The classic “shaken, not stirred” martini might be the stuff of literary legends, but it’s far from the only way to create this world-famous cocktail. Born in the late 19th century, the classic martini includes gin and vermouth, but creative bartenders have morphed the recipe to include an endless variety of flavors and colors using a long list of creative ingredients.
The Original Basic Martini
You’ll find a number of competing stories, but experts agree that the martini was invented somewhere in California in the late 1800s. Some say it came into being at the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco. A tradition arose of people having a drink before taking the ferry from the hotel area to the city of Martinez nearby. Other, less-fanciful theorists claim the drink was named after Martini & Rossi, a common vermouth manufacturer. Wherever it happened, the martini was a common alcoholic indulgence by the dawn of the 20th century.
The classic martini is the most basic of cocktails. You’ll need classic bartending tools such as a cocktail shaker and strainer, and an iconic martini glass is really the most sensible vessel to hold your drink. That long stem keeps your warm fingers away from the ice-cold liquid.
Fill your cocktail shaker about halfway with ice cubes, the larger the better. Larger cubes mean less dilution: Your drink won’t be so watered down. Pour 2 ounces of gin and 1 ounce of vermouth on top of the ice; then replace the top on the shaker. Shake the cocktail vigorously up and down for about 30 seconds; then remove the top and pour through a cocktail strainer into a martini glass. If you’re a fan of more old-fashioned mixology methods, stir the drink with a long-handled spoon for 30 seconds before straining it instead of shaking it. Make sure your glass is chilled: A martini should be served as icy cold as possible. Garnish with a green olive or a lemon twist.
Dirty Martini Recipe Without Vermouth
Who really knows what vermouth is, besides well-read bartenders? At its core, vermouth is wine spiked with brandy, then infused with spices and herbs. It was originally marketed as a patent medicine, then eventually got turned into a bar ingredient when adventurous mixologists tried it to create iconic cocktails. You can find it in sweet and dry varieties, but the classic martini calls for dry vermouth.
When ordering a martini, ask for dry, extra dry or extremely dry. The drier the drink, the less vermouth is in the mix. By the time you reach the dusty end of this spectrum, you’re drinking straight chilled gin. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s not exactly a cocktail. Enter the olive juice.
Most martini drinkers opt for the salty, earthy flavor of a green olive garnish, as it was known that olive and gin flavor profiles went together. In 1945, at the Yalta Conference, Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt got together and discussed more than world events. Trading hangover cures and cocktail recipes, the trio invented the dirty martini using olive juice instead of vermouth.
Most modern dirty martinis start with vodka, although purists still insist on gin as the alcohol of choice. Fans of the dirty gin martini claim the flavors of the two liquids go together better. In either case, pour 3 ounces of clean alcohol into a shaker half full of ice. Add a full ounce of olive juice straight from the jar or can. (It goes without saying that higher quality olives will produce a better-tasting drink.) Put the lid on the shaker and shake vigorously for about 30 seconds. Strain the drink into a martini glass and garnish with as many olives as you like.
Other Classic Martini Cocktails
Classic martini-style drinks rose in popularity during the 1920s and stayed popular throughout Prohibition. These recipes are perfect for those evenings when you need a little change from the classic martini flavor, but want something with a little class and history.
- The Bees Knees cocktail. Invented during Prohibition, it’s said that the scent of honey overpowered the taste of harsh bathtub gin. Combine 2 ounces of gin with 3/4 ounce of honey syrup and 1/2 ounce of fresh lemon juice in your shaker over ice. Shake and serve, garnishing with a lemon twist.
- The Dorflinger cocktail was invented before Prohibition and likely named after a famous maker of glassware of the time. Three distinct ingredients combine to create a unique flavor, unlike anything you’ve ever tasted. Mix together 2 ounces of Plymouth gin, 1 ounce of absinthe and a dash of orange bitters in a shaker filled with ice. Stir for half a minute; then strain into a martini glass. Add another drop or two of orange bitters to taste.
- The Napoleon cocktail. Ideal as both a before-dinner cocktail and an enjoyable refreshment after a great meal, the Napoleon cocktail includes Dubonnet Rouge, an aperitif made from red wine and spices. Mix together 2 ounces of gin, 1/2 ounce of Grand Marnier and 1/2 ounce of Dubonnet Rouge in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well for 30 seconds; then strain into a martini glass.
- The Last Word cocktail. Invented during Prohibition at the Detroit Athletic Club, the Last Word is made by filling a cocktail shaker halfway with ice, then adding 3/4 ounces each of gin, lime juice, green chartreuse and maraschino liqueur. Shake the ingredients vigorously for 30 seconds; then strain into a chilled martini glass.
Creative Modern Martini Cocktails
Some of the most popular martinis served today are sweet or fruity versions of the classic vodka martini without vermouth. Their popularity may have begun in the mid-’80s when the invention of Absolut Citron inspired a bartender to create the iconic Cosmopolitan cocktail. Pink and glamorous, it became the drink to order in New York gay bars until the television show “Sex and the City” claimed it as its own. Sweet martinis are typically shaken in a cocktail shaker, not stirred, then strained into a chilled martini glass.
