Raise a glass — a martini glass, that is — this Friday in honor of the weekend and National Martini Day.
Neither of the two Berkshire County martini experts I spoke to —Tim Eustis, the beverage director at The Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, and Will Winn, the rickhouse manager at Berkshire Mountain Distillers in Sheffield — knew where or how the martini originated. However, according to Winn, "It's been one of the most popular cocktails in the world for over a hundred years. The traditional stance has been changed to almost every combination — from a vodka martini to a gin martini to a version of the Manhattan. It's changed over the years due to different trends and flavors."
The true martini, Eustis said, is the gin martini. The basic martini, he said, calls for 2 1/2 to 3 ounces of gin or vodka, a splash vermouth, which he said was "ridiculously subjective." For a dirty martini, a splash of olive brine is added. Olives are usually served in a martini, he said, add a cocktail onion instead and the martini becomes a Gibson. A lemon twist is another garnish option. Take away the vermouth, keep the gin or vodka, add lime juice and some simple syrup, and the drink becomes a gimlet. Winn's basic recipe calls for 6 parts gin to 1 part vermouth. From there, it can be changed to each person's preferred style.
Don't add any vermouth at all and the martini becomes extra dry. "Some people like the glass just rinsed with vermouth or sprayed with vermouth," Eustis said. "Olives give the martini a saltiness, a brininess; the lemon twist adds a citrusy piquancy."
Eustis explained vermouth was wine infused with botanicals and other things. To cool down on a hot summer day, he recommended vermouth and club soda or tonic served over ice, and urged people to try different vermouths, which have their own unique taste. He added vermouth can also be used in place of white wine in cooking, for example when deglazing a pan and reducing the pan juices. "It adds interesting flavors and botanicals."
In making a martini, Eustis said since vodkas are all made basically the same way, they have the same similarities.
"If I had 5 or 6 glasses of different vodkas, most people couldn't tell the difference," he said, adding the Red Lion Inn uses Berkshire Mountain Distillers Ice Glen Vodka. Gin, on the other hand, he said is made with different botanicals. He noted that Berkshire Mountain Distillers Ethereal Gin was a favorite.
"It's different each time it's made," he said. "I think the inn has the 16th generation; the 12th or 14th was citrusy and was great with a lemon twist."
When making a simple drink, like a martini or a gin and tonic, he recommended, "the aromatics in the gin are what makes the drink. Splurge on a more expensive gin. If making a drink with other mixers, go the cheaper route."
When it comes to making martinis for himself, he said his favorite is made with Berkshire Mountain Distillers' Ethereal Gin and Dolin Vermouth. Winn likes to settle down with a martini made with Berkshire Mountain Distillers Ice Glen Vodka, a little bit of orange liqueur and the glass just rinsed with vermouth — and like James Bond, shaken, not stirred — and garnished with an orange twist.
"The bitterness of the vermouth contrasts with the sweet citrusy taste from the citrus," he explained.
The Red Lion Inn's head bartender, Ryan Guidi, has recently infused Ice Glen Vodka with horseradish root, garlic, orange and yellow peppers, and onions, which Eustis said will be featured in Bloody Marys and martinis at the inn.
"It's like lunch in a shot," Eustis said. "The vodka is served in a glass rinsed with vermouth and finished with a marinated sun-dried tomato." The inn also features a martini with blue-cheese olives and a shrimp cocktail martini.
So, what difference between shaken and stirred?
"Shaking adds water to the martini and bruises the alcohol, opening up more of the flavor profile," Winn said. "Stirring it in a glass will make the martini much softer to the taste and it will have a more full in flavor."
Martinis are traditionally served in a martini glass. "It's broad, shallow and has hard angles," Eustis said. "The glass is austere, with a stem and a discrete angle out." A martini, he said is about 3 1/2 ounces of liquid, up to 4 1/4 ounces if shaken or stirred with ice.
The perfect martini, Winn said, should be very cold, very clean looking with no excess color and be very smooth to the taste, everything balanced and with not a lot of sharpness.
When making a martini, Winn said it's easy to substitute things. "Add a small amount of fruit juice, use flavored vodkas, use gins with different botanicals, different liqueurs, garnishes to help change the entire flavor of the drink. A simple martini is a great thing. It is very simple to make with only two or three ingredients. You can make it shine because it is so simple to do."
Winn suggested serving martinis with a classic charcuterie board, saying, "A martini is heavy in itself, so you want to serve it with nothing too heavy and the meat, cheese and fruit on a charcuterie board are perfect."
Eustis recommends serving martinis with Marcona almonds or his personal choice regular, salted potato chips, a habit he picked up when living in France where Champagne is served with potato chips. "The plain, regular ones, not honey barbecue or other flavors."
RYAN'S RED LION MARTINI
(Courtesy The Red Lion Inn)
3 ounces Ice Glen Vodka, infused with horseradish root, garlic, onions, and orange and yellow peppers
Splash of Dolin dry vermouth (depending on taste)
Garnish with a sundried tomato
(Courtesy Berkshire Mountain Distillers)
3/4 ounce Ice Glen Vodka
2 ounces Greylock or Ethereal Gin
1/2 ounce Lillet or Cocchi Americano Lemon Twist
Pour ingredients into a mixing glass with ice and stir. Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
WILL'S IDEAL MARTINI
(Courtesy Will Winn, Berkshire Mountain Distillers)
3 ounces Ice Glen Vodka
1/8 ounce dry vermouth
1/8 ounce orange liqueur
Shake vodka with ice for 30 seconds. Rinse glass with mixture of Vermouth and Orange Liqueur (dispose of remainder). Strain the vodka into the rinsed glass and garnish with an orange twist.
1 1/2 ounces Greylock Gin
1 ounce orange liqueur
1/2 ounce lime juice
Cranberry juice (for color)
Shake gin, liqueur, cranberry juice, and lime juice together. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with the lime wheel.