The Classic Gin Martini: The World's Most Famous Cocktail

Classic Gin Martini with Olives
Cappi Thompson/Moment/Getty Images
  • 3 mins
  • Prep: 3 mins,
  • Cook: 0 mins
  • Yield: 1 cocktail (1 serving)
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The classic dry gin martini is an iconic cocktail and one that should be on every bartender's list of drinks to know. Though many martinis have been created, there is only one martini and few drinks can beat this simple recipe.

There is no mystery to the martini. It is, quite simply, gin and dry vermouth. However, personal preferences among martini lovers make it a little more complicated than that. There are a number of ways to customize it and this has spurred a debate over the "proper" way to make a martini. Though it's a never-ending discussion, the only correct answer is how you, as the drinker, enjoy it best.

The nice thing about this classic cocktail is that after you fall in love with it, you will know exactly how you like it. Most of this comes from adjusting the ratio of gin to vermouth and garnish selection. After some experimentation, you may just join the ranks of devoted martini connoisseurs.

What You'll Need

How to Make It

  1. In a mixing glass filled with ice cubes, combine the gin and vermouth, pouring more or less vermouth to your taste.
  2. Stir for 30 seconds.
  3. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
  4. Add a dash of orange or Angostura bitters, if desired.
  5. Garnish with olives or a lemon twist.

Customizing the Martini

No longer can you walk into a bar or lounge and simply say, "I'll have a martini." It often becomes a game of twenty questions:

  • Gin or vodka?
  • What brand of gin (or vodka)?
  • Dry, bone-dry, or perfect?
  • Shaken or stirred?
  • An olive or a twist?
  • What kind of olives?

It's one drink, yet there are so many options. Among all of those, there are a few common recipes and each has its own name.

  • Dry Martini - Traditionally, this used more dry vermouth, which seems like the most logical approach. However, a ​dry martini today is actually defined as using little or no vermouth. Some drinkers will even simply wave a bottle of vermouth over the glass without adding a drop. It's said that Winston Churchill was known to make his dry martinis by merely chilling gin and bowing in the direction of France, where dry vermouth originated.
  • Bone Dry or Desert Martini - Used in case you want to clarify that no vermouth makes it into the mix. Essentially, you're drinking chilled gin.
  • 50-50 Martini - Uses equal parts of gin and dry vermouth because some drinkers really do enjoy vermouth.
  • Perfect Martini - Uses equal parts of sweet and dry vermouth for a slightly sweeter profile.
  • Vodka Martini - Replace the gin with vodka. This is popular among drinkers who don't necessarily enjoy the botanicals or "piney flavor" of gin.
  • Gibson - Nothing changes from the original gin martini except the garnish. This is the one cocktail that makes use of those tiny cocktail onions.
  • Dirty Martini - Add a small amount of olive brine to give the drink a salty-savory kick.

Tips for Making the Best Martini

Quality Counts. The key to a great martini is to pour quality ingredients, so start off with a top-shelf gin and a decent vermouth.

This is not a cocktail where you want to be frugal because there are only two ingredients and, if one is inferior, it will bring down the entire drink.

Also, as a number of martini fans will tell you, every gin is different. You may want to change the ratio between the two ingredients and the garnish when switching from one brand to another.

About Those Olives... If you are opting for the olive garnish, use either one or three olives skewered on a cocktail pick. It's an old bar tale that an even number of olives is bad luck, though it also looks better in the glass.

If the olives are big or stuffed with jalapenos, garlic, or the like, one olive will usually do. You will find that the flavor of the olive will slowly infuse into the drink and add just a little more dimension as it rests.

What Do Drinkers Prefer?

With all of the different approaches to the martini, it's fascinating to see how others prefer to mix it up. We did an informal poll for nine years to see how readers take their martinis and the results are rather interesting.

Of the 90,000 people who responded, over half (59 percent) preferred gin over vodka. The overwhelming majority of those drinkers enjoy a full dose of vermouth, with only 13 percent saying they prefer little or no vermouth.

Whether it includes gin or vodka, there was a slim majority (52 percent) who shake their martinis. Only 39 percent were opting for the traditional stir, and everyone else prefers to skip the martini altogether. This is interesting, especially as we think about the classic advice regarding when to shake or stir cocktails.

In general, bartenders tend to stir liquor-only drinks, saving the shake for more complex cocktails.

The traditional options are not your only choice. Many martini fans put their personal spin on preparing it. Among the most common is to chill both the gin and vermouth. One longtime martini drinker states that he stores the two bottles in the refrigerator so they're always nice and cold. This allows him to completely avoid any dilution from ice.

That approach will get you the most flavorful martini possible and it is a very nice drink. Yet, keep in mind that without dilution, the drink will remain at bottling proof. For most people, one of those drinks a night will be more than enough and for some, it's simply too strong.

How Strong Is the Martini?

The martini is not a light drink and that is why they are served short and rarely poured over 3 or 4 ounces. With the standard 80-proof gin and a light 15 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) vermouth, the martini in this recipe's proportions ​weighs in right around 31 percent ABV (62 proof). It is, without a doubt, one of the strongest drinks you can mix up.