MARTINI MASTER CLASS: A guide to the driest of drinks
While many restaurants and bars offer the martini, only a few serve the classic one
The US has given us more varieties of cocktails than you can shake a swizzle stick at. But for purely selfish reasons the martini, now back in fashion, is my favourite. A martini cuts to the quick. No stupid little umbrellas; no fruit syrups in outlandish colours.
I discovered the martini when I lived in Manhattan and fell in love with Grand Central Station. I’d mosey down to the Oyster Bar and watch businesspeople on their way home take a detour for some oysters — and that perfect martini.
The martini became the darling of the in-crowd during Prohibition in the US, between 1920 and 1933. With fashion often being born of necessity — and because gin was easier to make than whiskey — bathtub gin became the order of the day.
Roman Slepica, owner of Blind Tiger, an eatery and bar for grownups in Parkview, Joburg, learnt his craft in San Francisco. He says: "The drink is seemingly simple but can go so wrong, too. Always keep in mind that the less vermouth, the drier the martini."
Aficionados are very specific about the degree of dryness.
For instance, an extra-dry martini begs for the vermouth bottle to be waved, very briefly, across the top of the shaker.
If you’re at a self-respecting cocktail bar such as Blind Tiger and yearning for a martini, the questions you should be asked are, first, whether you want gin or vodka. Then: shaken, stirred or straight-up? (Only if the glass has been chilled.) Then: olives or a twist of lemon peel? And if you want a dirty martini, a splash of brine from the olives is added to the mix.
Slepica likes to shake his martinis. "If you stir the martini — with ice blocks that are removed before the martini is served — the ice has time to melt, which then dilutes the drink."
The shaken martini is served with splinters of ice floating on top.
Some years back I embarked on an adventure to Alaska on the Marine Highway ferry service. Once settled on the boat, I did my survival check. In the bar, the barmaid responded to my request for a martini, straight-up: "Very dry, honey?" As I nodded, she said: "In other words, a mere molecule of vermouth."
She put a few drops of vermouth into my chilled glass, rolled them around the inside and discarded the rest before adding the ice-cold vodka. I was in safe hands.
While many restaurants and bars offer the martini, only a few serve the classic one. My question is: why change that which is perfect?
Mixed-flavour martinis are now also listed on cocktail menus. Chocatini? The horror.
In the end, the choice is yours. And when you’re sipping that perfect one, the world’s your oyster.