The most enduring of classic cocktails, the Martini is simple to make and infinitely customisable. But how do you create the very best one possible? We asked the top mixologists in London’s Martini business – Agostino Perrone and Giorgio Bargiani of The Connaught Bar, Alessandro Palazzi of Dukes Bar and Brian Silva of Rules. Here are their thoughts…
The spirit: Vodka vs gin
None of our bartenders would badmouth the Vodka Martini. And yet, all name gin as their go-to spirit base, because it has so much more flavour. It seems their customers agree: both Palazzi and the Connaught duo say 70% of the Martinis they sell are made with gin. Silva’s numbers are similar, though the Boston native notes an exception: ‘American customers seem to prefer vodka.’
As for the perfect gin? Choose something classic and juniper-forward. The Connaught Bar, known for both precision and world-leading innovation, uses its own gin, infused with hand-crushed juniper, coriander seeds, liquorice, angelica root, orris root, mace, Amalfi lemon and red wine – but also uses Tanqueray No10.
Silva’s preference is a gin that’s ‘as ginny as possible’, and he cites the likes of Tanqueray, No3 (from Berry Bros & Rudd), Plymouth and Sipsmith. Palazzi, meanwhile, prides himself on experimenting with a number of smaller gin brands, but he considers Beefeater, No3, Plymouth and Tanqueray to be reliable, easy-to-find picks.
When vodka is involved, full-flavoured spirits get the nod. Palazzi and the Connaught team often use Konik’s Tail, a blend of spelt, rye and wheat. Though for his popular Vesper Martini – a James Bond-inspired blend of gin and vodka – Palazzi uses one-part rye Potocki vodka to three-parts No3 gin, with amber vermouth.
The vermouth: Wet vs dry
‘It’s very wrong not to have vermouth – otherwise it’s not a cocktail,’ Palazzi points out. In every bartender’s eye, even the driest Martini must contain some vermouth, giving the drink balance and flavour. In fact, now that there are so many quality vermouths on the market, it’s sometimes a case of the more, the better. Palazzi can tell a customer is in the drinks business if they order their Martini ‘wet’: ‘99% of the time industry people ask for more vermouth; they appreciate the aroma and balance it brings.’
The preferred ratios vary. Palazzi, when he wheels his Martini trolley out to customers, famously doesn’t measure; he coats the inside of a freezer-chilled Martini glass in vermouth then, in his signature move, shakes out the excess on the bar carpet. ‘People think it’s all going on the floor, but actually there’s still plenty of vermouth in the glass,’ he explains.
Meanwhile, Perrone and Bargiani use a five-to-one ratio in their signature Connaught Martini – 75ml spirit to 15ml vermouth – and Silva prefers a classic 60ml to 10ml.
Palazzi often uses Sacred’s vermouth, a product he helped to develop. But both the Connaught team and Silva use a house blend of commercial vermouths – the former employing a mix of extra-dry, dry and sweet to create a rounded pour that can work with many serves. But our bartenders recommend that home mixologists just plump for something good quality; Noilly Prat and Cocchi (which has just released a new extra-dry with Martinis in mind) were both named as favourites.
‘It’s very wrong not to have Vermouth, otherwise it’s not a cocktail’
The chill: Shaken vs stirred
Sorry, 007: all our bartenders say they would never shake a Martini, unless explicitly asked to do so by a customer. It comes down to control. Stir a cocktail in a mixing glass, and you can keep a close eye on how fast the ice is melting. Shaking is less precise; it can result in a lighter cocktail, but also ice shards – ultimately causing over-dilution.
And yet, some dilution is essential. ‘Ice is the third ingredient,’ says Silva, who mixes room- temperature gin and vermouth with large chunks of ice in a mixing glass to achieve his perfect serve. ‘As you stir, the spirit and vermouth will melt the ice, adding around 10ml water to your final cocktail – the perfect balance.’ For home bartenders who might not know how long it takes to achieve that 10ml of melt, he suggests using a straw to sample the drink every 5-10 seconds while stirring. ‘If it’s still tasting rough, then you know you’re not quite there.’ With practice, you should get a sense of how long to mix for – though you’ll have to adjust timings to fit different spirits. Higher-abv ones, for example, might need longer.
