Off-Ramp

Off-Ramp host John Rabe and contributors share thoughts on arts, culture, and life in L.A.

Rabe heresy: A real martini includes vermouth

A perfect martini, with measurable amounts of dry vermouth.
A perfect martini, with measurable amounts of dry vermouth. John Rabe

From the days of Winston Churchill, who would only scowl at the vermouth from across the room, to author E.B. White, who would mix martinis in pitchers on summer days, then drink the whole thing, to certain modern macho types, a "martini" means cold gin and nothing more.

First of all, that's not a cocktail, friends. You could keep a bottle of gin in the freezer and swig from it and achieve the same effect. (I'm not against this practice; it's just not a mixed drink, nor especially restful.)

Secondly, the gin-centrics are missing the big news of the 21st century: you can get good dry vermouth. Yes, if all you can get is Trader Joe’s horrid Ponti or the only slightly less vile Martini & Rossi or Cento, you might use an eyedropper to put vermouth in your martini. But at any good liquor store, there’s now Dolin, the French vermouth. And some even carry Vya, the California-made vermouth that comes in Extra Dry and Whisper Dry. The website’s martini recipe would horrify Sir Winston:

To make a delicious Vya Extra Dry Wet Martini — a martini like you've never experienced before — select a flavorful gin with a balance of components: Gin 209, Tanqueray 10 or Citadel for example. Combine 2 parts gin with 1 part Vya Extra Dry and a dash of orange bitters in a shaker with ice. Shake or stir, strain into a martini glass and garnish with a cocktail olive.

At bars across LA, I’ve converted many pure gin drinkers to the delights of a “wet” martini, and you should try it for yourself. With a good vermouth, you don’t have the sickly rancid flavor that so many people remember. Instead, there’s an aromatic quality that complements the aromatics in the gin. And with proper proportions — 1:4, 1:3 or 1:2 — your whole body doesn’t do a gin shudder when you swallow.

I have found that it’s essential to use good, fresh olives. Armstrong Sicilian or Ranch style are best. And, yes, stirring (50-100x) gives you much better flavor than shaking. The more vermouth you use, the more you should consider replacing olives with a lemon twist.

Lastly, I’d prefer you never again drink a “dirty” martini, into which the bartender pours nasty salty liquid from the olive jar. If you’re trying to mute the taste of gin, make the martini wet, instead, with more vermouth. But if you insist on the dirty, don’t fall prey to the bottled “dirty martini juice” you find at BevMo and other liquor stores. They’re tricking you into buying the same stuff that’s in your jar of olives.

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