Martinis can be intimidating if you’re new to the drink. Forever associated with high society and tuxedo-clad espionage, the martini is simply a cocktail meant to shine a spotlight on whichever quality liquor you choose to stir in (we’re sticking with gin martinis here; use your favorite brand).
Since the drink comes with a lot of mystique behind it, the best person to ask how to make a martini would be the owner/operator of a gin bar whose flagship drink is a damn fine martini: mixologist Julia Petiprin of Fifty Fifty Gin Club and Homemakers Bar in Over-the-Rhine.
CityBeat: What’s a common mistake people make when they order martinis?
Julia Petiprin: I'm always a big advocate to order what you like. However you want your martini, we’ll make it for you. Right? But, I mean, certain rules just apply with ordering, especially a martini. You really want to be able to taste spirit – super important. Texture is very important. So, shaking a martini? Big no-no.
CB: Because it’ll overly dilute the drink?
JP: What shaking does is it creates carbonation. Because it creates all these tiny little bubbles through the process of throwing it around the tin, it shakes it up and creates tiny little bubbles. So it's great for something with cream and citrus because you want it to have that frothy kind of light texture, but when you're doing something with just spirits and syrups, you want it to be really smooth. When you shake something, it creates about a 25% dilution ratio and when you stir something, it's about a 10% ratio.
CB: What does someone need to make a martini at home?
JP: I love sharing how you can make things at home because the weirder that you get at home, the weirder we can be when you come to the bar. So definitely keep fresh vermouth. Dry vermouth. Typically when you see a dry vermouth, you’re referring to French, versus sweet, which would be Italian. So a nice dry French vermouth – and fresh is key, because a lot of people will open vermouth and put it on their back bar and let it sit there for years and years.
JP: Perfect. Don’t throw that old vermouth away. Buy the same vermouth and open it and do a side-by-side tasting, taste the difference. Maybe cook with the old vermouth.
CB: What’s a good recipe to use with old vermouth?
JP: Pasta sauce. Sauté your onions with it, put it in your mirepoix [a mixture of sautéed chopped vegetables used in various sauces]. Use it like you would cooking sherry.
CB: Great. So other than fresh vermouth, what do we need?
JP: I like orange bitters, so have orange bitters handy. And then obviously, your gin of preference. Since it's a martini, you'll want to stir it. You can use any glass that you have at home. I mean, everybody deserves a nice bar set, but if you don't it doesn't mean you can't do it at home. Any nice glass. You can stir with a butter knife, if you'd like.
CB: Now that we’ve got everything, how do we get started?
JP: If we’re starting from the beginning, you want to put your bitters in first and then your vermouth. The most expensive thing [gin] goes last. I think a great place to start is is two ounces of gin with one ounce of vermouth. The spec is the same for a martini or a Manhattan, so just use Manhattan’s zip code: 212 [two dashes of bitters, one ounce of vermouth and two ounces gin]. I think that's a great way to start your martini; that's very wet. But then you can go from there to see whether or not you want less or more vermouth. When you put that in there, then you fill it with ice.
CB: Cubed or crushed ice?
JP: Use ice that has a big surface area. So you add the ice on top and it keeps the ice on the bottom colder, so it slows the dilution process. Then you have time to stir. I would probably say if you have a mixing glass full of ice, you can probably stir that for about 10 to 20 seconds.
CB: If I don’t have a martini glass to pour this into, what works best in its place?
JP: Since you're taking the time to make this beautiful martini for yourself at home, do yourself a favor and put whatever glass you’ll use in the freezer. Get that nice and chilled. That's also very important when you're serving something not on ice, because you want to maintain that full temperature, that's a way to do that without adding dilution. I actually really enjoy using juice glasses. Also, this is when you get to decide whether this is with an olive or with a twist.
After those simple steps you’re ready to pour yourself a drink. Adding citrus peel (a twist) or an olive (and/or olive juice, making it “dirty”) is all up to personal preference. At Petiprin’s bars you can expect to enjoy the brine from their housemade giardiniera (salty pickled vegetables and hot peppers) in their house dirty martini, which adds a tangy, spicy presence.
Want some inspiration for your next martini? Visit Petiprin at Fifty Fifty Gin Club and Homemakers Bar to learn even more about how to mix the perfect martini. Fifty Fifty Gin Club, 35 13th St., Over-the-Rhine, fiftyfiftyginclub.com.