While bartenders and spirit enthusiasts everywhere are constantly coming up with new and exciting (or sometimes terrible) mixed drinks and tasty recipes, some will never go out of style. Enter the martini – a timeless drink that carries with it an air of sophistication.
Like many traditional cocktails, the history of this sweet gin-based drink is not concrete, though there are many theories. Regardless of where it comes from, the best gin for martinis is one that’s clear, smooth, and fruity without being overpowering. With the many botanicals and infusion processes that gin can go through, not every gin is cut out for a top-notch martini.
Perhaps the most common theory is one that starts with a mid-1800s gold miner who struck it rich in Martinez, California. He entered a bar and requested some champagne to celebrate, but the bar didn’t have any.
Not wanting to disappoint, the bartender opted to make a unique concoction with whatever he had on hand, which happened to be gin vermouth, maraschino liqueur, bitters, and a lemon. He put it all together and coined it the “Martinez Special.”
The miner liked it so much he began asking for it at other bars he frequented, offering bartenders specific instructions. This is, supposedly, how it began spreading and was eventually written into the Bartender’s Manual around 1880.
This isn’t the only theory floating around, however. Other theories point to Jerry Thomas who professionalized bartending and wrote several books on it, as the creator.
Another simpler idea is that it was just a matter of branding. “Martini & Rossi” was a popular brand of Italian sweet vermouth which was often paired with gin. The idea is that it evolved from the popular request for “a gin and martini” to just “martini.”
How ever it came to be, there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that the martini is here to stay. The iconic drink is so pervasive that the shape of the glass it’s often served in has been universally branded a martini glass. Even other drinks that are mixed and served in the same glass are given “tini” suffixes, such as appletini or mochatini.
To make a good-quality, sufficiently dry martini, you need just the right ingredients. The following five selections are a good place to start for a top-notch effort. And, if a martini isn't your drink of choice, you can always try your hand at other gin cocktails. You could also check out a gin of the month club, which gives you the chance to try new gins every month.
The Best Gin for a Martini
1. Beefeater 24
It was 1820 when a small gin distillery opened in Chelsea, London. This was later purchased by a pharmacist turned aspiring distiller. It was in 1876 when the new owner began producing many different types of gin, including the legendary Beefeater brand.
It was far and away the most popular gin in the United States by 1963, accounting for three of every four bottles imported into the country.
Beefeater 24 London dry gin is a premium bottle launched in 2008 with the gin being distilled in Kennington, London with 12 hand-picked botanicals and a unique blend of rare teas. It took 18 months of experimentation but the result is a beautiful, aromatic, and incredibly smooth gin to complement the tastiest of martinis.
The name represents the 24-hour steeping process the teas go through to impart the best and most potent flavors. The nose offers light and airy aromas of herbal tea and subtle juniper with notes of citrus and licorice.
The flavor profile is more complex with strong notes of juniper followed by coriander, angelica, Seville orange peel, grapefruit, sencha, and Chinese green tea.
2. Bombay Sapphire
Bombay Sapphire is a wildly popular gin with such an exquisite flavor that it turns many into gin drinkers. It’s made from an expert combination of 10 hand-picked botanicals from all over the world. It’s extraordinarily smooth with a well-balanced taste.
This smoothness and crisp, clear, unmatched flavor profile gives the gin such amazing versatility. Bartenders the world over love the gin for their mixed drinks because the options are seemingly endless – long drinks, martinis, and endless contemporary cocktails. While it goes great with many things, it’s an exceptional choice for a simple gin and tonic.
Its aroma is sweet and floral, making it unique from most other London dry style gins. The palate offers strong notes of citrus with lemon dominating. There are notes of alcohol flavor in there mixed with notes of juniper with a sweet fruitiness in the background.
3. Tanqueray London Dry
Made from only four classic botanicals, this gin is a simpler offering that is popular among those who love the traditional taste of juniper. The juniper is strong in this one, with coriander, angelica, and licorice accompanying it. The four botanicals are well-balanced in flavor, offering a unique herbal taste with a dry finish.
Tanqueray London dry gin was created more than 180 years ago by a clergyman’s son who rebelled against the family calling and opened a distillery instead. This gin was new and innovative for the time and remains a widely popular drink today. Its simplicity lends itself well to mixed drinks, especially if you don’t mind a noticeable hint of juniper.
The aroma is, unsurprisingly, heavy on the juniper, much to the delight of the drink’s juniper-loving fans. In the background are subtle notes of angelica, licorice, and citrus. The palate also opens with a strong sense of juniper with hints of angelica root, cinnamon, coriander seed, and baking spice on the finish, which is long and warming.
4. Tanqueray No. 10
Another excellent offering from Tanqueray, the Tanqueray No. 10 is among the brand's most premium selections and is distilled to the highest standards. It gets its name from the use of a “tiny ten” copper pot still, where the gin is distilled using fresh and whole citrus fruits.
The result is a unique, full-bodied flavor with just the right amount of citrus undertones. The drink's light and fruity flavor make it a favorite among bartenders and a great base for mixed drinks. Its reputation is well-earned with a double gold medal win at the 2017 World Spirits Competition.
The palate is dry and crisp with a distinct juniper flavoring. It’s excellent for a refreshing gin and tonic and makes the best and driest martinis.
It’s also a good one for creating your own renditions at home. A simple yet notable combination is a splash of tonic water and some pink grapefruit for a quick, refreshing, and easy-to-make drink.
5. Citadelle Gin
Citadelle Gin has made waves as the world’s only copper-distilled gin made with more than 15 botanicals. The original recipe comes from a distillery in Dunkirk and was created in 1771. Today, the complex drink is distilled in cognac pot stills at the Ferrand distillery. It’s barrel-aged to create a more traditional gin, similar to the ones from several hundred years ago.
It contains a total of 19 botanicals which are infused for 72 hours. This gives it a strong and complex aroma. It’s finished with 12 hours of distillation in a copper pot still over a naked flame.
The aroma is delicate and heavily floral with notes of fresh flowers and jasmine, plus a hint of honeysuckle and cinnamon followed by grains of paradise and anise. The palate begins with juniper and follows with a medley of fresh spring flowers. The finish is elegant and refined.
How to Make the Perfect Martini
The martini is a classic that’s so old we can’t even be sure where it started. This means we’ve had plenty of time to perfect it, and perfect it we have. It’s a gin-lovers drink for sure and the “perfect” iteration includes a precarious balance of dry and sweet vermouth.
While there are many ways to make a martini that result in a huge variety of flavors, the recipe for a classic perfect gin martini has no bells, whistles, or extras. There are four simple ingredients:
- 2 ounces of your chosen gin (use one of the suggestions above for best results)
- ½ ounce sweet vermouth
- ½ ounce dry vermouth
- Olives or lemon twist to garnish
Once you’ve gathered your ingredients, follow these steps carefully:
- Fill a mixing glass with ice cubes
- Pour gin and vermouth into the glass
- Stir for at least 30 seconds
- Strain the mixture and pour only the drink into a mixing glass, no ice
If garnishing with olives, it’s traditional to use an odd number: either one large or three small on a small skewer.
To finish, you’ve probably heard the old phrase “shaken or stirred” or perhaps the James Bond classic: “shaken, not stirred.” A martini can indeed be made either way and it mostly comes down to preference.
Stirring the drink gently melds the flavors together with minimal dilution. Shaking it adds air and dilutes the drink further. One is not inherently better than the other, you just need to discover what you like best. If you’re unsure of your preference, make two identical martinis, one shaken and one stirred.
That being said, your preference may change based on the gin used as flavors can vary in intensity.