The Martini is a resilient beast.

Despite the ravages of time — vodka taking over for the traditional gin, various “-tini” aberrations with everything from sour apple to coffee flavors, the debate over olive or onion or no garnish at all — the Martini remains a proud icon of the cocktail’s past and a flag bearer for its future. For purists, to substitute vodka for gin — with nary a hint of vermouth — is an insult to the soul of the drink. One is drinking nothing more than two ounces of ice cold vodka. Likewise, old school drinks folk would scoff at the new martinis made with artisan gins that don’t fit the London Dry profile. Well, all’s fair in love and cocktails. Modern, and perhaps more forgiving, thinking now allows for the martini to be made with gin (with hundreds of possibilities) or vodka, as the imbiber desires.

Indeed, the star martini on the menu at LA’s Normandie Club is unabashedly made with vodka.  Why? Well, why not? As one-third of Proprietors LLC (the other two principals being Dave Kaplan and Devon Tarby), Alex Day explains, “The great thing about the Martini — and why it can be so polarizing — is that everyone thinks they know best. Which is absolutely the case; we all have our exact preferences for how it should be made. That flexibility is at the core of the Martini. It’s a category, not a hard-and-fast drink recipe.”

Words that should be considered and taken to heart, because even in the midst of this vast cocktail reawakening, we need to be fluid in our opinions (at least some of them). And, as this is a hospitality industry, we need to give the customer what he or she wants. Gin or vodka. Bitters or not.  Olive or lemon twist.  The Martini is there for you, ready, willing, and very, very able.

GIN MARTINIS ARE OLD SCHOOL

If you are a purist, by all means, drink your martini that way. Some people prefer 5:1 gin to vermouth, others like a more equitable 2:1 ratio. The choice is yours. London Dry gins like Beefeater, Brokers, and Tanqueray all produce superb versions. For vermouth, again, it’s personal choice, but Dolin Dry is often the bottle most frequently used.

Modern Martini

Modern Gin Martini, Dry

Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock.com

Modern Gin Martini, Dry

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 oz. London Dry Gin
  • 1/2 oz. Dry Vermouth
  • Garnish with olive, lemon peel, or onion (which actually makes it a Gibson, not a Martini)

Preparation: Place all ingredients in a mixing glass, fill it with ice, and stir until well chilled. Strain into a coupe glass.

While Plymouth is not a London dry gin, its citrus character and softer dry profile make a tasty drink as well. In fact, one of the earliest recipes for a Dry Martini called for Plymouth gin by name and incorporated the aromatics of orange bitters.

Classic Gin Martini with Lemon Peel

Classic Gin Martini with Lemon Twist

Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock.com

Marguerite Cocktail

From Stuart’s Fancy Drinks and How to Mix Them (1904)

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz. Plymouth gin
  • 1 oz. Dry Vermouth
  • 1 dash Orange Bitters

Preparation: Place all ingredients in a mixing glass, fill it with ice, and stir until well chilled. Strain into a coupe glass.

Some early versions of the drink weren’t even dry — the Martini Cocktail from Cocktail Boothby’s American Bar-Tender (1891) called for Old Tom cordial gin (suggesting it was a sweetened version) as well as sweet vermouth, plus Angostura bitters and lemon peel. Clearly, the intensity of the vermouth — the deep chocolate and tobacco flavors of Carpano Antica, the more Christmas spices character of Vya – will help define this drink.

Martini Cocktail

Adapted from Cocktail Boothby’s

  • 1 1/2 oz. Old Tom Gin
  • 1 1/2 oz. Sweet Vermouth
  • 4 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • Lemon Peel, for Garnish

Preparation: Place all ingredients in a mixing glass, fill it with ice, and stir until well chilled. Strain into a coupe glass. Express the oils of the lemon peel over the coupe and rub it around the edge of the glass. Discard or use as garnish, as desired.

If you are a gin lover, but want to mix it up: That’s what the more modern styles of gin are there for. Hendrick’s (with its cucumber and rose petals), Aviation (offering up lavender and sarsaparilla), and Barr Hill (made with farm-fresh honey) are all winners.


VODKA MARTINIS ARE IN

Classic Martini

Classic Vodka Martini

Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock.com

If you only drink vodka, you are in luck. These days, vodka tastes like vodka. No longer a “tasteless” spirit, vodka often expresses the terroir of its alcohol base (from rye to wheat to sweet potatoes), as well as the character of the water used to cut it. Absolut Elyx was one of the earliest vodkas to deem itself “luxury” and draw from a private estate of Swedish wheat. Stoli Elit offers a super-premium collection of vodkas from remote water sources that raise the price tag to $3,000 a bottle. Other more recent entries include Purity from Sweden and Belvedere’s unfiltered rye vodka.

At the Normandie Club, the bartenders serve up a vodka martini without apology. It offers up a bit of a riff on the standard, but unlike most vodka “martinis”, this recipe incorporates sherry and honey syrup.

Of the recipe, co-creator Day says, “We chose to take inspiration from everything we love about a Martini: clean flavors, cold as all hell, with a subtly and nuance that underscores the Martini’s sophistication. In this case, the focus of our Martini was a beautiful fino sherry from Alexander Jules. The vodka acts as a foundation for the sherry to shine.”

Martini 1

Martini 1

Photo Courtesy of The Normandie Club

Martini 1

Courtesy of Devon Tarby amd Alex Day, The Normandie Club

  • 2 oz. Grey Goose Vodka
  • 1 oz. Alexander Jules Fino Sherry
  • 1 tsp. Raw White Honey Syrup
  • Sel Gris, in an atomizer with water

Preparation: Stir until well chilled and strain into a Nick & Nora glass. Top with atomized sel gris.