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The Gin Martini: Unraveling the Iconic Cocktail’s History and Techniques

A Tale of Beauty and Debate

The beauty and curse of cocktail history is that almost all origin stories, original recipes, and inventors can be debated, proven, and debunked in the same conversation. I offer you, dear ginspired reader, one truth that holds above all others: The martini is the most iconic and legendary creation in the entire adult beverage universe. No other drink has been the subject of many majestic recreations, cultural references, and symbolism. 

No matter where this life takes us, we can depend on two things always to be true: 

  1. The martini is the most famous and iconic cocktail in history. 
  1. Highclere Castle Gin makes one that is hands down world-class. 

Everything else, alas, is up for debate. 

Defining the Gin Martini 

“There is one definition for a true Martini-some combination of gin, vermouth, and (sometimes) bitters, stirred and served straight up in the iconic v-shaped glass.” 

The martini is a classic cocktail consisting of five parts gin, one part dry vermouth, and one dash of orange bitters served in a v-shaped stemmed glass and garnished with a lemon twist or olive. The iconic glass became so synonymous with the beverage that anything served in it was dubbed a “martini,” regardless of ingredients. Bright and sweet concoctions of limoncello, pomegranate, or caramel pumpkin (shudder) all have little to do with the original flavor profile yet are universally recognized under the martini umbrella by everyone except a small snarky group of mixologists and cocktail enthusiasts, one of whom happens to be yours truly. There has been an enthusiastic push to bring the martini back to its clean and crystal clear roots, and it’s been one of the most successful revivals in the entire cocktail universe. More versions exist than we have space for here, but at any rate, we present what we feel is the most direct route to a solid working knowledge of the virtues and practices of proper martini service. 

The Rise and Fall of the Gin Martini

The martini rose to fame in New York City clubland at the turn of the century and went comatose in the disco era when cocktails became as bright as the lights they were served under. The crystal clear and reserved martini couldn’t compete with an arsenal of artificially produced neon colors lining the bar. 80s Yuppie culture saw a return to a “dry” or “lean” martini. Still, this often was chilled vodka with ice shards floating atop and used more as an alcohol delivery system than a balanced and flavorful cocktail. 

Understanding Vermouth: The Gin Martini’s Companion

Dry Vermouth is (primarily) a French white wine-based aperitif fortified with a blend of herbs and botanicals and strengthened with a distilled spirit. Floral, herbaceous, and dried fruit flavors join White wine notes. The entire profile is distinct but not overpowering. Most people have a severe aversion to it because their first experience with Vermouth is often from an expired bottle. When martinis became unpopular, nobody used Vermouth, and it just hung around on the bar, and spoiled-wine needs to be refrigerated and used within days, and Vermouth in weeks. If the bartender is not getting the Vermouth from the fridge and they aren’t serving up 100s of martinis a day, that stuff has turned. 

The Shaken vs. Stirred Debate

Stirred. Always Stirred. Never Shaken. Sorry, Mr. Bond. 

Diamonds are forever, and so is the famous misconception that the proper martini is “shaken and not stirred.” I give Mr. James Bond or, instead, author Ian Fleming (who was a frequent visitor to Highclere Castle and friend of Lord Carnarvon’s father) the blame for a few cocktail faux pas, but this is the most famous. As discussed in previous cocktail conversations, cocktails are stirred when the ingredients are primarily spirits. When there is juice involved, shaking takes place. This is because the viscosity of spirits is far less than juice, especially citrus. The goal of either cocktail style is to bring all the elements into a single, silky mouthfeel. When we shake a proper martini, too much water is introduced into the cocktail from the ice shards that are introduced into the drink. Something desirable when making a gin sour or a bee’s knees. 

Honestly, I do not blame Mr. Bond for his request. Many bartenders don’t take the time to stir a martini until it’s properly chilled. However, asking a martini to be shaken so it becomes properly chilled is like asking the waiter to put your wagyu steak in the deep fryer because it’s too cold. There’s just a better way to achieve the desired result. Just keep stirring. 

Recipes – Crafting the Perfect Gin Martini

The Highclere Castle Gin “Iconic Martini” 

This five-to-one recipe is the hallmark ratio most called for during the martini’s heyday. 

This is part of your Don Draper Starter kit and is indispensable. 

  • 2.5 oz. Highclere Castle Gin 
  • .5 oz. Dry Vermouth (Dolin for clean and crisp, Noilly Prat for a note of richness and earth) 
  • 1 dash orange bitters (Regans No 5 is best; Angostura Orange will do.) 

 Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass (or another vessel if none is available) and cover ingredients with a healthy scoop of ice. 

Stir slowly for a minimum of 20 seconds. The most important ingredient in this cocktail is water, and proper dilution is the difference maker. 

Strain into a chilled classic martini glass or coupe. 

Express oils of a large lemon twist over the surface of the cocktail. 


Iconic Alternatives

The “In and Out” or “Bone Dry” Martini 

3 oz. Highclere Castle Gin 

.5 oz. Vermouth splashed into the martini glass and poured out. 

 The Nouveau Reverse Martini 

1 oz. Highclere Castle Gin 

2 oz. Vermouth 

 Do you take your martini shaken or stirred? Either way, grab your bottle of Highclere Castle Gin online today.  


One Comment

  • mel says:

    I love how you have given the history of a true Martini!! To me the Martini is Elegant and Sophisticated!!! I love to experiment by creating certain drinks and Highclere Castle Gin has given me some new ideas!!!