Words: Jeff Banks | Photos: Caroline Fontenot
Barman Jeff Banks, of Atlanta's hip brasserie The Luminary, breaks down how to order a proper martini – and sound like you know what you're doing. Bond, James Bond.
Before we dive into ordering one, it is important to understand what constitutes a martini and what does not. A lemon drop, for example is not a martini. Neither is an espresso-tini, cucumber-tini, choco-tini, apple-tini or any other flavor with a “tini” added on to the end. A proper martini is a 2:1 ratio of gin (or vodka) to vermouth. It is stirred or shaken over ice and served in a stemmed glass garnished with a twist of lemon, olives or an onion.
Allow me to break down the components in plain language:
1. Vodka or Gin
Vodka is usually distilled from wheat, grains, or potatoes. Vodka distilled from wheat and grain tends to have a lighter, cleaner flavor than the potato counterpart, which leans toward a sweeter taste with a more robust body.
Gin is essentially vodka infused with botanicals such as, juniper, coriander, lemon/lime/orange peels, cucumber, black pepper or rose petals. These ingredients differentiate gins from one another. I’ve found that people who think they don't like gin actually just don’t like bad gin. I couldn’t agree more. Avoid the “pine tree” flavor of lesser-quality gins by asking your bartender to describe the flavor profile of what he or she has available.
A wine infused with botanicals, vermouth is actually very delicious on its own - I’m drinking it over ice as I write this. The thing that’s important to understand about vermouth is that because it’s a wine, once the bottle is opened, it will go bad with time. It is best to keep vermouth in the fridge and to finish it within about a month.
Your choice of martini garnish depends on preferred flavor accent. My personal favorite is the lemon peel; the lemon highlights the alcohol and brightens up the whole cocktail. Olives are the most commonly requested, adding a touch of salt, accenting the vermouth and giving the cocktail a unique umami quality… as well as a little snack. Ordering a “Gibson” martini means you'd like your bartender to add onions as garnish for a tangy final bite.
Ice is easily overlooked as the key fourth ingredient — and the origin of the reputed shaken vs. stirred directive. People tend to order their martini shaken because that’s how James Bond did it. Shaken cocktails have a few great qualities to them. When shaken, the ice breaks up so when the drink is poured, you get these little ice shards that float on the top, which make the cocktail extra-cold. When properly shaken, it also introduces air into the cocktail. Once it is poured, you will see little air bubbles in the cocktail, which gives the cocktail a livelier mouth feel. If that’s your thing, drink fast, because it waters down quickly.
Stirred martinis, by contrast, have a more rich mouth feel offering the full taste of the martini, which can become too cold or "bruised" when over-shaken.
Now that we’ve clarified the ingredients, let's discuss martini terminology. This is what's going to make the difference between sounding like James Bond or a sorority girl to your bartender. Like ordering hash browns from Waffle House, once you know you like them scattered, smothered, covered and capped, you never forget.
2 ounces gin
1 ounce vermouth
Dirty: Olive brine is added to your martini. I personally start with .5oz , though measurements vary from bar to bar.
Extra Dirty: I’ll add .25oz more of olive brine. Again, this can vary.
Extra Extra Dirty (Filthy): At my bar, I will add another .25oz of olive brine bringing us up to 3/4oz. For the record, that's a lot.
Dry: 1oz of dry vermouth added
Extra Dry: .5oz of vermouth added
Extra Extra Dry (Bone Dry): Only a few drops of vermouth are added … some folks will jokingly say "look at the bottle" of vermouth while making the cocktail. Please don’t use that joke. Ever.
Wet: Extra vermouth is added
Perfect: Equal parts dry and sweet vermouth added.
Up: Served in a stemmed glass.
Down: Served in a rocks glass
Rocks: Served over ice
Gibson: Again, this is a basic martini but garnished with cocktail onions
So let's say you prefer a gin martini with a splash of vermouth over ice with some lemon. That would be an extra-dry gin martini on the rocks with a twist. Do you prefer an ice-cold martini with vodka, a lot of olive brine an olive garnish? Ask for a shaken extra-dirty martini with olives. If you would like a “lemon drop martini”, then, please… just order a Lemon Drop. I'll make you the best one you've ever had, but please, just don't call it a martini.
About the Author:
Jeff Banks is the lead bartender at The Luminary in Atlanta's Krog Street Market, where he has established a loyal following for his creative, handcrafted cocktails that focus on seasonal ingredients and classic liqueurs. Banks’ restaurant career began at Levy Restaurants in 2005 where he worked through almost every role. In 2010, he joined the acclaimed team at Atlanta’s favorite beverage store, Greens where he worked as a high-end beer specialist. In 2012, Banks made the switch to cocktails as bartender and beverage director at local favorite Graft Restaurant in Grayson, Georgia where his bourbon selection caught the eye of the Atlanta Journal Constitution. In addition to running a successful bar program, Banks offered hands-on cocktail classes to residents who wanted to strengthen their palates and impress their friends. Banks now brings this same expertise and passion to The Luminary with a thoughtful cocktail list and extensive wine and beer program.