleasant version as does Martini and Rossi but, for my money, Dolin Dry is the most suitable (and, it turns out, they invented the style in 1821). You may have to call a couple liquor stores.
Homework: try your vermouth over ice with a piece of lemon rind, if you’ve got it. Truly, it’s tasty stuff, and you should be well familiar with its flavors as you use it to modify your gin in next week’s episode. Drink well.