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How To Become A Martini Maestro

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The simple joy of an Isle of Harris Gin Martini.

Today is World Martini Day. We’re not quite sure why the 19th of June has been selected for this honour, but we’ll find any excuse to raise a glass to this historic drink.

Most of us know what a Martini looks like, we’ve seen it on the silver screen, sipped by every stylish star from Humphrey Bogart to James Bond.

But, could you confidently order one in a New York cocktail bar, or pour one for your guests with aplomb and panache?

From Mayfair and Shoreditch to the silver screen, the Martini never goes out of style.

If the answer is no, then we’re here to help with a brief beginner’s guide, providing you with the basic knowledge you’ll need to discover all its joys and join the ranks of the glamorous gin-drinking set.

So, what is a Martini?

It’s one of the oldest cocktails in the world and comprises of three simple ingredients…good gin, dry vermouth, and a carefully chosen garnish.

That’s it, perfectly simple and simply perfect when made well. And the key to a good Martini is in how you well you make it.

A Martini is never shaken, always stirred. Unless your name is Bond...

The Gin

You will need an excellent spirit, and, unsurprisingly, Isle of Harris Gin just so happens to fit the bill. Then you need to make your gin cold, very cold, in fact, ice-cold.

You can do this in two easy ways. Firstly, just store your bottle in the freezer where the high alcohol content will keep the precious liquid lovely and viscous as it cools.

Alternatively, you can stir your gin with ice cubes for a minute or so, using a long bar spoon and a mixing glass to chill the spirit. It won’t be quite as cold, but the resulting dilution will help soften the alcohol before straining into your glass.

For the record, contrary to our favourite spy’s famous line, first uttered in Ian Fleming’s novel ‘Diamonds Are Forever’, a Martini should never be shaken. Unless, of course, you’re in the business of international espionage.

You’ll also want to chill your glass, again in the freezer for a fine, frosted effect, or by filling it with fresh ice which you will discard before that first, all-important pour.

The Forager's Martini by Aiden Duncan, The Kitchin, Edinburgh, UK.

The Vermouth

Vermouth is a rather uncommon drink for those of us living in the UK, and we suspect there a very few bottles to be found here in Harris! But it’s a wonderful second ingredient for all manner of cocktails, or even to enjoy on its own.

There are generally two kinds, sweet (red) and dry (white), and for a good Martini you want to get hold of the latter. As a light wine, fortified with herbs, spices and bitter botanicals, it does have a short shelf life. So, buy a half bottle if you can.

We love the Great British Dry Vermouth made just outside Edinburgh but you could also seek out Alessandro Palazzi’s (the original Martini maestro) favourite Sacred English Dry Vermouth, or source some Dolin Vermouth De Chambery which is a little easier to find.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. The amount of vermouth you add to your cocktail determines whether your Martini is wet or dry. Confusingly, the more dry vermouth you add, the wetter it becomes and the less you add, the dryer the drink!

We like to make our Isle of Harris Gin the star, so we like a dry Martini, usually very dry, so we tend to add very little vermouth. You may prefer the flavours of a wet Martini, and if so, simply add more to suit your personal taste.

The Earth, Wind and Brine Martini by Lawrence Wills-Braddock of Singer Tavern, London, UK.

The Garnish

The final ingredient, although seemingly insignificant, should never be overlooked. Getting the garnish right can make or break the enjoyment of your Martini.

Adding a sliver of fragrant lemon peel, first expressing its oils over the surface of the spirit by rolling between finger and thumb, providing a bright lift of citrus as you raise the glass to your lips. This is called a Twist.

You could garnish with a green olive or three, skewered on a cocktail stick or just dropped in the glass. Go for good Spanish Queens or Manzanillas and even add a splash of their oily brine from the jar. This makes a Dirty Martini.

Or, try the humble pickled onion, a surprisingly delicious way to mix things up by adding a sharper, savoury but subtle umami undertone to the proceedings. Again, add one or three (even numbers are considered unlucky), and you’ve now made a Gibson.

And the list of great garnishes goes on, feel free to get adventurous and experiment as you explore your Martini-making. Some of our favourite serves use thyme and rosemary, nettles and lavender, samphire and even fish roe from Sardinia.

The Tarbert Sunset Martini by James Sutherland of 56 North, Edinburgh, UK.

So, next time you find yourself in some beautiful and sophisticated city, struggling to make sense of a cocktail list and the endlessly obscure bottles behind the bar, remember these words and your bartender will no doubt nod approvingly and set to fixing you a very fine drink…

“I’ll have an Isle of Harris Gin Martini please, very cold, very dry, and served with a twist…”

If you’d like to learn more and become your own Martini maestro at home please try The Harris Martini serve to start your journey off just right. Or, visit The Martini Project page on our website to discover some incredible collaborations with the best of British bartenders.

Slàinte to the king of cocktails this World Martini Day and, as always, please enjoy its profound pleasures responsibly. 

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