Best vermouth for a classic martini?
February 1, 2010 9:55 AM   Subscribe

What is the best vermouth for a classic martini?

After 20 years of exploring the world of beer, I decided to venture into the world of distilled spirits and classic cocktails. The one bit of information the internet seems reluctant to yield is the favored vermouth of classic martini drinkers. It seems to have been Noilly Prat...but then the recipe was changed. So, all you fastidiously traditional martini drinkers, tell me what vermouth you put in your classic martini, and why ( well as any other martini advice you care to proffer).
posted by keith0718 to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Martini & Rossi Extra Dry
posted by Perplexity at 9:59 AM on February 1, 2010


Or any dry vermouth spashed around the glass and then dumped out before the cold, cold, cold delicious gin is poured where the vermouth used to be.

That would be my preference, but if you want to go more classic, I too recommend Martini & Rossi or Noilly Prat.

But a decent gin is far more important.

posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:08 AM on February 1, 2010

The best martini hands down is the classic Vesper. Now, since Kina Lillet is no longer made, most bartenders will substitute Lillet Blanc. However I believe that the best vermouth both for a modern martini and a vesper is Noilly Ambre vermouth.
posted by analogue at 10:08 AM on February 1, 2010

Try orange bitters.
posted by kickingtheground at 10:23 AM on February 1, 2010

Best answer: None.

No, that's not a martini, it's a glass of gin. The best dry vermouth for a martini, if you can find it, is Dolin. Boissiere is also good.
posted by neroli at 10:29 AM on February 1, 2010 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Vya makes for a fantastic martini, especially if you're backing away from the cult of the ultradry "glass of gin" and looking towards an older ratio of around 3:1.

I do the splash and rinse, but with orange bitters: a martini should have vermouth in it.
posted by holgate at 10:31 AM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Duke's Hotel, home of the world's best martini (if by 'best' you mean, 'most equivalent to having your head wrapped in a silk and velvet scarf and than delicately walloped with a gold brick), uses Martini Blanco. Which, I kid you not, they spritz out of a teeny cut-glass perfume bottle. The barman I swear is played by Peter Lorre, it's awesome.

Googling this turned up the tidbit that this was in fact the inspiration for James Bond's martini. I did not know that!

From my vast experience with Martinis, I would say the most vital ingredient is cold, cold, cold.
posted by Erasmouse at 10:33 AM on February 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Just to add: I'm a fan of the twist over the olive, no matter what, but the twist seems to work better even for olive fans if you're drinking wetter martinis.
posted by holgate at 10:37 AM on February 1, 2010

Best answer: Martini & Rossi is the classic vermouth for martinis. I think it's got 90% of the market and has for years and years and years. There are better ones out there, so I hear, but it is certainly good, and has the added benefit of being standard. When you are dealing with 'classic' things the familiarity is a huge part of the appeal. Even Noilly Prat, which has a great reputation, just tastes a little off to me.

posted by dirtdirt at 10:43 AM on February 1, 2010

Best answer: This article from SF Chronicle is a surprisingly thorough, quick foundation on all things martini, from how long to stir to how to match various vermouth with various gins. It includes this note:

For standard 80-proof gins (like Plymouth), our favorite was Dolin dry vermouth. For higher-proof gins (such as Beefeater, Broker's, Tanqueray or Junipero), the denser Noilly Prat was our top choice; Beefeater and Noilly make a classic drink. At 110 proof, Cadenhead's Old Raj gin needed a vermouth boost: four-to-one to highlight its saffron notes. Among the largely high-proof modern styles, good combos included: Noilly with Beefeater 24 and Tanqueray Ten; and Vya with Martin Miller's and Distillery No. 209

I can confirm that, in my experience, different gins taste best with different vermouth due to differences in strength and aromatics. A martini really is a cocktail made of gin, vermouth, and water from the ice. Balancing all three is the key. I think Noilly is still a very good choice, but am increasingly fond of Dolin. Vya is neat but different with a lot of additional flavor going on, so it's especially fun to play around with.

Other than that, ratio is the most important thing to think about. Depending on which gin and vermouth I'm using, I find I favor 5:1 or 6:1. Stirring really is much nicer than shaking. Give a lemon twist a try even if you think you only like olives. A dash of orange bitters is indeed lovely and very old school
posted by mostlymartha at 11:03 AM on February 1, 2010 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I still use Noilly Prat. It's not so much that they changed the recipe - it turns out the Noilly Prat they were selling in Europe was different than the one they sold in America. The American version was dryer. The "change" is that they now only make the European version. I've had both, but not side-to-side so I can't really compare for sure but I don't feel like I've noticed much difference. And anyway, I don't like super-dry martinis. I prefer the Vesper (gin, Lillet blanc, and a little vodka) or something called a "Left Bank Martini" which is gin, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, and a bit of white wine.

