Everything You Need to Know about Martinis – A Full Guide

May 12, 2021  |  By Peg Kern
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Our blogs often focus on wines, cocktails, and beverages from around the world. And certainly we are living in an age in which craft cocktails and mixology get their fair share of print. But today we’re talking about an absolute classic: the martini. And we’ll include a couple martini recipe and a primer on how to make a martini.

Table of ContentsA mixed drink enjoyed during our Food Lover's Chicago Tour.

What’s in a Martini

You may have heard of other types of martinis, such as a dirty martini, a lemon drop martini, an apple martini, and the like. But a classic martini is pretty strictly just gin and vermouth. Even the garnish is specific: if it’s not a green olive, the drink isn’t even a martini anymore! So what is a martini?

Martini cocktails with olives =.Classic Martini

If you’re going to be strict about your definition of what a martini is, then it is dry gin, dry vermouth, stirred with ice and served straight up in a martini glass with an unstuffed Spanish olive. Seriously, that’s pretty specific!

No, it’s not shaken, like James Bond likes it. It’s not made with vodka, like I enjoy. It doesn’t have a blue cheese stuffed olive or a cocktail onion (then it’s a Gibson).

Modern “Martinis”A fruity martini ready to be enjoyed.

These days, if you head to a popular bar you’ll find on the drink menu a whole page devoted to what are called martinis but are actually just and assortment of cocktails served in a martini glass. Basically, by this definition any cocktail that is shaken or stirred and served straight up in a martini glass can count.

So don’t be surprised if you see Cosmopolitans, Appeltinis, and Chocolate martinis on modern martini menus.

Dry vermouth ready for making a classic martini cocktail.Martini History

If you look up the classic martini history, you will find that the exact origins of the cocktail are unclear. Some theorists say that it hails from California during the Gold Rush (specifically the town of Martinez), while others claim it was from New York, where it was named after the Martini & Rossi vermouth. Either way, the recipe dates back to the 1800s, with the first published recipe dating back to the 1880s — although that recipe called for a lemon.

Martini recipes from the 1800s typically also featured gin and dry vermouth in a 1:1 ratio. Today you’d be hard pressed to find that ratio when ordering a martini in a bar, as gin typically gets a splash or two more (and don’t be surprised when it comes in a 4:1 ratio).

Different Types of Martinis

Can you talk about different types of martinis and still satisfy purists? We think you can.

Bartender pouring a craft cocktail.Classic Martini

As we’ve said, this is the benchmark for martinis, a combination of gin and dry vermouth, stirred, served straight up in a martini glass and with an olive garnish.

Wet vs. Dry Martini

What is a dry martini? It may surprise you to know that the ingredients for a dry martini are the same as those for a wet martini. It just uses less vermouth. A wet martini, on the other hand, has a higher ratio of vermouth to gin.

Shaken vs. Stirred Martini

Everyone knows how James Bond liked his martinis. Shaken, not stirred. A classic martini, however, is always stirred so that the alcohol does not get “bruised” by being shaken forcefully with the icecubes. It is a method of chilling the drink without diluting it as much.

A bartender's tools, a shaker and jigger.Martini Straight Up

“Straight up” is a cocktail term indicating that the ice is strained out of a drink before it is served. But asking for a martini “straight up” will make you sound a bit odd. It is a redundancy, since being served straight up is part of the definition of a classic martini!

What Is a Dirty Martini?

One option for changing up the classic martini is by adding a splash of olive brine. This explains precisely how to make a dirty martini. The result is a slightly cloudier and more briny cocktail.

Other

If you’re a martini purist, there really is no “other” category for martinis, but as mentioned above, modern mixologists like to use the name for a variety of cocktails. Thus fruity “martinis,” dessert “martinis,” and other happy-hour staples are–providing they are served in a martini glass–often referred to as martinis as well.

Basic Martini Rules

So, besides stirring instead of shaking, what are the rules for making a classic martini?

An example of London dry gin during a cocktail making class.Alcohol Used

What type of gin to use for a martini? A classic martini uses not just any gin, it uses a London dry gin. This does not mean the gin needs to be made in London, however! The term “London dry gin” means that it follows a specific process that ensures the quality of the gin. It also uses a dry vermouth, and the ratio of vermouth to gin can be no more than 1:1 (and is usually less).

Size

How big should a martini be? If it is a classic martini, remember that it is purely alcohol, so a little goes a long way. A classic martini is usually 3 to 4 ounces.

Martini glasses lined up on the bar.Martini Glassware

We all know the shape of a classic martini glass. It is a perfectly conical bowl tapering down to a thin, footed stem. Although you might see oversized martini glasses, save those for specialty cocktails and use an appropriately sized martini glass for your 3-4 oz classic martini.

Martini Garnish

What type of garnish for your martini? The garnish by rule should be an unstuffed Spanish green olive. But even most purists will let you get away with a pimento-stuffed green olive, or occasionally one stuffed with garlic, almond, jalapeño, or cheese.

Another popular martini garnish, however, is “with a twist.” This is a small bit of lemon peel, which is twisted to release the oils. It provides a nice citrusy pop.

