It is hard to beat a good cocktail.
I feel like I could end this post with that statement. The only thing that beats a good cocktail is a good cocktail served with or perhaps directly before good food. Where champagne is drunk on more holidays and special occasions, the cocktail celebrates the end of a work day, or the start of an evening out. Toasts made with a cocktail seem to carry a different weight or significance, perhaps because of the very strength of the alcohol they consist of. To me, the perfect cocktail for just about any occasion is the martini.
There will no doubt be an outcry when I say that to me, the perfect martini is made with vodka. About once a year I’ll have a gin martini (but only if a gin like Henrick’s is available) but the rest of the time I stick to vodka. Dr. Fiance and I tend towards Ketel One as our vodka of choice, although sometimes we will enjoy Chopin or Grey Goose (never Absolut). It will be lightly flavored with a touch of dry vermouth, but never, EVER with olive juice. So-called classic martinis contain up to a 1 oz of vermouth to 2 oz of vodka or gin, but I prefer my martini to be dry as a desert breeze.
My experience of drinking a martini is just as important as the taste itself. A martini is not to be drunk while being pushed around at a nightclub or slugged down willy nilly at a sports bar. It is to be enjoyed sitting in an elegant environment, maybe a lounge, or a steakhouse at the bar where it can sit in front of you, perhaps next to a bowl of something salty, over conversation. It could be enjoyed at home on the couch just as easily, at the end of a long day, assuming that you have the appropriate martini vessel. Your martini should be served in a tall, long-stemmed glass (preferably one that has spent several hours in a freezer). Too often (and much to my dismay) I am served a martini in one of those awful, short, stubby monstrosities, meant, one can assume, to allow the patron to spill less. This, in my mind, is not a martini, it is simply a glass of spirits. If proper martini glasses are not available, I will happily order something else.
My technique for making a martini is quite simple. I fill my shaker with ice, and then drizzle several teaspoons of vermouth over the ice. I swirl the shaker for a few moments to coat the ice with the vermouth, then strain the excess out. I then add the appropriate amount of vodka to fill (but not over fill) my glass. I then shake my martini for several seconds. Vodka will not bruise and become cloudy, the way some other spirits do, but beware that shaking too hard will break up the ice and will dilute your martini. However, I am not adverse to a few flakes of ice floating on the top after the drink is poured.
If I have the space in my freezer and have remembered sufficiently early, I will chilled my glass. I strain the vodka into the glass and garnish with an odd number of olives (Dr. Fiance has told me it is bad luck to use an even number) and serve. When making martinis at home I tend to just drop in the olives, although in some instances swizzle sticks, or even a modest toothpick for your olives is appropriate.
In my experience, one martini is never enough, and two is perfect. Right around the third lap of this particular race, it becomes difficult to make appropriate choices about a fourth and fifth. As Dorothy Parker once said:
“I like to have a Martini, two at the very most; three, I’m under the table, four I’m under my host!”