I never really drink gin martinis. I’d rather have an interesting sour or something more exotic like a Sanru. After making and drinking a few gin martinis I thought I’d muse a little.
(3 to 1)
2.25 oz. Citadelle gin
.75 oz. Noilly prat dry vermouth
dash orange bitters
homogenized lemon peel (expressed in the stirring pitcher)
This variation is fantastic and refreshing. Citadel is a gin with a ratio of juniper and coriander that is not as extreme as other more juniper dominant bottlings. The acidity of the vermouth does not stand out significantly and the lack of sweetness mutes the effect of the orange bitters to elegance.
(2 to 1)
2 oz. Tanqueray gin
1 oz. Dolin dry vermouth
dash orange bitters
top notes of lemon peel
This version has a different sense of harmony. Tanqueray has a very large amount of juniper relative to coriander, yet in the drink, because of the inhomogeneous lemon peel, the gin’s aggressive angular aromatic nature is intensely overshadowed. For some, the acidity from the large quantity of dry vermouth is too challenging. Dolin is also a brand known for its gorgeous bright muscat meets elder flower fruit, but even in such a large quantity and paired with orange bitters, the fruit is not readily obvious.
The martini is a drink in love with exclusivity and has a very skewed sense of harmony. Elitists are quick to defend the iconic beverage as high art and their misty prose leaves others with little understanding of what is really going on.
Within, the the martini is composed of two well entrenched high art ingredients. Dry gin defends itself by adding extra exotic-seeming botanicals in trace amounts that have no real bearing on the overall aroma. The extra ingredients are strictly symbolic (gin is all about olfactory symbolism), yet new producers constantly fall into the trap of actually using the extra botanicals to influence flavor with the consequence of their gins often smelling like someone added cracked black pepper. Gin drinkers are often very brand sensitive but the most important, least analyzed difference between producers is their juniper to coriander ethic. Some producers are in love with juniper and their gins can come across as bottled pine trees while others show restraint and can come across as either elegant or sometimes bland if too much overshadowing happens. No one way is better. Each is just a different sense of harmony related to symbolic value placed on the juniper aroma within an imbiber’s osmology (olfactory world).
Vermouth is one of the trickiest beverages to understand, eluding language and being defined only circularly as a “beverage that resembles the characteristics of and tastes like vermouth”. Dry vermouth may have been paired with gin because of its alliterative botanical concept as well as its delicacy and inability to overshadow. Gin’s exclusivity techniques look like white lies relative to the many claims of deliberate misinformation in vermouth production techniques. The main item of misinformation in question is that botanicals are extracted using high proof solvents when the truth is really the opposite. The solvents are adjusted to the minimum of microbiological stability so they don’t over extract bitter principles. If aspiring producers fall for the high proof trap, they will never figure out how to replicate existing producers’ success. Exclusivity is furthered with claims that formulas are composed of a massive array of botanicals which conflicts with some open producer’s claims of using only a few.
As the sum of its parts, the Martini has a strange sense of spatial effect. If made as gin and dry vermouth in a varying ratio, sweetness, which is important to so many other styles of drink, is nearly eliminated. As opposed to a sour style drink with voluptuous pornographic proportions, the martini is tall, gaunt and uniquely very attractive. The function of dry vermouth in the martini is complex. For starters, dry vermouth simply dilutes gin’s alcohol and aroma. This all happens with a swap for vermouth’s acidity and its largely self contrasted round aroma. The change in ratio between gin and vermouth is really the push and pull of numerous planes of it’s spatial effect. Angular aromas and real acidity are not exactly an even trade and many people find vermouth’s acidity to be inharmonious with the absence of sweetness in such a high alcohol environment. It just all has a shape within the mind they can’t handle.
Besides imbibers enjoying an easy connoisseurial point to distinguish themselves, aroma may be the reason the gin martini has evolved to the dry, no vermouth style. If the nature of aromas can significantly effect our perception of structure, modern gin styles employ aroma to effectively create experiences that can go unameliorated. No acid necessary, modern gin producers took care of that literally (dissolved acid post distillation) or figuratively (shape of the aroma). No contrasting round aroma necessary, modern producers built that in. Not that anything malicious is going on, but eliminate a middle man and you can sell more product.
Modern gins have enough angular aroma to be refreshing but not too much that they need to be diluted with vermouth to find common harmony. There is more citrus peel in modern formulas and coupled with orange bitters, as well as effective use of a twist, martini-esque sense of space can be maintained without the vermouth.
Now that the largest points of contention are squared away, what are thought of as mere garnishes, the olive and lemon twist, often become the most exciting and defining parts of the martini. The olive adds salt from its brine which is still a rare plane to manipulate in the cocktail realm. The twist can either be applied into the liquid and stirred or directly to the top of the drink with the difference being the creation of a homogeneous or inhomogeneous element. Frontal olfaction is very powerful, and strong inhomogenous top notes have a large tendency to overshadow aromas within the drink therefore they can make an experience very distinct. A lemon twist should be wielded with a lot of empathy because it really determines the fate of dollar-an-ounce gin.
With such a skewed sense of space, temperature becomes a plane that is critically important to the martini. The gaunt, thin drink becomes very cranky as it warms and is best thought of as a three part shot. Stirring the drink to minimize dissolved gas with an adequate amount of ice is important as well the realization that an un-chilled glass will suck the cold right out of the liquid.
Like the architect Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe stated, God is in the details. If you understand the landmarks you can move around and shape an entire world with its own spiritual life. The martini has a surprising amount of relationships that can benefit from more attention than most. Small changes have a very significant influence on spatial effect and therefore emotional response. With every decision within the martini having such intense impact, the drink might actually be worthy of all the obsession and fetishism lavished upon it.