The martini is an iconic cocktail. Its popularity continues to reign across bars all around the world. Despite its appeal, discussions surrounding the best recipes are fraught with contention. That’s why we invited some of the UK’s most respected martini makers to hash it out.
In the ring are Agostino Perrone, Director of Mixology at the Connaught Hotel, Alessandro Palazzi, Bar Manager of Dukes Hotel and Kevin Armstrong, owner of Satin’s Whiskers.
Round One — Let’s Talk About Base.
“…The spirit is really the protagonist…”
Over time the modern choice of vodka as a base for a martini has become just as popular as the traditional gin, but both offer different taste experiences. Gins have a more complex botanical flavour, adding both depth and aroma, whereas vodka gives you a nice clean hit. What do our panellists think? Don’t mention the Vesper and curveball. Some gin brands just don’t suit the drink.
It’s ultimately down to the consumers preferred tastes and what brands they request. There are far more base options for this recipe than there used to be, so in the case of a brand call, be sure you consider balancing the flavours rather than adhering to a classic recipe dogma.
However, it’s worth deciding on a house style if you want to attract the true blue martini aficionados.
(There might be a better press shot, as this is grabbed from the net, so it’s worth asking Kevin)
Round Two — House Style
“Basically, if I had to come up with the perfect one, I’d just have a machine I could plug those variables into…”
Which of our panellists chucks their vermouth on the floor in disgust? Who believes in the ceremony of the stir? And who emphasises keeping their spirits at sub-zero temperatures?
The truth is, there is a lot of emotion contained within a house martini recipe. The elements to consider are theatre, glassware, methodology, dilution, proportion and ingredients such as vermouth, bitters and garnish.
Technical aspects of the methodology can really change the drink. For example, Ago Perrone talks about the long, high pour they do in the Connaught that allows the flavour to aerate and expand. In contrast, Kevin Armstrong discusses how they control technical variables such as ingredient temperatures at Satan’s Whiskers. Making everything as close to the temperature to the ice as possible, he slows down the temperature change, which achieves better control over the resulting cocktail. Alessandro puts The Duke Hotel’s house style down to value. In his bar you’ll get a glass full of luxury ingredients, decadently made, to consume in a leisurely manner.
Whatever your emphasis, they all agree on one thing: keeping the interaction alive. They all aim to take their guests on a memorable and pleasurable journey to that first biting cold sip.
Round Three — Dilution
“I’m not drinking that. It’s a swimming pool of water flavoured with juniper.”
There is no doubt that once the ingredients for the martini are established, that dilution is next on the agenda. Our three bartenders talk about dilution in terms of aroma, taste, temperature and texture — so it’s a big deal.
There are a lot of factors that influence dilution that are highly variable. Ice, ambient room temperature, equipment and unfortunately, for precision’s sake, the bartender’s intuition and experience all affect the efficacy of the dilution process.
They all manage this to different degrees by keeping the ingredients, glassware and equipment cold. However, they are as well informed about their bar’s particular environmental differences as can be. This is what gives them the edge when it comes to the judgements they make in the moment.
Round Four — Garnish
“I disagree with you. It’s strange…”
Alessandro says to Kevin. They’re arguing about whether the garnish is an essential ingredient or just “icing on the cake.”
Ago talks romantically about caressing the glass with lemon oils and Alessandro insists on the quality of Amalfi lemons.
It’s true that a garnish might be the first thing you smell as you raise the martini to your mouth, so perhaps he’s right.
Why don’t you watch it and see what you think?
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