The late, great Jackie Gleason once said, "A man must defend his home, his wife, his children, and his martini." And if he's speaking the truth, it seems my unmarried, childless, apartment-dwelling ass has but one duty to uphold: the martini.
There's only one problem here -- much like fine wine, black coffee, and paying your own cellphone bill, this timeless tipple has always loomed staunchly within the realm of big-time adulthood, an unshakable (see what I did there?) rep that's sadly kept many under-35 drinkers, like me, from daring to approach this gorgeous, intimidating beast. So, like any good journalist, I did my due diligence, faced my fears, and came up with this base-covering guide in the hopes that, one day, even us perpetually carded schlubs can confidently step into the wide world of martinidom... before stumbling out in a gin-soaked daze, of course
How to order a martini in five simple steps
1. Pick a base liquor
OK, here's the thing: the martini was originally conceived of as a gin cocktail. And if you ask any purist, they'll defend their hardline juniperian devotion until death or sobriety, whichever comes first. But you know what? Those people are our parents. They have cocktail hour at 4pm so they can make it to their 5:30 mandatory coat-and-tie dinner reservation at least 15 minutes early. Today's a new day, and as long as you approach the situation with confidence, no bartender worth his beard is going to shame you for requesting vodka.
That's all to say that your first order of business is to decide if you want to be sipping on gin or vodka. Gin drinkers can choose between a few different types, including London Dry (subtle, traditional -- think Beefeater, Gordon's), Plymouth (warming and smooth with a touch of citrus, also weirdly both a style and a brand), and Old Tom (sweeter, fuller-bodied, sometimes aged like Ransom Old Tom). Fans of fruitier, fuller-bodied, or more modern cocktails should look to New Western or New American gin, a catch-all style with a diverse botanical bill and/or a less traditional makeup (i.e., Hendrick's, Aviation).
Vodka, on the other hand, can be sorted by primary ingredient and level of refinement. Most vodka is distilled from grain and drinks clean, crisp, and citrusy -- think Absolut, Stoli, Smirnoff. Creamier styles like Chopin begin life in potato form and some even come from fruit or vegetables, like Diddy’s grapetastic CÎROC. In some cases, price can also indicate taste. Small-batch or luxury brands like St. George and Absolut Elyx require serious time and care while your harsher, plastic-handled college BFFs are much easier to crank out en masse.
2. Specify your vermouth-to-base spirit ratio
The standard is 5:1 -- that's five parts base spirit, one part vermouth -- but there's some wiggle room there, too. Some go dry (less vermouth) and some go wet (more vermouth). You can also request the darker, more robust, Italian-born sweet vermouth instead of the usual dry stuff, which errs on the bitter, lighter side, or take a perfect approach, which means equal parts dry and sweet vermouth.
3. Decide how you like to mix it up
Some martini drinkers, especially those that don't mind a potentially watered-down cocktail, opt for shaken (and if you don't know what that means, consult Mr. Bond). Others, like yours truly, go with the spoon, since a completely unscientifically proven 10 out of 10 bartenders recommend the brisk stir-and-strain method. In the immortal words of Homer Simpson, "He knows just how I like my martini -- full of alcohol."
4. Get your garnish on
Now we're in the homestretch. The usual suspects include olives and a twist, a citrus peel bent to extract its aromatic oil, then either dropped in for extra flavor or tossed aside. Lemon is classic, but orange and grapefruit are also acceptable choices if you want to get fancy.
5. Try not to spill and/or break the dainty glass
Seriously. As any bartender who's ever encountered my grubby paws can attest, that shit ain't easy.
Once you've mastered the basic kind, try these spinoffs
Dirty/extra dirty: A bartender friend once told me that anyone who orders their martini extra dirty is really just hungry. It's the truth. Loaded with olives and doused with olive juice, this ish tastes almost nothing like alcohol while still managing to get you good and toasty. But hey, if that's your jam, you do you, pal -- just consider packing a Clif Bar next time.
Gibson: The only thing separating a Gibson from a regular martini is a cocktail onion (as opposed to garnishing with an olive or citrus peel). But damn, does it ever sound swanky.
Churchill martini: A heavy-handed pour of London Dry gin, shaken and presented sans vermouth. So, basically just a cold glass of gin that doubles as an ace dad joke.
Vesper: I love me a Vesper, and not just because it's named after the babeliest Bond girl of all time. This derivative is delicate and floral, equal parts gin (I go with a rounded, botanical-heavy style like FEW or Monkey 47) and vodka, a fragrant French aperitif called Lillet Blanc, finished with a lemon twist.
Turf cocktail: This semi-obscure take packs a potent punch with gin, dry vermouth, a quarter ounce of maraschino liqueur, a dash of absinthe, orange bitters, and a lemon twist.
Upside-down martini: A bizarre, low-proof sipper, it's essentially just a martini with an inverted spirit-to-vermouth ratio (i.e., mostly vermouth). Legend is Julia Child got loose with this one on the regular.
Bitter martini: Italian amaro (no vermouth) and a fresh grapefruit twist are the bitter culprits behind this bold, citrusy variation.
Burnt martini: Vodka or gin and a splash of peaty Scotch or aged whiskey in lieu of vermouth gives this smoky cocktail its signature burn.
Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email, and get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.