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The Sipsmith Blog

Essential Terminology: How to order the perfect Martini

in Mixology January 2, 2021

Shaken or stirred, wet or dry? Order the perfect Martini with our simple guide to the terms surrounding the classic cocktail.

There’s a reason the Martini is such a popular drink. It’s stylish, refreshing, utterly timeless and oh-so versatile as an early-evening aperitif or a post-dinner digestive.

But what kind of Martini serve suits you? And what exactly is a dry Martini – or a wet Martini, for that matter? If you are struggling with the tricky terminology surrounding the classic cocktail – and who can blame you – we’ve put together an essential glossary that will give you a helping hand. 

Whether you like your Martini dry or dirty, with an olive or a pickled onion, banish your confusion and order with confidence. And, while you’re at it, bring another skill to your home bar by learning how to make the perfect Martini.

Dirty Martini

BURNT

Not a common order, but an interesting one. Ordering a ‘burnt Martini’ tells the bartender that you’d like a splash of smoky single malt added to your drink.

DIRTY

For those who like their cocktails to have a savoury edge, the Dirty Martini is a delicious, slightly salty, choice. The term ‘dirty’ means that olive brine, usually from a jar of cocktail olives, has been added to the drink. An olive garnish is typically assumed, too. Most bars add equal parts vermouth and brine, though you can specify ‘extra dirty’ or ‘filthy’ if you prefer more brine.

DRY

The effortlessly cool order is de rigeur among today’s drinkers, but what goes into making a ‘dry Martini’? First, ‘dry’ indicates that very little vermouth has been added to the cocktail, so the gin is the primary focus. The typical ratio is 6 parts gin to 1 part vermouth. However, order ‘extra dry’ and you’ll get the slightest splash of vermouth, or even just a glass-coating wash.

GIBSON

For an unusual but eminently effective garnish, ask for a Gibson Martini and you’ll find it’s topped with a pickled onion instead of an olive or a citrus twist.

ON THE ROCKS

When a spirit or a cocktail is ordered ‘on the rocks’, it’s simply served over ice. Note that a Martini ‘on the rocks’ is a very uncommon order, as the ice would typically result in too much dilution. The professional approach here would be to shake or stir the cocktail with ice before straining over fresh ice.

PERFECT

You want to learn how to order the perfect Martini, but the term ‘perfect’ in this instance doesn’t just mean that your drink was well made. (Though we can provide some essential tips on how to make the perfect Martini.) A ‘perfect Martini’ is one that uses 50% dry vermouth and 50% sweet vermouth (typically rosso).

SHAKEN

James Bond admirers the world over have been asking for their Martini to be ‘shaken, not stirred’ for years – but what’s the science behind this specification? Ordering a Martini ‘shaken’ means the cocktail will be more agitated and therefore more diluted. This is because the shaking motion breaks off tiny ice shards that can quickly water down a drink. Shaking also adds air to the drink, while stirring keeps the consistency velvety. There is a third way, however, and that’s a ‘thrown Martini’ (see below).

The Vesper – one way to order the perfect Martini

Today, most (but not all) bartenders will tell you that Martinis are better when stirred. If you really want to sip like 007, order a Vesper Martini, which was made famous in Casino Royale.   

STIRRED

A ‘stirred Martini’ sees the ingredients mixed with ice in a shaker and stirred with a bar spoon for at least 45 seconds. This ensures the drink is properly chilled but not overly agitated.

STRAIGHT UP

‘Straight up’ – or simply ‘up’ – refers to any drink that is prepared with ice but then strained into a (preferably chilled) glass. It’s the overwhelming preference for Martinis, and most classic cocktail-lovers don’t have to specify this when ordering – it is just what’s assumed.

THROWN

Throwing is an old-school technique that we think should never have gone out of fashion. Why? Because pouring a Martini from a tumbler high above your head into a tumbler held below not only looks impressive, but also releases aromatics, resulting in a silky-smooth sip. It requires a steady hand and razor-sharp accuracy but, like every expertly crafted gin cocktail, practice makes perfect. You might have heard of our 24hr Martini Throwing Marathon we held in support of World Gin Day in 2020. You can read more about it here.

WET

Fittingly enough, the opposite of a dry Martini is a wet Martini. This mode of preparation has fallen out of fashion in recent years, but there’s no shame in ordering it. ‘Wet’ simply means that there’s a higher percentage of vermouth, with a typical ratio being 3 parts gin to 1 part vermouth.

WITH A TWIST

Of course you want to order the perfect Martini with an extra dose of pizzazz. But the phrase ‘with a twist’ specifies that you’d like a strip of citrus peel to be twisted across the top of your drink, releasing aromatic oils into the cocktail. You can typically choose between orange, lemon and lime (pick carefully: the character of your gin determines which zest goes best). Bartenders might also ask if you’d like the twist left in your drink as a garnish.

how to make the perfect martini

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