While the Martini is a deceptively easy, two-ingredient cocktail, there are many ways to screw it up. So, to help you craft the best Martini you possibly can, we tapped Will Elliott, the bar director of luminary Brooklyn cocktail dens Maison Premiere and Sauvage. Here, Elliott reveals his tips for making the best Martinis.
The Right Ratio of Gin to Vermouth
Depending on your mood, or which style of Martini you are looking to create (there are many options), the measurements of gin and vermouth will fluctuate. “One of the most beautiful things about a Martini is its flexibility,” Elliott says. “It can serve many functions and it doesn’t have to be just one kind of drink.” Your Martini can be extremely heavy on the vermouth if you want a lower-ABV cocktail, or it can be bone dry with just a whisper of the wine-based aperitif if you’re looking for a serious kick.
Elliott currently prefers a Dry Martini. “I can honestly say that I don’t like Martinis with less than two ounces of gin,” he says. “A Martini should be a rousing, stiff drink.” He recommends mixing two and a half ounces of gin with three quarters of an ounce of dry vermouth. “If I’m drinking a gin like Plymouth, or something that’s lower proof than a London Dry style, I’ll even up the measure of gin,” he says.
The Right Gin and Vermouth
No judgments if you’re a Vodka Martini lover, but Elliott’s go-to spirit for Martinis is always gin—preferably one with a lot of character. He uses saffron-infused Old Raj Gin in the fishbowl-sized Old King Cole Martinis at Maison Premiere, while Gin de Mahon, a unique, juniper-forward Spanish gin made from Cava grapes, acts as the base for the Martini at Sauvage. “It’s almost like an unaged grappa or an unaged Armagnac,” Elliott says.
For vermouth, Elliott recommends Dolin Dry (or something similar to the original Chambery style). Another favorite of his is Mancino Secco, an Italian vermouth created by renowned Italian bartender Giancarlo Mancino. “What Carpano Antica did for sweet vermouth [and Manhattans], Mancino does for dry vermouths,” he says. “Just switching between the Mancino and Dolin really changes a Martini.”
The Question of Orange Bitters
While orange bitters are called for in a classic Gin Martini, they’re not always necessary. “We get it in our heads that there’s an exact way or only one way to make a drink,” Elliott says. “Somehow it got taken as a rule of thumb to make a Martini with orange bitters. But there’s plenty of historic examples of a Martini without the bitters.” While the citrus-infused bitters do add a rich complexity and aromatics, there are other spirits or tinctures that can be dashed into your Martini. Elliott recommends “a dash of Maraschino liqueur, or even absinthe.”
Building the Perfect Martini
“Unless asked otherwise, I stir my Martini,” Elliott says. “I start with my dashes of bitters in the mixing glass, then add the vermouth and gin.” He then adds larger, cubed ice, but if you only have crescent ice, don’t despair, it’ll still work. To stir correctly, “Rotate the ice down into the mixing glass, then pick the ice cubes up to the top of the glass to circulate them,” Elliott says.
Even if he’s making a Dirty Martini, Elliott always expresses fresh lemon peel over his finished drink. The extra boost of lemon oil creates a Martini that is, as Elliott says, an “eye-opening experience.”
The Glass Is Not as Important as You Think
Although we have strong feelings about the V-shaped cocktail glass (namely that it should die in a fire), Elliott believes that the glass in which you serve your Martini is not as important as it is made out to be. He argues that whether you serve the drink in a Martini glass, coupe or Nick and Nora glass, the most important factor is for the glass to have a long stem and be pre-chilled. “As long as the drink gets to me, I’m fine,” says Elliott. “I enjoy a Martini in all kinds of glasses.”
Choosing the Right Garnish
Elliott really hates olives in a Martini. Or rather, he hates the nearly rancid, cheap and nasty olives that you’ll find at many bars. He also never (like never, ever, ever) serves his Martini with the garnish floating in the cocktail. Instead, before stirring his drink, he builds a sidecar of garnishes on ice for his guests to pick from for themselves. Beyond the obvious choices like a lemon twist, orange twist or olives, Elliott likes to serve his Martinis with caper berries, a sprig of fresh juniper berries or nasturtium blossoms. “Nasturtium is almost peppery, while fresh juniper has a bright sweetness akin to biting into a blueberry,” he says. “The garnish should enhance what's already innate to the Martini.”
The One Thing Almost All Bartenders Do Wrong When Making a Martini
According to Elliott, the number one thing wrong about most Martinis is the temperature. “You want the Martini to be so cold that it hurts your teeth,” he says. While stirring the cocktail chills the drink, it also adds dilutes it. Elliott argues that it is crucial to straw taste the drink continuously as you’re making it to ensure that the drink is as cold as possible without being too watery. He also suggests keeping your gin in the freezer rather than on your bar. That way, “the ice is actually warming the gin rather than cooling it,” he says. The result: an ice cold, velvety Martini like you’ve never experienced before.