The martini is a famous cocktail, and it seems that everyone has a different opinion about it. The history of this drink is murky at best, with tales ranging from the California Gold Rush to the Martini-Henry rifle. The vodka martini and all the many other fashionable cocktails with “-tini” tacked on the end, while delicious, are not true martinis. The key is that a true martini contains only two liquids: gin and vermouth. The ratio of these two ingredients, however, has varied throughout its history, from a 50-50 gin to vermouth ratio before World War II to straight chilled gin by the 1950s.
Determining your perfect martini recipe is not a trivial task. It requires extensive research, a substantial liquor collection and a liver of steel. I am an engineer by training, so I approached this arduous task as a real-world process and designed a series of experiments to account for each variable. I tend to be a bit old-fashioned in my cocktail preferences, so I already knew that I liked a bit more vermouth than is currently favored. My first experiment was to mix three martinis, all using Tanqueray gin and Noilly Prat dry vermouth, but with 4-1, 3-1 and 2-1 ratios of gin to vermouth.
The 4-1 was very ginny indeed, with lots of juniper and a distinctly recognizable brine character from the olive. The 3-1 was much smoother up front, with a longer finish. Overall it was noticeably sweeter and milder. The 2-1 ratio had a much thicker body and was relatively sweet compared to the other two. I definitely liked the 3-1 ratio with the Tanqueray gin, as it provided the best balance.
The second experiment I ran was to try different styles of gin. I maintained the 3-1 ratio from the previous experiments but compared Tanqueray, Plymouth and Bluecoat gins side by side. The Plymouth gin was the most neutral of the three and was very smooth in the martini. Not as much salt was apparent in this cocktail, which surprised me, and the flavor just faded away. Personally, I think this gin is too neutral for this cocktail, but if you like vodka martinis, you should start with it.
The Bluecoat is an American Dry Gin that relies much more heavily on citrus than on juniper compared to Tanqueray. The martini has distinctly less Pine-Sol character, with more of a lemon taste. The martini was a bit drier up front, with a light, sweet finish. The Tanqueray is a classic gin with much more of a juniper bite. The finish had a more winelike character and was rough compared to the other two.
Now the classic martini has either an olive or a lemon twist as the garnish. I, however, typically prefer a cocktail onion, as I find that it adds a tiny bit more salt and spice to the drink; this variation is a called a Gibson. I also like the perfect martini variant, which substitutes half of the dry vermouth for sweet vermouth. This drink is much sweeter and smoother than a standard martini, but I found that it isn’t so good with an olive; the flavors just clashed.
The best alternative that my friends and I found is actually an orange twist. We tried a 3-1 perfect martini with orange twist garnish with both Blue Coat and Tanqueray. The Blue Coat had a nice orange flavor over the vermouth and was noticeably milder than the standard martini. The lemon took a back seat in this drink, and the juniper flavor got lost. The Tanqueray, however, balanced the orange, juniper and wine flavors beautifully.
At this point, we decided to call it quits and declared the Tanqueray Perfect Martini with Orange Twist our favorite drink of the night. It balanced the flavors and presented enough complexity to keep us from getting bored. Also, we thanked our lucky stars that we did not try a full factorial design of the experiment, as 10 martinis is quite enough for one night.