Beyond “Shaken, Not Stirred”: Uncovering the Martini

Martini feature

Once the lunchtime mistress of business execs and the chosen libation of secret agents, E.B. White deemed it the “elixir of quietude,” but the martini, despite being the most recognizable cocktail in the world, often is the most misunderstood.

By RK Gella

The complexity of a martini is not so much in the ingredients as the manipulation of those ingredients and the lexicon used to describe them.

To issue such a plain request as “one martini, please” is as vague a practice as asking for a plate of cooked beef from a steak house.

Without dictation the cocktail surrenders personality. The full enjoyment of the final product is highly dependent on several key factors that vary from drinker to drinker. All martinis should contain a personality that thusly if in accordance to his specs will be reflective of the drinkers.

Before deciding what martini fits you best – and please no flavored martinis (which we'll discuss later), it is crucial to first understand what you're getting yourself into and secondly how to get yourself into what you want.

Martini Basics

The Basics

In its most rudimentary description, a martini is a cocktail of gin and dry and/or sweet vermouth. Traditionally the cocktail runs a ratio of three parts gin to one part dry vermouth. It is most commonly served “straight up” in a martini glass and garnished with either olives or a lemon twist.

The recipe would look like this:

1.5 oz. Gin

0.5 oz. Dry Vermouth

Combine ingredients into a Boston shaker and fill with ice. Stir twenty times clockwise then twenty times counter clockwise, and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with olives or a lemon twist.

However, if this recipe were universal the intrigue behind the martini would have lost legs a long time ago. Its enigmatic origins – explainable by a number of vying tales – and its malleable nature – Winston Churchill and Earnest Hemingway preferred their martinis custom fitted – has reinforced the character of what so many imbibers around the world find appealing about the martini.

Gin VS. Vodka

Some purists would tell you not to waste your time with such a quandary, and that if you are inclined to choose vodka, order a vodka and soda instead. But the truth is that vodka has become a popular substitute, even if it is absent of the nuances seasoned martini drinkers prefer.

Gin martinis are often prepared to classic standard, with a count of dry vermouth and stirred, while vodka martinis are often served minus vermouth and shaken (to maximize chilling).

The gin martini will offer more recognizable nuances (pine, juniper, coriander, anise) resulting from the chosen gin, paired with the floral and citrus tones of the dry vermouth.

The vodka martini will be rather flavorless, an attribute vodka martini drinkers desire, giving it a dry crisp drinkability.


Although either type of vermouth can be used, dry vermouth is predominant. A combination of dry and sweet vermouth is used on occasion as well (perfect martini). It is very rare to find a martini made with solely sweet vermouth.

Vermouth is a fortified wine infused with herbs and spices, with it origins attributed in Italy. Although it has found its role decreased in modern martini consumption it is still a vital ingredient.

Many drinkers who want to savor the flavors of the base spirit will ask for a dry martini, meaning little to no vermouth. The archaic joke for dry martini lovers is that the vermouth bottle merely needs to be waved above the glass or at eyes few of the glass. Interestingly enough the martini may have been named after the popular Italian vermouth Martini & Rossi.

Most bartenders will not add vermouth to a vodka martini.


To Shake or Stir

The theory is that shaking a martini disrupts the molecular structure of the cocktail therefore altering the flavor. This has been unfounded. What is known is that shaking gets a colder cocktail and adds more water.

Those drinking a vodka martini wouldn't notice much of a difference with the added water, and in most cases the colder the vodka martini the better.

For the gin martini faring public, to shake or to stir, is a bit more complicated. By shaking the drink more of the botanicals and complexity is unleashed, however by stirring you achieve a more delicate cocktail that preserves a soft velvety texture.

In either preparation the most important outcome is that the drink is served ice cold.

The Garnish

This is less a tactical category than simple preference. Vodka or gin, dry or wet, shaken or stirred; olives are the favorite for any combination 95% of the time. Yet, there are the 5% out there who detest the briny fruit, in or out of a martini. For them there is the lemon twist.


The twist of lemon peal offers a zesty pleasantry to an ice-cold martini, while the olives (green olives), present a dry brininess and give martini drinkers something to gnaw on.

Flavored Martinis

Appletinis, chocolatinis, raspberrytinis; these are not martinis that should be ordered unless you've had six of the real ones and forgot who you were. I'm a proponent of exploring the mixology terrain, but simply adding the suffix “tini” to the end of a flavor and supplying it in a martini glass does not designate it a martini.

There should be no questions on this one.

A Secret

The secret to ordering the best martini is to know what you're ordering and to do it with confidence – you should never stutter when ordering your martini. To be able to complete the second you have to be able to do the first.

And remember, deciding on the right martini is like breaking in a baseball mitt, once you get it the way you like it, it'll be old faithful. But please no flavored martinis.

Glossary of Terms

Bruised – A term tied to the process of shaking a martini.

Dirty – The addition of olive brine.

Dry – Associated with dry vermouth; but delineates the cocktail to have little to no vermouth.

Gibson – A martini cocktail garnished with a pearl onion.

Naked – Ingredients and glass are chilled without the use of ice.

On the Rocks – A martini served over ice.

Perfect – A martini made with both sweet and dry vermouth.

Rinse – Can be done with vermouth to create a dry martini. Just enough liquor is used to coat the glass, and then the remnants are discarded.

Shaken – Contents are poured into a shaker with ice then shaken vigorously.

Stirred – Contents are poured into a shaker with ice then stirred with a bar spoon.

Up – A traditional way of serving a martini, chilled without ice.

Wet – A martini made with the standard to an increased measure of dry vermouth.