How to make a perfect martini

Should you go for shaken or stirred?

‘If someone brought me a martini, while I was watching Come Dine with Me in my living room, that would be brilliant!’ I’m talking to consummate cocktail curator Stuart Bale, in the elegant setting of the Long Bar at The Sanderson Hotel. Having established that martinis needn’t be drunk exclusively in chic surroundings, I ask if one should at least look glamorous while drinking them. He says, ‘I think you’d probably enjoy it more in your jogging bottoms!’

Hailing from Glasgow, Bale dropped out of a dentistry degree to turn his part-time bar job into a full time career. He says, ‘I was fed up of drilling holes in dead people’s heads – I was happier at night, when I could be nice to people!’ But his background explains an attention to detail that stretches to analysing minutiae such as the rate at which ice-cubes dilute in relation to their surface area. ‘I’ve always looked at things in a scientific way,’ he says, ‘and it all came together from there.’

His approach has led to the opening of The Crucible, an experimental space for bartenders that’s packed with hi-tech equipment. But today, Bale is here to tell me how to make the perfect martini and first I want to know why he’s contradicting martini poster boy James Bond, by advocating that martinis be stirred rather than shaken.

‘When you shake a drink, it gets more diluted,’ says Bale. “For me, a martini is all about the flavour. When you shake it, you add too much water and the flavour falls apart – it tastes a bit thin.’ OK, but is Bond right to make it a vodka martini? Bale says, ‘It depends what your goal is. I would say gin martini always, because I like tasting things – but if you want to get properly drunk then a vodka martini is just the ticket!’

For those who do just want to get hammered, in the most fabulous way, Bale recommends Wry, ‘a really nice English vodka that’s made in Guildford and it’s got a really rich mouth feel.’ But while Bale is a stickler for matching gin with the right vermouth, he says it isn’t so important for vodka. ‘Vodka doesn’t have much of a flavour, so I wouldn’t put much vermouth in a vodka martini – so the one you choose isn’t as important.’

Having told me a martini is, ‘not just one drink, it’s a full spectrum of drinks,’ Bale adds: ‘I could make you three drinks that are technically a martini and you’d be astounded at how different they are!’ OK, so where do I go for the best martini? ‘If you know how to order it,’ says Bale, ‘you should be able to go anywhere!’

Here are his tips for getting your martini spot on…

1. Work out what floats your boat

‘My personal preference is three parts gin to one part vermouth, which would be classed as quite a wet martini, but there’s no right or wrong. The only way to find out what you like is drink a lot of martinis at different ratios. Start with equal parts gin and vermouth, then go to one part vermouth, two parts gin, right up to one part vermouth, ten parts gin – try them all! The less vermouth you put in, the dryer the martini is.’

2. Ask for what you want

‘Going into a bar and asking for “a martini” is like going into a car showroom and asking for “a car”. You should order your martini exactly how you want it. If you go in and say, “Three to one Beefeater martini with an olive,” it makes the bartender’s life easier – it’s much appreciated! You won’t look like a tosser – quite the opposite. If you order “a martini” without knowing how you like it, you’ll look as if you’re only ordering it to show off!’

3. See if you like it dirty

‘A dirty martini has olive brine in it. A lot of people make the mistake of using oil, because sometimes olives come in oil – that’s just wrong! If I was making a dirty martini, I would do 50ml of gin, then 15ml of vermouth and 15ml of olive brine. Tony C’s bar Untitled makes a fantastic dirty martini because they process their olives in a centrifuge to take out the water – those dirty martinis I would really recommend.’

4. Match your gin to your vermouth

‘The most important thing for a martini is choosing the right vermouth for the right gin. If you go to a bar and let them know the gin you want, they’ll choose the vermouth for you, but if you’re making it at home, try Beefeater gin with Martini Extra Dry, or Gin Mare with Lillet Blanc.’

5. Sweat the small stuff

‘Make your martini in a cocktail tin, stirring gently with the wrong end of a bar spoon. Don’t buy cheap party ice, because it dilutes quickly. Get a good ice-cube tray that makes cubes of 3cm by 3cm, then empty the tray, and keep the cubes in a bag in the freezer.’

Stuart Bale is the cocktail curator at the Long Bar, Sanderson

Samantha Rea can be found tweeting here


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