If you want a Manhattan, talk to a New Yorker; if you’re in the mood for a mojito, speak to a Cuban; and if you’re in need of a stiff martini – a classic combo of vermouth and gin – then seek out an Italian in London, specifically one named Alessandro Palazzi.
The bartender is the man behind the mixer at iconic West End haunt Dukes London, which was frequented by James Bond author Ian Fleming and is said to be the inspiration for the classic 007 line, “shaken, not stirred” – in short, the origin of the most iconic martini in the history of boozing (although Bond’s preferred tipple is actually the vodka martini).
This history of the martini is a bit of a mixer itself – two measures of legend, a large shot of myth, and a sprinkling of mystery. No one knows for sure where the drink was actually invented. Some say cocktail king Jerry Thomas created it in San Francisco in the late 1800s, derived from the Martinez (itself derived from the Manhattan); others would argue it was created in New York’s Knickerbocker Hotel in the early 1900s by bartender Martini di Arma di Taggia, as a tipple for John D Rockefeller himself.
Another, perfectly plausible theory is that it’s a renamed Marguerite cocktail, shortened from the simple order of a gin and Martini – as in, the Italian vermouth of the same name, which, rather confusingly, isn’t the same thing, but is sometimes used as an ingredient (depending on your preference in vermouth, of course).
Like dress codes such as black tie, or more appropriately, cocktail attire, the drink has changed over time. But one thing that is certain, based on the historical progression of old-school cocktail recipe books, is that the martini was originally sweeter, with early recipes including orange curacao. Over the years, martinis became increasingly ‘dry’, sometimes with a dash of bitters and commonly garnished with a twist or olive. The V-shaped glass cocktail glass is also a must for the classic martini experience.
Palazzi is staunchly against the idea of the perfect martini coming with a set of instructions (not always the easiest when interviewing a man to find out, say, the instructions for fixing the perfect martini), but he did share a few basic steps to follow when making the drink.
100ml London dry gin
10ml Dry vermouth
Organic lemon peel
- Freeze everything. This includes a small martini glass (not the novelty-sized ones chain restaurants use), the shaker and the spirits. “When you serve a martini as cold as possible, you numb the smell of the alcohol, allowing the layer of citrus oil from the lemon to be what comes to your nose.”
- Put three or four ice cubes into your cocktail shaker and add the ingredients. “Traditionally the martini is made with a London dry gin, though some people prefer vodka. Whichever you choose, it needs to be a premium spirit.”
- The big question is, shake or stir? “When you shake it you break the ice, which dilutes the drink. A rule I follow is: if you have people over and want them to leave at the end of the night – shake their martini. If you don’t mind them staying, stir the drink.”
- Use a bar knife or a potato peeler to prepare your lemon twist. “Using an organic lemon is very important. If you go to the shop and buy a waxed lemon, you cannot extract the oil. When you peel it, you want to be able to squeeze the skin into the glass and release the oil.”
- Strain the martini into the cocktail glass, twist the lemon peel to release the oil before adding and then serve immediately.
Common Martini Mistakes
- “In the same way when you have a dinner party you serve your food on warm plates so it stays hot, you must always serve a martini in an ice cold glass. It’s a drink to be enjoyed over a conversation.”
- “The gin should be a London dry gin; other gins contain too many botanicals.”
- “People often think the lemon is just for decoration. In fact, the skin contains a lot of oil. This is why it has to be organic and not a waxed one bought from a supermarket.”
- “If you cannot freeze your glass, I tell people they can fill it with ice before. Though many people forget to discharge the ice water before pouring in the drink.”
- “There are already too many rules to remember in life, so your martini shouldn’t come with a strict set of instructions. People don’t break the rules to find out what they like. One of my most unique creations is the White Truffle Martini.”
If you like your martini with a twist – much like Palazzi’s own concoctions – here are a few variations you can try at home.
For some people, 007’s version of the tipple is the standard, but depending on your taste buds you can use gin, vodka, or both. Bond’s recipe, as revealed in Casino Royale, is “Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thinly slice of lemon peel.”
Kina Lillet, an aromatised wine, isn’t made anymore, but you can try Lillet Blanc or Cocchi Americano as an alternative (warning: this is one strong-tasting drink).
Not actually intended for consumption at breakfast, it was inspired by breakfast, when creator Salvatore Calabrese decided to try putting marmalade into a cocktail – and so the breakfast martini was born.
Calabrese’s exact recipe is 50ml gin, 15ml Cointreau, 15ml fresh lemon juice, and a spoonful of thin sliced marmalade. What a way to start the day.
This one goes back to the martini’s sweet origins, but was in fact created in party-centric 1980s New York. It’s also only a martini in name and V-shaped glass – instead of gin and vermouth, it’s vodka, black raspberry liqueur, and pineapple juice.
Mix up the measures depending on your preferred taste, though you can’t go far wrong with three measures of pineapple juice, two measures of vodka, and one measure of liqueur.
Porn Star Martini
The creation of this drink is also up for debate. Some say it was invented in Austraila, while London bar scene legend Douglas Ankrah also takes the credit.
It includes 1½ passion fruit (supposedly an aphrodisiac, hence the name), 60ml vanilla vodka, 15ml passion fruit liqueur, 15ml fresh lime juice, and a shot glass of champagne (prosecco will do). You eat the fruit first, then drink the champagne and cocktail separately.
Another sexy-sounding twist on the martini, this one stands out from the martini crowd because it’s very, very blue.
To make it you need 60ml dry gin, 7.5ml peach schnapps, 22.5ml blue curacao, 7.5ml fresh lemon juice. Shake the ingredients together with ice and serve with orange peel garnish.