The martini is a divisive drink. You either like martinis, or you don’t. But even people who rave about the classic cocktail tend to be disappointed by the swill many bars serve.
The martini is a simple cocktail made with gin—traditionally London dry gin—and a smidge of dry vermouth. It’s typically garnished with olives or a twist of lemon peel. And despite James Bond’s preference, the martini can be either shaken or stirred (though today’s mixologists prefer the latter).
Now, let’s establish what a martini is not. A martini is not made with vodka. It is not overrun with olive juice to make it “dirty.” And the cocktail should never have anything resembling chocolate in it. As David Wondrich, the funny and eminently knowledgeable drinks columnist for Esquire, writes, the martini “is the soul of simplicity: a goodly amount of gin, a splash of vermouth, and a garnish—and that’s it (as for all those other substances that claim to be martinis: they’re not; we discard them).”
As Wondrich notes, cocktail drinkers have been known to seek the perfect gin-to-vermouth ratio, and I happen to be one of those seekers. Indeed, I once asked a bartender at an esteemed Denver bar what ratio of gin to vermouth she used to make my martini. “Zero,” she said. I wasn’t sure what she meant. “No vermouth,” she clarified. “Just gin.” Not being one to pick a fight, I said, “Hmm, interesting.” The drink most certainly wasn’t a martini—it was simply a cocktail glass filled with chilled gin.
I was reminded of this incident just last week when I ordered a martini at a restaurant in town known for its cocktails, and the bartender asked, “A gin martini?” as if I’d requested not a classic cocktail but a glass full of motor oil cut with bacon grease and garnished with a nail.
With the profusion of speakeasy-inspired bars like the Green Russell and Williams & Graham (which graces our February cover), and with the trend of mixology having reached its apex, I’m setting out on a mission to find the best classic martini in Denver. I’m also going to ask bartenders for the optimal ratio of gin to vermouth (which at this point in history is really nothing more than a matter of taste) so I can experiment at home. In the meantime, help me out: Email, comment, Tweet, and post on our Facebook page with your suggestions of which local bars (and bartenders) make the best martini. If all else fails, tell us how you make the perfect martini at home. I’ll report back in a few months with my findings. Salute!