After five months of traveling through Mexico and Central America my favorite cocktail has become scarce. That’s not to say it’s not on the menu in just about every tourist zone we’ve encountered, but the martini abominations have ranged from confusing to simply undrinkable.
I’ve even had waiters argue with me when I tell them that the drink served is not a martini. We invented the thing for crying out loud. I’m not going to argue with you about what is and what is not a Gordita, but I will stand my ground in defending the honor of the martini.
Today, on one of our many meanderings around Panama City we noted the Radison had a Sushi and Martini bar. That glimmer of hope for a proper martini was once again ablaze within me. It’s been five months since the last passable martini.
Born of my frustrations in Mexico and Central America to the world I offer this lesson:
Getting Off on the Right Foot
It’s not as difficult as it sounds. I swear. To get started, here are the things you will need to acquire.
- GIN – Are you brandishing a bottle of vodka? If you answered yes then you have no business uttering the very word martini until you put your vodka away and find a bottle of GIN. I recommend Bombay Sapphire.
- Vermouth – Dry
- Stemmed Martini Glasses – Note the two different styles of glassware shown below. The one on the left is from the 1940’s. On the right is the current style. Both are permissible.
- Martini Glasses should be properly chilled in the freezer for one hour before use. If a freezer is not available ice may be used to chill glasses in emergency situations, or while camping.
- Martini Gear – A metal Martini Shaker or a glass pitcher and a bar spoon
- Garnish You won’t need oranges, apples, peaches or cherries. The only permitted garnish in a martini is a twist of lemon or olive.
- I prefer olives, large ones. Spanish Queen stuffed with Spanish pimientos are the standard. While the purists will bulk, I love a good Spanish Queen with blue cheese stuffing in my martinis.
- Time is key, in my estimation it takes about 10 minutes marinating in the martini nectar for the olive’s flavor to pique.
- Cocktail Strainer
- Ice – Lots of it.
To Shake or to Stir
Let’s clear this up right of the bat. Okay, Mr. Bond. Here goes. Gin derives its dominant flavors from juniper berries, cubeb berries and other delicate botanicals. It is the oils from these botanicals that imparts gin with its distinctive flavor and bite. Shaking with ice breaks up the oils and “bruises” the gin. So stir my dear friends, stir.
That being said, I’ve given a martini or two an unholy shaking. I won’t lie. I like the outcome. Those little ice crystals floating around the glass in a monumentally cold martini… kind of delightful.
For a more scientific look at the effects on alcohol content of stirring vs. shaking check out this article from Gizmodo.
It’s Time to Make Magic
Clear the counter and lay out the tools of your trade with purpose. Turn off your cell phone. Make sure your lady is comfortable. Ensure that the television is not sucking the soul from your very being. Turn on a little music, Bing Crosby, Duke Ellington, Robert Johnson or Billie Holliday would do the trick. Sinatra, don’t mind if I do. Lets get down to business.
- Remove Your Primary Implement of Mixology From the Refrigerator – Stainless steal shaker or glass pitcher, your choice.
- Ice It – 1/2 to 3/4 is the optimum range.
- Vermouth – This is where it gets tricky and opinions start to vary. I suggest you aim somewhere between “filling a glass with gin then waving it in the general direction of Italy” -Noel Coward and one vermouth bottle cap. Add the vermouth to the ice and give ‘er a swirl.
- In my opinion, perfection is achieved at 3/4 of a bottle cap of dry vermouth.
- History Note – Due to the relative ease of illegal gin production during prohibition the martini gained it’s iconic fame. The martini has become steadily drier over the years. Original versions are said to have contained as much as 50% vermouth.
- GIN – 2 shots will sill suffice (per martini). That’s three ounces (per martini). Pour your gin over the ice slowly and give it another swirl allowing the gin and vermouth to gingerly mingle.
- The Stir – If you’re using a glass pitcher this is where you will brandish your bar spoon and stir with moderate vigor, but don’t get overzealous. If you’re using the shaker you will swirl, not shake. You want to allow the ice to cause a reaction of cold while not “bruising” the gin. In both cases, employ gusto, but not violence.
- Pre Clean Up – Leaving your martini to be on ice go ahead and return the non essentials to their proper places. Swirl or stir some more. Repeat.
- Strain – Grab the frozen martini glasses from the freezer or cooler if you’re camping. Align the strainer and do your duty.
- Garnish – Only olives or a twist of lemon remember?
- Enjoy – It is especially important here to make sure that your lady is completely comfortable before furnishing her with your creation. Now, enjoy.
Bars of Central America, I am not asking you not to experiment as you see fit in your cocktail glasses. By all means do so. That’s how we got the martini in the first place. I am simply asking that if you print the word “martini” on your menu you follow these simple guidelines. I don’t think it’s too much to ask.
By the way, the martini at the Radison Martini and Sushi bar in Panama City was superb. It makes Panama the only one of the 8 countries in North America South of the US border to achieve this rating of success.