Many people might assume that the Martini is a simple cocktail made with gin and vermouth, and garnished with an olive or a lemon twist. While those ingredients may form the base of one of the best-known mixed alcoholic beverages, there’s much more to creating the perfect martini than you might think.
Matched beautifully with natural oysters, and famously referenced when James Bond requested that his Martini be “shaken, not stirred,” the history of this popular cocktail is slightly ambiguous. I recently caught up with the Martini Whisperer, Phillip Jones to ask him a few questions about the classy cocktail and to find out where the best Martini in Canberra can be found….
What’s your favourite Martini and why?
“The one I’m drinking at that particular moment? 😉 No, really it depends. Each Martini is unique, even with the same ingredients, so if the one I’m sipping is in harmony with my mood and circumstance, then I’m a very happy chap indeed.”
What do you love about Martinis?
“It’s all rather zen. They are so simple, yet so hard to perfect. So many things can conspire to mar the perfection, so when you have one that’s on song, they really are greater than the sum of their parts. They possess elegance, potency and are always an occasion.”
What are your tips for creating the perfect Martini at home?
Put your glasses and mixing vessel in the fridge well before cocktail hour, keep your Dry Vermouth there too once opened (it does go off after a while) and your gin or vodka in the freezer.
Use plump green Sicilian olives (NEVER those stuffed ones!) or fresh lemons for a garnish.
Put some nice music on, be calm and happy as you stir (never shake) and pour your chilled Martini into the glasses, which are also nice and frosty. Add a couple of drops of orange bitters at the end. If nothing else, chilling things down will improve your Martini experience.”
If I was hosting a dinner party and wanted to serve Martinis to my guests, what Martini would you recommend and what canapés would match that Martini?
“Ooh, good question. I assume most people haven’t had a good Martini before so you want something smooth that isn’t going to shock them.
Try the fragrant London No.3 Gin with a twist in a dry Martini, its very approachable with lots of juniper piney notes without being too astringent for first timers. Alternately, go for a medium dry (more Dry Vermouth) with the classic Plymouth Gin which is a gentle rounded gin.
Natural oysters go very well with a Martini, so does blue cheese on rare roast beef as a canapé, the rich flavours marry well with the cocktails cut-through.”
What’s the best martini you’ve had in the world and where was it from?
“Gosh, that’s a tricky question.
A great Martini experience is more than just the cocktail itself, it’s the company, vibe, location and all that. I’ve had the full spectrum of dreadful to brilliant, its quite the extreme sport! You can have a really decent cocktail that is let down by the situation.
One that comes to mind was last year when I enjoyed a brilliant road trip of some 3000 miles around the Southwest of the USA. I ended the trip coming from Palm Springs (a natural Martini habitat) to LAX in a rather stressful 3 hours of intense freeway driving. Once through security, check in and the rest, I was in dire need of a drink. We had access to one of the lounges and to my utter delight they were serving Martinis. For free.
More to the point they were excellent, based on Beefeater 24 Gin. Stirred, great olives, chilled, and absolutely therapy in a glass after my ordeal! All the better for being so unexpected.”
What are your tips for ordering a Martini at a bar?
“Scope the back bar, what spirits are they carrying, choose your gin or vodka accordingly. Avoid a bar that uses Cinzano as the dry vermouth – it will ruin it because it’s way too fruity – it needs to be French Noilly Prat or Dolin.
The bar person should ask how you want your Martini – what gin or vodka and what garnish. Be open to suggestions, if they seem to know what they’re talking about – they can suggest a nice gin or garnish combination if you’re open to it.
Hopefully they’ll chill your glass as they mix.
When in doubt just ask nicely for it very chilled, stirred and what combination of gin/vermouth/garnish you prefer.”
What’s the best Martini you’ve had in Canberra?
“Often you’ll get one or two people in a bar who know they’re way around a Martini, so if they’re not on duty you can get a mixed result. However, the most reliably good to excellent Martinis I’ve recently experienced can be found at Bar Rochford, Hippo Bar, Tipsy Bull, Jones & Co., Hyatt Hotel Canberra and QT Canberra’s Capitol Bar and Grill or Lucky’s Speakeasy.
Readers should tune into my Martini Whisperer Facebook page live broadcast events each month where I visit bars around town, order a Martini and we see what ensues!”
Do you prefer an olive or a twist? What kind of olives?
“Depends on the gin or vodka really. Some work better with different garnishes. But always a plump Sicilian (pitted or unpitted) – 1 or 3 for luck. I’m not a fan of stuffed olives, they taint the cocktail. For the bold, try a Gibson Martini which uses small cocktail onions for a savoury note!
Sometimes I’ll push the envelop with fresh herbs like rosemary or thyme, especially in the warm months to bring out particular botanical notes in the gin.”
Last but not least, stirred or shaken?
“You should always stir your Martini. Invest in a long spoon, mixing glass, and a strainer for home if you can. Shaking a Martini will result in two things, flakes of ice will end up in your cocktail, which is more unpleasant and can also result in clouding the Martini – both no-nos.
By stirring gently over ice in a chilled mixing glass you’ll arrive at a lovely elegant cocktail, it even sounds better.”
Shame on you Mr Bond!
You can attend the Sip + Scent Masterclass with the Martini Whisperer on Friday 14 July at the Canberra Centre to celebrate the opening of their new beauty precinct, Monaro Mall.
Sip on a signature cocktail while sampling new scents as Canberra’s Martini Whisperer, Phillip Jones joins forces with fragrance expert Dimitri Weber to pair together custom fragrances with a bespoke Martini.
Feature image is of the Vesper Martini from Lucky’s Speakeasy at QT Canberra.