March 20, 2011

Stirred, Not Shaken

Not long ago Reggie Darling gave up martinis for Lent. He is a better man than I. The other day I was reflecting on the unbridled joy of gin while drinking the hands-down worst martini I ever had. Even with chunks of sharp ice floating on the top, a too-sweet vermouth, and an olive that should have been in a museum, I was still spell-bound by the thing. And the gin was cheap too. Then I remembered all the truly historic martinis I have consumed and felt slightly giddy. There’s the made-at-your-table old-world citrus sprinkled Plymouth genius of the Dukes Bar in London; the majestic opulence of wonder mixing at Claridges in that same fair city; the flavour-enhancing view of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York; and the pure rocket-propelled vertigo of the James Bond (sic) martini of Club 737 in Montreal (not for the faint of heart).

Martini at Dukes, by

My own humble mixes don’t pass muster I’m sure, but I do have preferences. I’ve asked around, and find no consensus. Reggie’s mix is as follows: 
I likes a whisper of vermouth in my martini, but no more than a quarter of a cap full when Im mixing two of them (one for me, one for Boy). I freeze the glasses, not the gin, and I shake it, not stir it, in the silver shaker... Sometimes I'll dirtify my martini with a teaspoonful from the olive jar, but only rarely and only when bored, which I rarely am.
The Idle Historian, who knows a thing or two about the consumption of alcohol, but never before lunch, advised me that he is ‘firm, of course, on it being stirred and not shaken. One cannot bruise the delicate, healthful molecules of gin... (and, of course, it MUST be gin, not vodka)’.

Churchill famously liked his martinis very dry (i.e., the vermouth was allowed to be in the same room as the gin, but no nearer). The Queen Mother dispensed with the pretence of the cocktail and just drank neat gin. From the bottle.

My own martinis have an accidental nature. I started by shaking the things, but after one evening the top jammed on my cocktail shaker and only came off eight months later. A god-fearing man might have taken this as a sign, but yours truly endeavoured. Taking a leaf out of the Idle Historian’s book, I took to stirring the drink. Like Reggie, I freeze the glass, not the gin. Pour four parts gin to one part vermouth in a very large, ice-filled glass and stir. The process not only seems to preserve the gin, but also to avoid partial crushing of the ice. That little bit of water melt takes the edge off the strong alcohol and allows the palate a chance at the full complexity of the gin. I pour it over three pimento-filled olives that have been thoroughly rinsed.

 It's not called Mother's Ruin for nothing, you know.
Hogarth's Gin Lane, 1751

Do not ever give me vodka. And if I order a martini, don’t do what the purveyor of awful cocktails did to me the other night and offer me Martini® Bianco. It will take you days to recover from my look of pure contempt. I promise, you will be shaken.


  1. Ah, vodka martinis. I'd rather mix one with cologne. I take mine as I do my men, a tad on the dirty side.


  2. I think I just learnt something about BTG.

  3. Gin gin gin. Never enough time, or limes, for my lovely gin.

  4. Ah the "look of pure contempt", my favorite weapon. I like to spice mine up with an arched eyebrow. It is an art form that is dying out,having been replaced with the mindless "F-bomb".

  5. Do you favour a particular brand of gin such as Hendrick's? I'm somewhat partial to Bombay Sapphire.

  6. BS is a sound choice. The Plymouth shown above is also good.


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