A martini seems simple enough. On paper it’s just gin and a splash of vermouth, stirred with ice and served up. Easy, right? Well if you want to prepare a serviceable example, sure. But if you’re seeking something truly transcendent, you’re going to have to do better than that. There are entire books devoted to the myriad ways in which you can take this tipple to the next level. Top shelf spirit is absolutely foundational—and a given—so today we’re going to turn our attention to the accoutrements.
In its most classical preparation, the martini is garnished with a lemon twist. With so little ingredients in the mix you really want to insure that your fruit is a fine specimen. Organic Meyer lemons are a readily available option. At Duke’s Bar in London, which serves one of the most famous martinis on the planet, beverage director Alessandro Palazzi is adamant about using only Italian citrus from the Amalfi Coast. He slowly expresses its zest over the drink, using the pith to paint the rim of the glass before plopping it into the liquid.
Sipsmith Gin master distiller Jared Brown is a regular at Duke’s, but he politely declines having the rind submerged in the beverage. “It alters the flavor,” he warns me. “Extract its essence and then simply discard it to the side.”
But for those that enjoy their cocktail dirty—with olive and its associated juices—its even easier to muck things up if you’re not careful. Even at the best of bars, showcasing the most elegant of gin and vermouth preparations, subpar garnishes are stubbornly persistent. In fact, that’s what inspired Daniel Singer to found Filthy, a brand of premium olive brines and other assorted mixers.
In 2007, the budding entrepreneur actually embarked on a two-year international quest to find the best varieties of olives and cherries for cocktail application. Next he developed a process for curing them without the use of chemicals. Today you can buy his Martini Kit for $35. It includes 3 pouches of olive brine, 12 olives stuffed with Wisconsin blue cheese, a dozen more stuffed with Spanish pimento peppers, and 4 stainless steel cocktail picks with which to affix them to your martini glass.
Of course, there are many who prefer something well outside the ordinary in their beverages. And since the martini, itself, is as classic as it gets, garnishes are where experimentally-inclined mixologists can really spread their wings. At Mary Eddy’s inside Oklahoma City’s 21c Hotel, Kyle Kern infuses his signature martini with avocado. It adds a welcome savory edge that pairs perfectly alongside the best cheeseburger in town.
At The Langham in Boston, bar manager Paige McGroarty will stir you a martini you’ll never forget, using a house-made garlic-infused gin. Its sharpness can be rounded out with the addition of pasta water. And that’s not nearly as novel as it sounds, because pasta water martinis are currently on trend.
Like we said at the start, this is a cocktail that only seems simple. There are in fact countless ways to do your martini. Just make sure you do it well!