There are few drinks more contested than the classic Martini, a drink that embodies the difficulty of simplicity. As easy as it is to make on paper, the Martini is one of the most evasive cocktails to get right. Every bartender and their mother have a different preference for the drink recipe, from vermouth to gin brand to ratio to garnish.
But the drink’s subjectivity is almost certainly responsible for it’s staying power. And while you can measure the liquid ingredients in the recipe, the water that comes from ice dilution is dependent on real-time factors like the ambient temperature of the room, the freshness of the ice, the heat of the glass and so on. So the real nuance to a Martini lies in its dilution, and in celebration of World Gin Day, we’re going to look at the factors affecting dilution more carefully.
Why Dilute a Martini?
Dilution is such a hot topic in bartending because it is so utterly imperative to making good drinks. Preferences on dilution are pretty fluid, and you need to find the right Martini making technique for you.
Just a decade ago, dilution was a dirty word. The consumption of under-diluted, high-intensity, strong abv drinks held a place of honour among bartenders. As time when on (and palates were burned away), people realised that the act of adding water to spirits releases aroma and flavour, and flavour is a good thing.
Although the jury is still out for some, the highly esteemed Dukes Bar, whose Martini is simply mixed with lavish portions of freezer-chilled spirits, has nary a drop of dilution to be found.
So here’s a little breakdown of the whys and why-nots of three types of Martini mixing methodology.
The Shaken Martini
An often disparaged method of preparing a Martini is the shake. The best technique if you want to add a high level of dilution very quickly. The additional oxygen added to the drink with this method does change many what people often consider tradition when it comes to a Martini. The drink’s appearance is the first to change; opaque as opposed to crystal clear, and the texture is thinner. However, the high level of dilution and super cold temperature make the shaken Martini work as an introduction to the drink, softening the rougher edges and making for very easy drinking, especially if made with a fruity aromatised wine instead of the classic dry vermouth.
The Thrown Martini
Throwing a cocktail (as in the long pour, not to be confused with ‘throwing’ a cocktail an in, in someone’s face) is a method of dilution that sits somewhere between a shake and a stir. Pouring the Martini between two ice-filled vessels from a height allows for the drink to be lightly aerated as well as diluted. This long-dormant method is seeing an upswing in popularity, and the finish on a thrown Martini is definitely delicious. The downside to this method is twofold; for one, the actual physical technique of throwing a drink requires some practice, and two, it’s a lot harder to regulate your dilution when throwing a drink. Tricky to pick up and harder to master; don’t throw a cocktail for the first time in front of a thirsty guest.
The Stirred Martini
Ah, stirring a Martini: A Bartenders highest calling. This is the preferred method for Martini purists, and for a good reason. Apart from it looking killer, stirring a Martini does offer the bartender the greatest degree of control over dilution rates. The slower dilution and lack of aeration leaves the drink with a unique texture, often described as ‘silky’, ‘velvety’, or ‘I hath gazed upon the face of perfection’. Whatever the preference, a stirred Martini is its most iconic iteration.
The impact that water has on drinks is incredible. With a few millilitres of dilution here or there, you’ll completely change the profile of a drink. Being experimental with dilution is the only way to find what is suitable for you and your guest. Rail gins will work either side of diluted, but a higher proof gin like Oxley, for example, requires a little more dilution to shine brightest. Whatever degree you prefer, dilution is the most vital process in drinks making. It is THE thing that blends ingredients into cocktails. From drinks purists to the entirely experimental, there is a Martini for everyone. So stay hydrated, and find out if, like that weird pond out the back of my grandmother’s house, there really is something in the water.