It’s an old adage behind the stick, that you can tell how good a bartender is by getting them to make a drink that is deceptively simple.
There are, of course, a few cocktails that fall under that category but none that stand out as well as the martini. With so few ingredients, there is really nowhere to hide if the proportions or the quality of the ingredients are off.
But we live in a time when most people believe that new is always better, so can a drink that has been around for over 100 years really stand up?
While Ollie Margan from Adelaide bar Maybe Mae points out that the trend in cocktails at the moment is pushing away from the classics, the martini is a little different from your average classic drink. The thing about the martini is that its constantly evolving, leaping from wet, to dry to extra dry and back again.
It’s fair to say that the style of martini you will probably drink today will be different from the martini your parents were drinking and different again from what your grandparents experienced. In other words, the proportions of gin to vermouth is a perpetual sliding scale that moves with the times.
Ally Martin, Global Brand Ambassador for Hendrick’s Gin believes the martini has reached its cult status due to the small variations that you can make to the drink that change the nuance of the flavour. “To get to that place where you find the martini that’s perfect for you, the only way to do that is by trying new things, so different gins, different types of vermouth, different garnishes or different ratios of gin to vermouth.”
Margan agrees, saying that the drink really works when it can surprise you. “I find the martini is too iconic to really muck around too much but when you find a champion ingredient, it’s all about finding a different way to express it.”
Now there are a lot of people who see the Martini as a sacred thing and that is one of the factors that has allowed the drink gain a reputation as the king of cocktails; the drink of all drinks. Yet even with all the mythology that surrounds it, the martini is a drink that’s approachable for everyone – no back bar knowledge required.
“If you’re just getting into gin, or you’re just getting into cocktails, it’s one of the first drinks you should try,” said Martin. “Encouraging experimentation is an important part of the martini experience. It may be a drink that suffers from the old school assumptions but for a cocktail like that to grow and adapt over time, it needs to be tried in new ways.”
Of course, your first experience with a drink will always colour your perception of it. Margan tells a story from when he first started as a bartender and his mentor and boss at the time was able to pique his curiosity about flavour and the power of the unexpected when he made him a riff he called the Stone Wash Martini.
“It’s basically a Dirty Hendrick’s Martini but the use of that gin was really surprising,” he said. “Normally you think of Hendrick’s Gin as bright, perfumed, floral aromatics but there’s a whole base of botanicals, with cucumber, in particular, that actually lends itself really well to that salty, umami, briny kind of character.”
Some would say that you need a modern gin to make a modern drink and Martin believes that it is the brand’s modern take on Gin that enables Hendrick’s to work so well. “The martini is really associated as being a drink in which the gin has to stand strong, be balanced and be well rounded. The way we produce our gins at Hendrick’s has always been about that.
No matter what gin variation the brand are creating Martin points out that they are always thoroughly tested in a variety of martini riffs.
“It has floral elements, it has citrusy, it has spice,” he continued, it has all these different components at the same time. That ultimately makes it great for a martini, because it means it can be a martini that appeals to everyone and every style of martini that people would enjoy.”
Although Margan agrees, he points out that for him, using Hendrick’s in a martini is as much about showing what Hendrick’s can do beyond what his customers usually expect. “With a drink like the Stone Wash martini, it’s All about showing that Hendrick’s gin can have a savoury, saline element to it and consequently can be more robust.
“I guess what we’re all trying to achieve is to show customers how products they are familiar with can be enjoyed in different ways and that is where our knowledge base is of value to a guest.”
To add a little value to martini knowledge below is the recipe for Margan’s Stone Wash Martini.
Stone Wash Martini
- 50mls Hendricks Gin
- 15mls Dolin French Vermouth
- 10mls olive brine
Add Gin and vermouth to a mixing glass and stir, then add Olive brine and stir again. Strain into a chilled coupe with an absinthe rinse.