The Martini is one of the most iconic cocktails in the world but the best way to drink it – with vodka or gin, shaken or stirred – is still a matter of debate.
If you're looking to history for answers, you might come up short. "No one really knows the exact date and place it was created," says elit by Stolichnaya Brand Ambassador and martini expert Brent Lamberti. "The earliest version of a martini seems to have its roots in the late 1800s, early 1900s."
Most likely, the first incarnation of what we know consider a martini is from a 1911 cocktail recipe that called from equal parts gin and dry vermouth along with a few dashes of orange bitters. "Actually, vodka martinis didn't really explode in this country until the 1970s."
In 1953, when Ian Flemming first wrote Casino Royale and made James Bond a Vodka drinker, the spirit was nowhere near as popular as it is today. "In fact, back then, it was unconventional to drink. It was only consumed by those in the know, or those who had traveled to Eastern Europe and had come into contact with it. The fact that this Brit spy was drinking Vodka let you know this wasn't someone who played by the rules."
But by no means does Bond end the debate. "That there is even a debate still to this day about vodka versus gin martinis speaks volumes about just how versatile and nuanced martinis are, even with so few ingredients." The differences between the two are quite evident. "With vodka, the softness and earthiness of the grains really come through in the favor. With gin, the primary flavor comes from the botanicals it is made with, which in most cases is juniper but can also include other fruits or spices."
In other words, the gin or vodka question is really a matter of personal preference. While technically, the first martini was made with gin, says Lamberti, "more enlightened drinkers realize that gin is just a type of flavored vodka."
Even the way it's mixed – shaken or stirred – is up to the imbiber. "The dilution and temperature should remain the same either way. What changes is the mouth feel. Do you want icy shards and tiny air bubbles in your cocktail? Shaken is your style. Want a silky, smooth mouth feel? I would recommend trying yours stirred."
There are a few musts: "Always start with the best ingredients, and serve them in glasses no larger than 5 ounces." The cocktail should remain cold from start to finish. "The 10 ounce martini glasses you often see may look like a good idea at the time, but what you usually end up with is a goblet of warm liquor that could stop a rhino in its tracks." And fresh ice is a must. "If you use ice that has accumulates a smell and taste from being in your freezer too long, that undesired taste can end up tainting your martini."
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