As the song goes, "It's the most wonderful time of the year!" And what better way to make spirits bright than to whip up a batch of your favorite holiday cheer, invite a few friends over, and throw another log onto the fire. I assume this column is being read by my usual readers, that is to say highly intelligent adults who do not need to be reminded that one does not drink and drive, so I will dispense with that pedantic admonition and get on with the fun.
To begin with, there is nothing quite like a properly mixed Martini. When I speak of "Martini" I mean a real, honest to goodness, no nonsense Martini. No "appletini," no "cran-tini," no "wartermelon-tini," no "Chocolate-tini" or "Kool-aid-tini." I hate the way cocktails have been made childish and ridiculous. A Martini is an adult drink made with gin and vermouth. Period. Anything else is …well, anything else - but it most certainly is not a Martini.
Although there are some who swear by vodka Martinis, the true, traditional, classic Martini is made with gin and French dry vermouth and garnished with a pimento-stuffed green olive. There are a couple of variations on this based on the garnish. If you substitute the green olive for a black one, you have what is called a "dirty Martini." If you substitute a cocktail onion for the olive, you have a Gibson.
The best Martini as far as I'm concerned is made with Plymouth gin and Noilly Prat vermouth at a ratio of 4 to 1. That silly stuff about keeping your Martini "very, very dry" (meaning very little or almost no vermouth) is fine if what you really want is just a straight glass of gin, but if that is your pleasure why beat around the bush? - just go ahead and ask for a straight glass of gin. A Martini, on the other hand, needs the proper amount of vermouth in order to taste like a Martini. And again, the classic 1930's ratio is 4 to 1.
Now that you have the right brand of gin and vermouth in the proper ratio, here are a few other little tricks to know in making a really great Martini:
1. Use smallish Martini glasses. They're not easy to find since most of the cocktail and Martini glasses being sold today are enormous compared to the more traditional size glasses used years ago. Today's stupid glasses are anywhere from 6 oz. to 12 oz. - which means if you fill them up, you will ultimately wind up with a warm drink. The ideal size of glass should be 4 oz. But if you're stuck with the large glasses, don't fill them up all the way - pour just half. You can always refill.
2. Chill your glasses. A large part of the pleasure of a Martini is having it icy cold. Put your glasses in the freezer for an hour or so before you serve.
3. Use a metal cocktail shaker. Stirring in a glass pitcher or using a glass shaker won't keep your drinks as icy cold as they should be. Besides, there is nothing quite like that delightful sound that a metal shaker makes. Music to my ears!
4. Use cracked ice, not cubes. The cracked ice gets the gin and vermouth colder, faster. And remember, cold is the name of the game with Martinis.
5. Serve the olives skewered on those little picks or swords, don't just drop them into the glass. First of all, with the little picks the drink looks more like what a Martini should look like, and isn't that part of the fun? Also, it makes it nicer to eat the olive by picking it up with the pick as opposed to fishing it out of the glass with the fingers.
6. Mix only the exact amount of drinks you need for a first round. If you make too much you'll have the remaining Martinis languishing in the shaker with the ice getting watery. If you want another round, then mix that batch fresh.
7. Have plenty of munchies to eat with your drinks. A cocktail without appetizers is like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without the jelly. Put out a nice spread of hot and cold finger food to go with the Martinis.
8. Set the right mood by putting on the right music. Ambiance is very much a part of it.
If you enjoy the adult pleasure of having friends over for drinks during the holidays then invest in a good cocktail recipe book and keep good quality liquor in stock. Bargain booze is no bargain. I wanted to get into a couple of other cocktails, but no space this week. I guess you're stuck with just drinking Martinis until then. There are worse fates in this world, believe me. Cheers!