Modern sweet martini cocktails come in a variety of flavors, and most of them are categorized by their dominant flavor. For instance, the classic Cosmopolitan is a cranberry martini, including vodka, triple sec, lime juice and cranberry juice. Other cranberry martinis include the Cherry Blossom Tini with sake and cranberry juice, the classic Crantini with vodka and cranberry juice, and the Pink Honey cocktail with honey liqueur, vodka, cranberry juice, and sweet and sour mix.
Some of the more creative sweet martini drinks combine two or more flavors to create a new taste sensation. The Key Lime Pie martini includes vodka, lime juice (key lime juice, if at all possible) and pineapple juice. The Washington Apple is made of whiskey, sour apple schnapps and cranberry juice. The beautiful Deep Blue Sea, a classic drink for tropical parties, includes vodka, sweet and sour mix, blue curacao and pineapple juice. And the Gummy Bear, made with raspberry vodka, peach schnapps and cranberry juice, is garnished with gummy bears, and it actually tastes like the classic candy.
One of the most common fruit martinis is the Appletini, with its well-known Granny Smith color and tart taste. This isn’t the only apple-inspired martini drink, though. Some of the more popular varieties include the Apple Cider martini with vodka, apple cider and ginger liqueur; the Sour Apple Tini with vodka, lemon juice and green apple schnapps; and the warm and homey Apple Pie martini, which is made of vanilla liqueur, vodka, apple cider, lime juice and a hefty teaspoon of ground cinnamon.
Raspberries are hugely popular as the base flavor for a whole range of fruit-flavored martini drinks. The Blood Martini is a popular drink on Halloween. It’s made of Citroen vodka, ginger liqueur, dark grape juice and raspberry syrup. The versatile French Martini includes either gin or vodka, as you prefer, as well as Chambord and pineapple juice. Another Halloween favorite is the Vampire’s Kiss martini, although it’s pretty enough to serve on Valentine’s Day. The recipe includes top-shelf vodka, champagne and Chambord black raspberry liqueur.
The refreshing citrus taste of lemon and lime are perfect ingredients for summer martini cocktails. The tart taste and refreshing colors fit with hot summer nights and lazy weekend afternoons. The classic Gimlet is a refreshing blend of sweet and tart, with the simplest of recipes. Combine gin and lime cordial and garnish the drink with a lime twist. For a more frivolous turn on the simple recipe, combine vodka and limoncello for an In and Out Martini. The Kamikaze, a more sophisticated version of the classic bar shooter, is a serious drink if only for its alcohol content. Shake together vodka, lime juice and triple sec for this tasty drink, and garnish it with a lime wedge.
If you like citrus but want to go a little sweeter, opt for an orange-flavored martini drink. The Mexi-Tini cocktail includes orange vodka, tequila and orange juice. The Abbey Cocktail is a martini version of the classic screwdriver, including gin, orange juice, orange bitters and a maraschino cherry garnish.
The Ultimate Decadence: Dessert Martinis
If fruity martini cocktails aren’t festive enough for your gathering, indulge in some dessert martinis designed to finish a meal or enliven a cocktail party. They’re often creamy, and many of them are meant to imitate popular desserts or candy bars. The most popular dessert martini cocktails are likely those with a chocolate profile.
One of the more popular rich and creamy chocolate martini drinks, the Banana Split martini is made from vodka, banana liqueur, creme de cacao, a fruity garnish and whipped cream. For extra energy at after-work gatherings, go for the Espresso martini with vodka, Kahlua coffee liqueur, creme de cacao and cold espresso. The Mint ChocoChata martini gets its chocolate flavor from chocolate vodka, which keeps it from being cloyingly sweet. It’s made from RumChata, chocolate vodka and green creme de menthe.
Not a chocolate fan, but still want something sweet and indulgent in your martini glass? Treat yourself to a Candy Cane cocktail with berry vodka, peppermint schnapps, white creme de cacao, grenadine, half and half, and a splash of soda water. The Nutty Martini is simple, sweet and delicious, made of vodka, Frangelico and simple syrup.
Spice, Not Sugar
If you prefer a little spice instead of sweet, sugary drinks, try a spicy martini. The Cucumber Wasabi Martini includes gin, lemon juice, wasabi paste, cucumber slices and simple syrup. The Ginger Martini includes vodka, ginger liqueur and a squeeze of lemon juice. Finally, the unusual Tea Tini includes vodka, chilled tea, honey and lemon juice, and it’s garnished with a lemon wedge.
Victoria Bailey owned and managed restaurants for 25 years, from an award-winning gourmet bistro to a pre-hipster artisan coffee house. She's constantly following food and wine trends and has even created her own private coffee bean blend. Bailey's work has been published in a number of industry magazines, and she literally wrote the book (well, one of them) on opening a neighborhood pizza restaurant.