Here’s 4 Martini recipes, and a tour of gin’s most perfect vehicle

The Gibson

The Gibson

  • 45ml Glendalough Wild Spring Botanical Gin
  • 15ml dry vermouth
  • 1 pickled onion

Stir down the spirits with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass, garnish with the pickled onion.

Story by Mikey Lowe

A tip to any would-be adventurers: “If you’re ever lost in the outback, sit down and mix a Martini. Within seconds someone will be by to tell you you’re doing it wrong.”

Being that this month’s profile is all about gin, it seems fair to showcase the greatest cocktail of this spirit category with these four Martini recipes.

Any further introduction to the Martini really is redundant — sacrilegious, even. It is perhaps the most famous of cocktails. It is a first call recipe that any new bartender must learn – albeit a seemingly simple one.

But be wary of the bartender who claims their Martini to be great, who so flippantly suggests they have mastery over the ingredients, composition, dilution and temperature. My first attempt took 15 minutes as I searched on Yahoo (yes, I’m old) for a recipe. Upon tasting the concoction, I was disgusted, thinking it too boozy and bitter. The drink landed upon the table with a fair whack of Midori (yes, I’m that old) to balance its preposterous flavour mash-up. That was the first and only time I’ve underestimated the Martini.

So what makes the perfect Martini? Well, the right temperature for one (cold); the right texture (stirred, please); and the right spirit (a word to the wise, the answer is gin. Period.)

The Martini is the drink that offers more punch than paunch, and writer H.L. Mencken referred to it as “the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet”. It is a melodic composition between basic ingredients, with an air of refinement that overarches any trends that may come. Endorsed by the cool, the Martini has become attached to James Bond and praised by Hemingway in A Farewell to Arms. “I’ve never tasted anything so cool and clean… They make me feel civilised,” he wrote.

The popularity of the Martini appears to track with the evolution of the gin category over time — so with customers being impressed with all things gin right now, we’re seeing more Martini drinkers at the bar.

The Martinez

The Martinez

  • 20ml Abel Gin Co. Essence
  • 40ml sweet vermouth
  • 10ml maraschino liqueur
  • Dash bitters 

Stir down over ice, then strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Adapted from a recipe circa 1887, The Bon Vivant’s Companion.

Head of operations at The Paddington, Sam Egerton, says that compared to other classics, the Martini “has had the privilege to change its clothes as it has moved through time, adapting to the user.”

The origins of the Martini made with gin are either factual or heresay depending upon which story you wish to believe. The patriarch of bartending, Jerry Thomas, credits his Martinez cocktail as the first, created at the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco. This tale is told in Barnaby Conrad’s III book, The Martini’s Origin, claiming it came about after a miner requested a pick-me-up in the city on his way to Martinez.

But another story is the potential for the first Martini to have come from a notion of brevity as patrons ordered a Gin and Martini Vermouth, shortening it to just Martini.

The Marguerite

The Marguerite

  • 40ml Hendrick’s Gin
  • 20ml dry vermouth
  • Dash of orange bitters 

Stir down over ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass. No garnish.
Adapted from a recipe in Stuart’s Fancy Drinks and How to Mix Them, 1904.

The Marguerite was perhaps the first prescription for the modern, dry interpretation of the Martini. Given in Stuart’s Fancy Drinks and How to Mix Them (1904), it calls for two parts Plymouth gin, one part French vermouth, and a dash of orange bitters.

The Martini’s earliest beginnings were a murky affair, but it was Prohibition that saw new influences brought to bear on the drink.

The ban on alcohol upset the American bartenders, many of whom went to Europe and others even further afield. Upon their return after Prohibition, these bartenders brought back with them new experiences and products, and introduced them to the new American palate post-Prohibition. By this stage, Americans were equally aroused by dark spirits as they were in the growing lighter spirits category. After the second world war, the country would come to be gripped by the anxiety of the cold war, which had the paradoxical effect of making vodka, spirit of the Soviets, more popular, and the use of it in cocktails more liberal. The home cocktail bar also became important in the 1950’s, and the three Martini lunch became de rigueur amongst the ad men of New York.

By the 1970’s the complete deterioration of the once mighty gin Martini was all but complete. Suddenly any hack composition of fruit and neon was enough to be called an ‘Insert Fruity Double Entendre’ Martini.

Jangling Jack's House Martini

Jangling Jack’s House Martini

  • 45ml dry gin
  • 15ml dry vermouth
  • 2 dashes of orange bitters
  • Big, big grapefruit twist

Stir down all ingredients and serve up in a cocktail glass. Garnish with the grapefruit twist.
Adapted from a recipe at Jangling Jack’s, Sydney.

Thankfully, the dawn of the cocktail revival in the early naughties saw a return to the bosom of Mother’s Ruin. The gin Martini was king amongst cocktails again, and saw techniques and garnishes come to the fore — even custom tincture programs, like that at Sydney bar The Barber Shop.

“Similar to the idea that fashion turns in tighter and tighter circles of repetition, the Martini has reflected the culture of the time,” Egerton says.

“I think what makes the Martini so unique is its ability to wear the clothes its companion wants it to wear. It can be sharp, dry, and quick-witted, or dirty, dark and sullen to wash away unwanted days.”

And it’s got many years ahead of it yet.