(I also use Noilly Prat rouge in Manhattans. Here I definitely prefer their sweet vermouth to Martini & Rossi's. )
posted by dnash at 11:53 AM on February 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

I like Noilly with a super strong gin like Bankers. As others say, the water from the ice is another component of the Martini. And I like a glass of gin as much as the next man but my Martinis are 25-30% vermouth (especially, like I say, with a strong gin).
posted by unSane at 12:04 PM on February 1, 2010

-Bankers +Brokers
posted by unSane at 12:04 PM on February 1, 2010

Fascinating. Not that it means anything, really, but apparently Martini & Rossi has owned Noilly Prat since 1971.
posted by dirtdirt at 12:10 PM on February 1, 2010

In his blog for the Atlantic, bartender Derek Brown suggests Dolin. And Tanquery 10.
posted by lost_cause at 12:54 PM on February 1, 2010

We also mostly use Noilly Prat, in preference to M&R. This is typically with Bombay Sapphire, our preferred gin. Hendricks is nice on occasion, but for me their cucumber taste makes it a very hot-weather drink. When the temperature is cold, we like our Sapphire.

A very interesting addition we've just tried adding is preserved citrus, fruit preserved in salt made by the Arabic recipe. It's quite easy to do. We started with preserved lemons, which were very nice, but have since fallen utterly for preserved mandarin oranges, made from Christmas remainders. My god, what a twist of preserved mandarin zest does for a Martini. Salty, sweet, citrus.
posted by bonehead at 1:39 PM on February 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

I find the Tank 10 too intense for a Martini. It's like drinking a glass of flowers.
posted by unSane at 2:22 PM on February 1, 2010

Winston Churchill's martini:

"Shake gin with cracked ice. Strain into chilled cocktail glass and garnish with olive. Drink while looking at a bottle of dry vermouth."

While I admire Churchill's incredible class (he offered all guests to his house unlimited Champagne, cigars and brandy), I have two problems with this particular recipe:

a) Shaking bruises the gin.
b) No vermouth? No martini.

As Bernard De Voto said:

"The proper union of gin and vermouth is a great and sudden glory; it is one of the happiest marriages on earth, and one of the shortest lived."

Vermouth is a really a personal preference but you can't go wrong with Dolin Vermouth de Chambéry, Boissiere Dry Vermouth or Vya. Noilly Prat wouldn't be my first choice for a martini but some people swear by it so be sure to try them all.

You emphasized classic martini and also used the word "traditional" so I feel morally obligated to limit our discussion to gin... but I can't stop my fingers from typing the five letters that make traditional martini purists reach for their torches and pitchforks: v-o-d-k-a.

Why derail a thread on traditional martinis by bringing up vodka?
a) It is relevant to the whole "shaken not stirred" issue.
b) It's delicious.
c) Drinking is about opening the mind, not closing it.

The recipe for James Bond's "Vesper" martini (mentioned above) is, in his words:

"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 thin slice of lemon peel."

Please note that this is not Bond's traditional drink - it's a drink he made up on the spot and named after the lead female character in the 1953 novel Casino Royale. He did it to annoy his adversary Le Chiffre. Although he was not averse to the traditional Martini, Bond's "go to" drink was a regular vodka martini.

A vodka Martini that is not ice cold will leave a bad taste in your mouth. When using vodka, you want to make sure that it is super cold. That's why Bond prefers shaken not stirred.

In a traditional Martini, stirred is the only way to go. Shaking will introduce air into the Martini bruising the Gin (as mentioned above) giving the Martini a sharper edge.

Some people think shaken Martinis are healthier than stirred because shaking seems to enhance the antioxidant effects of alcohol but if you are that concerned about your health you shouldn't be in a bar. ;D

After sipping the Vesper, Bond said:

"Excellent ... but if you can get a vodka made with grain instead of potatoes, you will find it still better."

In the movies, Bond drinks Smirnoff, Stolichnaya, Absolut and later Finlandia but I think that has more to do with promotional considerations than Bond's personal preferences.

If I'm not mistaken, the martini that Ian Fleming drank (which is said to have inspired Bond's drink) uses the Polish Potocki Wodka, distilled from rye. It's smooth, complex and the bottle looks cool, too.

OK, enough about vodka. Sorry for the derail.

Another related drink you should try is the Gimlet. It's a classic cocktail and some call it a form of martini but I like to think of it as a separate drink. In Raymond Chandler’s novel The Long Goodbye, Terry Lenox tells Philip Marlowe: "A real Gimlet is half gin and half Rose’s Lime Juice and nothing else. It beats martinis hollow."

While most of the people visiting this particular thread would disagree with Lenox's last point, it's still a solid drink and no exploration of classic cocktails would be complete without it.

You may ask:

Why do you take drinking advice from fictional characters like Bond and Lenox?

