A Dry Martini Opens The Mind

Amuse and Grey Goose look at the serious business of making and drinking the dry martini

by Jessica Brinton
Oct 29 2015, 12:00am

Photography: Ana Cuba

A martini is a serious drink. When should you drink it? Six o’clock is officially aperitif hour. The Latin root of aperitif is “aperire,” the verb to open. A dry martini opens the mind. That’s why, during the writing of In Cold Blood, Truman Capote would have a double martini before lunch (noon can also be aperitif hour.)

If you’ve ever tried one, you will know that no two are ever the same. Aficianados—sorry, ‘martinians’—always think they know the exact correct way to make one.

No two martinis are ever the same. Photo: Ana Cuba

But there is no correct way! Excellent quality vodka is a given (would a famous chef cook with sub-standard ingredients?) After that, it’s up to you! The same if you’re ordering. To know how you take a dry martini is to know yourself. It’s something that grows over time. By the time you’re 50, you will really have it down.

Before, there are some decisions to make. Will it be gin or vodka? Purists insist on gin and won’t contemplate vodka. But James Bond was a famously committed vodka martini man and since Spectre was released the other day, we’ll follow his lead.

The ritual of preparation is as much a part of the experience as the drinking.

What time is it – six o clock you say? Drink your martini when you are done with the day and ready for another kind of conversation. Don’t hurry.

"Take the glasses out of the fridge and, with a little height-you’ve seen waiters do this with mint tea Morocco- pour the liquid from the mixing glass into the martini glasses." Photo: Ana Cuba

Where to be begin? Oh, the glass. It must be small: save the 10 ouncers for watermelon or rasberry martinis. A five ounce glass will enforce freshness—you will have to make another when it’s gone—and so does a low temperature.

But rewind, to an hour before, when you put your glass in the fridge to chill. You put the mixer glass in there too, and maybe it lives there.

The vermouth, a fortified wine that decides how dry the martini will be (the less vermouth, the drier the drink) also lives there. Noilly Prat, aromatised with a secret recipe of 20 herbs and spices, is the classic dry vermouth.

"The vodka-it should be Grey Goose." Photo: Ana Cuba

The vodka—it should be Grey Goose—doesn’t live there. The vodka lives in the cupboard, because when ice blends with alcohol at room temperature, it decreases its strength and increases its flavour. Not diluted enough, and the drink will be too intense. Too much, and it is too damn watery. Strike a balance, and you have the perfect dilution at the perfect temperature. Yes!

And now the questions arrive very fast. How much to put in? How dry do you want to go?

Ice. Not from a shop, obviously. Make it in trays. Do you want to go above and beyond expectations? Let’s assume you do. Invest in a water distiller. Frozen distilled water is free of minerals. It’s rock hard and clear, like a crystal.

Recipes in the early 1900s were for equal parts vermouth and spirit. Some others argue for a far drier five to one. Or 3.5 to one. Ernest Hemingway liked his 15 to one. Homer Simpson likes his full of alcohol.

Shaken not stirred. Photo: Ana Cuba

Begin with 10ml of Noilly Prat to 50ml of Grey Goose Original and reduce from there. Educate your pallet. Use an egg cup to do the measuring (so chic!)

How to mix it up? This is the great debate: “shaken not stirred,” was James Bond’s request in Goldfinger. Was he in a terrible rush? Don’t rush. A shaken martini—where the ice has been broken quickly, leading to quick dilution—can be a hazy, cloudy thing. It contains tiny air bubbles, and tiny chips of ice.

Taste it with a straw. Is it right for you, the real you?

But when you are mixing two liquids of the same density in a mixing glass, stirring is all you need. Stirring keeps it clear and elegant. Introduce the vodka to the vermouth and the ice, swirl deliberately for 45 seconds to properly chill and dilute the cocktail.

Take the glasses out of the fridge and, with a little height—you’ve seen waiters do this with mint tea in Morocco—pour the liquid from the mixing glass into the martini glasses. The weight of the drop is heavier and creates oxygenisation, releasing more flavour.

A 'dirty' martini. Photo: Ana Cuba

Will you add a splash of bitters – orange, cinnammon, or lavender? Will it be dirty, with a dash of good quality olive brine?

Now you have your drink, choose your garnish. What about a best quality, unstuffed olive or two rescued from its brine, and placed dead centre on a cocktail stick in the glass. Or will it be a twist, that slither of lemon peel, held between two fingers and squeezed, releasing fragrant oil into the air above the drink, and then dropped in?

An oyster on the side is sensational.

Or a spoonful of ceviche; or smoked salmon; or caviar; or sushi. A good quality brazil or cashew nut is very nice.

And then… ching! This drink is cold and it doesn’t last long and in that way, it is your connection to the present moment. To where you’re at right now.

A twist of lemon peel to garnish your martini. Photo: Ana Cuba

Switch off your phone. Take some time. If you are in a nice establishment with the right company, listen to a story. Tell a story. Write a book.

How many is the right number?

“One is not enough. Three is too many”, or so they say. A martini is a bracer. It is not for getting drunk, it is for getting sharp.

In the midst of US/Soviet relations in the early Fifties, diplomats would drink four before sitting down to serious negotiations.

That’s how serious a martini is.

The Savoy Hotel, London. Photo: Ana Cuba

The Savoy’s Signature Martini features Grey Goose – go ahead and ask for one next time you visit the American Bar.

Drink Grey Goose responsibly.