The quality of your ice is crucial. In fact, Perrone and Bargiani say this is the number one thing people get wrong when making Martinis. ‘The rest is personal taste,’ says Perrone, ‘but use bad ice or a bad garnish, and it won’t be right.’
At The Connaught they use only crystal-clear commercial ice, because frosty chunks from a normal freezer are full of impurities. It’s hard for home bartenders to get hold of, but you can make your own cheat’s version. Perrone and Bargiani suggest filling an insulated picnic cooler with water and placing it uncovered in the freezer.
The ice will freeze very slowly, giving impurities time to settle to the bottom, and when you remove the ice block you can simply chip these away. ‘I did it all the time at home during lockdown,’ says Bargiani.
Meanwhile, Palazzi takes a different approach to chilling. He neither shakes nor stirs his Martinis in the conventional sense, preferring to pour icy spirit direct from freezer-chilled bottles into the vermouth-coated glass and allowing them to mingle naturally. This lack of water dilution makes his smooth-tasting Martinis notoriously strong – especially as the cold temperature delays the alcoholic punch. If you use his method at home, just remember that there’s a reason why Palazzi limits customers to a maximum of two Martinis each per seating.
The garnish: Lemon vs olive
There’s no right or wrong answer here – if you’re drinking a vodka Martini, at least. When it comes to gin, our bartenders all prefer a lemon peel garnish because it enhances, rather than clashes with, the spirit’s botanicals. (For the same reason, gin Dirty Martinis, using olive brine, are considered a no-no.)
For Palazzi, lemon enhances the overall drinking experience too. ‘You drink the cocktail first with your nose – the lemon is fragrant. Olives don’t smell of anything.’ Not just any lemon will do. Both Palazzi and the Connaught team exclusively use organic Amalfi lemons for their thick skin and aromatic, slightly sweeter profile. But the most important thing is that the lemon is unwaxed, so all those citrus oils can escape from the peel into your Martini.
There’s no need for fancy knife skills. All our bartenders simply cut long, chunky lengths using a vegetable peeler, then pinch or twist it over the Martini. You’ve done it right if you can see tiny drops of lemon oil floating on top of your drink. Most bartenders finish by resting the peel inside the Martini glass, though Silva is an exception: ‘there’s no need as you’ve already extracted the flavour’. He prefers to serve his Martini naked.
As for any other serving tips? The Connaught team break from tradition and add bitters to their drinks to make them customisable. Before pouring the prepared Martini, Perrone and Bargiani personalise each glass with a drizzle of the customer’s choice of housemade bitters: lavender, coriander, tonka, cardamom or ‘Dr Ago’ blend. Palazzi, meanwhile, uses a dash of Angostura bitters in his Vesper Martini.
How to make the perfect Martini at home
Play around with the quantities, timings and spirits of choice to get a Martini that suits your taste.
60ml London dry gin
10ml dry or extra-dry vermouth, plus another 10ml to flavour the ice (optional)
1 fresh unwaxed lemon
Large-chunk quality ice
1 Twenty minutes before making your Martini, chill a small (125ml) drinking glass in the freezer. Five minutes before making it, fill a cocktail mixing glass to the brim with large-chunk quality ice and (optional) 10ml vermouth.
2 When ready, remove your glass from the freezer and pour any melted liquid away from your ice-filled cocktail mixing glass. Add your gin and 10ml vermouth to your mixing glass, then stir continuously for 10-15 seconds.
3 Strain the Martini into your drinking glass. Cut a length of lemon peel using a vegetable peeler, and twist over your Martini to release the oils. Garnish with the peel and enjoy immediately.