Writers know how to drink. They do a lot of it. Socializing is a great way to discover new material and, when your workplace is inside your head, the only way to escape your job is to (borrowing the words of Robert Benchley, another writer and fellow Martini drinker) "slip out of these wet clothes and into a dry Martini."

posted by stringbean at 2:49 PM on February 1, 2010 [6 favorites]

How anyone can drink a gin martini is beyond me. A proper martini is made with vodka, and very cold vodka at that. Martini and Rossi Extra Dry will do -- perhaps a quarter of a tablespoon at most. It's also permissible to pour it into the (ice cold) glass first, then drain it, then pour in the vodka.

A proper martini should almost not be there, it should taste like an iced cloud.

Obviously no one in this thread will agree with me when it comes to vodka vs. gin -- but you are all wrong, and more to be pitied than censured.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 2:52 PM on February 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

a) Shaking bruises the gin.

what does this even mean?
posted by flaterik at 3:23 PM on February 1, 2010

The term "bruising" refers to the slightly bitter taste that can occur when gin is shaken. Another term I've heard is "sharpening" the flavor, giving it a "sharp edge" or "more bite."

Some argue that it's untrue - that bruising does not occur.

I disagree. Shaking introduces more oxygen. When the aldehydes in spirits oxidize, the taste changes.

But IANAB (I am not a bartender) and IANYB (I am not your bartender) so please seek the consultation services of a professional (your local bartender). :D
posted by stringbean at 4:04 PM on February 1, 2010

Bond's "go to" drink was a regular vodka martini.

Actually, it's Whiskey

I quite like the classic martini and rossi with Tanq 10. Makes a nice contrast. Mind you, I'm a gibson drinker, and therefore should not be trusted.
posted by lumpenprole at 4:23 PM on February 1, 2010

Yes, lumpenprole. You're right. I meant his favorite drink out of traditional martini, Vesper martini and vodka martini. I should have written Bond's "go to" martini was a regular vodka martini. Thanks for the clarification.

And cheers for your excellent link. Great stats and trivia!
posted by stringbean at 4:47 PM on February 1, 2010

The term "bruising" refers to the slightly bitter taste that can occur when gin is shaken.

Also, I can attest to the phenomenon that the SF Chron piece talks about -- shaking introduces ice crystals, and instead of pouring clear and clean, the resultant drink has a definite haze to it. Ugh.

mostlymartha speaks much truth upthread, and my current martini combo of choice is Martin Miller's Westbourne and Vya, 4:1. It is a drink that is very much 'there', and is worth a contrast with something like Beefeater and Noilly Prat.

Finally, all the talk of the Vesper ought to carry the rider that Lillet Blanc is not Kina Lillet, and the search for an adequate substitute has been an ongoing task of cocktail revivalists.
posted by holgate at 5:07 PM on February 1, 2010

I really enjoyed the passion and detail in this thread. Guy - your "iced cloud" line was a highlight.
posted by Fiery Jack at 6:08 PM on February 1, 2010

The classic treatise on the subject is John Carter's 'The Dry Martini', published in Ernestine Carter's long-out-of-print Flash in the Pan (1953):

The vermouth should be the driest procurable. I myself always use the Italian Martini Secco, which seems to me cleaner in flavour than the current dry French brands. Buy half-bottles: vermouth stales quickly after opening, and since one uses very little of it the lower half of the regular-size bottle cannot help being a little stuffy in taste.

Carter was a friend of Ian Fleming's, and his advice on martini-making is said to have influenced Fleming in writing the Bond novels, although Carter, unlike Bond, prefers his martinis stirred, not shaken: 'Purists will tell you that shaking bruises the wormwood in the vermouth and ruins the product. On the other hand, many dedicated martini-drinkers habitually shake. To my palate the result is a perfectly good cocktail, but a perceptibly different one.'

Anyway, here is Carter's prescription for the perfect martini; now something of a period-piece (the advice on chilling the martini clearly dates from the days when most middle-class homes had refrigerators but not air-conditioning) but still worth reading:

Five or ten minutes before you want to mix cocktails, fill your jug at least three-quarters with ice, and put a piece or two of ice in each glass. This gives you a running start on temperature. Then pare a very thin slice of lemon rind for each drink. When you are ready for action, pour off the water which will have melted in the jug and pour in gin and vermouth, in the proportion of four to one. Do not be ashamed to measure (only veterans can safely pour by eye). Mix enough for one round only. And remember to allow 10 per cent in winter and 20 per cent in summer for ice-dilution. Stir briskly until the outside of the jug freezes your hand -- 20 seconds should do, but it may take 40 in warm weather. Empty the ice from the glasses back into the bucket, shaking out the last drop of water. Pour out the cocktails. Twist a piece of lemon-rind over each, which sprays a dash of the oil onto the surface of the martini. And serve. No olive, no onion, no nonsense. Just the best drink of its kind in the world.
posted by verstegan at 7:48 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Seriously, I have an extensive bar library, featuring roughly a couple of dozen books on "martinis," and nothing I've found yet has arrested my tinkering. That's not to say I don't have a go-to approach, but you'll have to find it yourself.
posted by rush at 11:47 AM on February 2, 2010

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