Now we get to the good stuff: how to make a martini! With a little practice, and these martini recipes, you will be whipping up classic martinis as well as other popular martinis.
Because jiggers and shot glasses sizes can vary, we’re using standard measures in these popular martini recipes.

A martini cocktail with an olive.Classic Martini Recipe

Many will claim to have the best martini recipe, but making martinis is not hard at all. Give it a try!

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup London dry gin (such as Beefeater, Bombay Sapphire, or Tanqueray)
  • 1 Tbsp dry vermouth
  • Ice
  • Spanish green olive

Instructions:

1. Chill your martini glass in the freezer for several minutes, or fill it with ice to chill.
2. Combine the gin, vermouth, and ice in a cocktail shaker. Stir gently for about 30 seconds.
3. Strain into your chilled glass.
4. Garnish with the olive.

Ingredients for a classic vodka martini.Classic Vodka Martini Recipe

The best vodka martini recipe uses the best vodka, since it is the key ingredient. Read on for how to make a classic vodka martini.

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup premium vodka
  • 1 Tbsp dry vermouth
  • Ice
  • Spanish green olive

Instructions:

1. Chill your martini glass in the freezer for several minutes, or fill it with ice to chill.
2. Combine the gin, vermouth, and ice in a cocktail shaker. Stir gently for about 30 seconds.
3. Strain into your chilled glass.
4. Garnish with the olive.

Enjoying a classic dirty martini at a Chicago bar.Dirty Martini Recipe

It’s called a “dirty” martini because the brine of the olives gives the drink a slightly cloudy (or dirty) look. Read on for how to make a dirty martini.

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup London dry gin (such as Beefeater, Bombay Sapphire, or Tanqueray)
  • 1 Tbsp dry vermouth
  • Splash of olive juice (to taste)
  • Ice
  • Spanish green olive

Instructions:

1. Chill your martini glass in the freezer for several minutes, or fill it with ice to chill.
2. Combine the gin, vermouth, and ice in a cocktail shaker. Stir gently for about 30 seconds.
3. Add the olive juice and stir for a few seconds more.
4. Strain into your chilled glass.
5. Garnish with the olive.

Gibson Martini Recipe

This is the classic martini with onion instead of olive. Yes, it is only the garnish that changes!

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup London dry gin (such as Beefeater, Bombay Sapphire, or Tanqueray)
  • 1 Tbsp dry vermouth
  • Ice
  • Cocktail onions to garnish

Instructions:

1. Chill your martini glass in the freezer for several minutes, or fill it with ice to chill.
2. Combine the gin, vermouth, and ice in a cocktail shaker. Stir gently for about 30 seconds.
3. Strain into your chilled glass.
4. Garnish with the cocktail onions.

A delicious apple martini, or appletini.Appletini Recipe

We know, it’s not a martini at all, but for those of you who want to know how to make an apple martini, here you go. Note that the quality of the vodka is not as important as in a vodka martini, as it gets overshadowed by the apple schnapps.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup vodka
  • 1/4 cup apple schnapps
  • Ice
  • Apple slice to garnish

Instructions:

1. Chill your martini glass in the freezer for several minutes, or fill it with ice to chill.
2. Combine the vodka, schnapps, and ice in a cocktail shaker. Stir gently for about 30 seconds.
3. Strain into your chilled glass.
4. Garnish with the apple slice.

Raspberry Lemon Drop Martini Recipe

Try this raspberry lemon drop martini recipe if you want something on the sweeter end of the spectrum.

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup vodka
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp simple syrup
  • 1 Tbsp Chambord (or another raspberry liqueur)
  • Ice
  • Fresh raspberries to garnish

Instructions:

1. Chill your martini glass in the freezer for several minutes, or fill it with ice to chill.
2. Combine the vodka, lemon juice, simple syrup, Chambord, and ice in a cocktail shaker. Stir gently for about 30 seconds.
3. Strain into your chilled glass.
4. Garnish with fresh raspberries.

Enjoying a chocolate martini at a Chicago bar on our Food Lover's Chicago tour.Other Martinis

Of course, you can easily adapt many of these recipe to create different martini cocktails. For instance, substitute the vermouth from a classic vodka martini for a variety of liqueurs including:

  • Bailey’s Irish Cream
  • Kahlúa (or another Coffee liqueur)
  • Pomegranate Juice
  • Cointreau (or another orange liqueur)
  • Campari or Aperól
  • Sambuca

Are they martinis? We’ll let you be the judge!

Conclusion

A martini with a twist instead of with an olive garnish.In conclusion, the martini is one of the most iconic of cocktails. While it is true that there are specific rules governing the classic martini cocktail, you can also adopt a more modern approach and let your imagination and taste buds run wild!

Most of our culinary vacations provide the opportunity to explore amazing cocktails. But our Food Lover’s Chicago tour is the perfect opportunity to try some classic cocktails in one of the world’s most fabulous cities, our hometown. Chicago’s bar and cocktail scene is legendary (as is its craft beer scene), and we have plenty of places we can recommend if you journey here on our Chicago culinary getaway. Contact us for details!

By Peg Kern

Check out some more of our favorite cocktail recipes: 

Learn about olives and wine pairings.

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