With just two key ingredients, the Martini is a pretty straightforward drink to make at home, but observing a few details can make a big difference to the quality of your cocktail. We asked Vasco bar manager Luke Ashton, last year's Australian Diageo Reserve World Class Bartender of the Year, to share his secrets for nailing the perfect Martini. (And trust us, the man makes a mean one.) Here are his top tips.
1. Always use a fresh bottle of vermouth: "Get the bottle of vermouth that you've had sitting in the fridge or on the shelf for however long, take the cap off and pour it down the sink. It's wine and, like wine, it'll start to go off once it's opened. The longest you want to hold onto it is about a month; keep it refrigerated in the meantime. Martinis call for dry vermouth, naturally, so something like a Noilly Prat is my preference, but I also enjoy using softer fortified aromatic wines like Lillet Blanc."
2. Don't forget the bitters: "It's not a real Martini without the addition of orange bitters. It'll tie your gin or vodka together with your vermouth and make for a much more harmonious and complex drink. Try Angostura orange bitters - a different product to regular Angostura bitters - or, if you can get them, Regans'.
3. Play it cool: "A good Martini is a very cold Martini, so make sure everything is well chilled before you start. That extends to your vermouth and your spirit as well. Keep your vodka or your gin in the fridge or the freezer, and your glasses, too, if you have room. Some people even like to keep all their equipment well chilled as well."
4. And use quality ice: "Ice really is the difference between a good cocktail and a great cocktail. Avoid using those little pieces of ice from the tray that comes from your fridge. Get yourself some bigger ice trays so that you can produce denser, colder ice to make a better-quality drink."
5. Don't go too slow: "A Martini is not the sort of drink that you want to sit on. By no means would I suggest you rush your drinking, but if you're looking for something to take your time with, go for a glass of wine instead. A Martini is something you want to drink sooner rather than later because, unlike a wine, or even a Negroni, it's not going to get any better the longer it's in your glass."
GT's resident Martini drinkers have chimed in to add that small (and strong) is the way to go with the Martini. "Better two small, painfully cold Martinis in a row than one big, sloppy one getting warm," says GT deputy editor Pat Nourse. "And don't get dragged into that whole shaken/stirred argument. Classically speaking, cocktails that are just spirit with spirit are stirred, producing a clearer, better-textured result, but both techniques done right - a good 40-second stir or a good, hard shake - still produce a cold drink that's perfectly thirst-quenching." Our take? Do the experiment with some friends, serving the stirred and shaken drinks side by side, and see which you prefer.
Luke Ashton's final piece of advice goes a step further: throw a Martini party. "Once you've got a handle on how to make them, make sure you use up all that vermouth that you've invested in while it's fresh and have some people over for a few Martinis."
Australia's best Martinis
Martinis are easy to make yourself, but even easier to order from someone else. Here's where you'll find some of Australia's finest.
In Sydney, the bar at Rockpool Bar & Grill offers more than 15 gins (Tanqueray No. Ten, Hendrick's and Australia's own West Winds among them) and the setting couldn't be more perfectly Sterling Cooper. The prize for the meanest Martini in our nation's capital goes to speakeasy newcomer Molly. You won't find a Martini on the list at The Gresham in Brisbane, but if you ask the bartenders nicely they'll be more than happy to fix one for you. In Adelaide, excellent booze, nice ice and skilful bartending make Peel Street's Clever Little Tailor our cocktail go-to. Out west, Clarence's wears the crown for the most-coveted Martini in Perth, and down Hobart way, the IXL Long Bar at the Henry Jones Art Hotel leans classic in its cocktails, making it a natural first choice, regardless of whether you prefer olives or a twist.