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February 10, 2010

Simon Says--"The Perfect Martini"

I didn't realize until just now that Simon hasn't written a Simon Says for this site in a whole year. A year, you guys! That right there is the definition of a crying shame for, when he isn't making us cry or shaming us (well, shaming me), he's got us balled up in stitches, as he did the last time he posted a cocktail recipe.

Now he's at it again, thanks to an invitation from Angella via Work It, Mom's Problem Solved. For the short version of his recipe (this is the one to bookmark for later), go there first. For the long version, get out your smoking jackets and fezzes and follow the link below.

How To Make the Perfect Martini

By Simon the Boy

Right off, I'll acknowledge that this column will be controversial. There will be strong statements, dashed dreams, hard truths, hurt feelings; disagreements will fly across the internets like fruit flies in a marooned banana transport. But there is no fighting it--folks, there IS such thing as a perfect martini, and I will tell you how to make it. (Caveat: There is one option you may choose which will diminish perfection to such a minor degree that you could still consider it perfect, but I digress...).

Ahem. I'll start over.

How to Make a Perfect (or Perfect-ish, should you choose to go that route) Martini

1. The Ingredients.

Let's start with the basics. A true martini has three (THREE) ingredients, and they are as follows:

--Gin. Not vodka. (If you want vodka, you're in the wrong club. They serve vodka at the club up the street. Yeah, it's the one with the neon hammer and sickle disco ball in front. It's called "The Soviets and Sorority Girls Club." You can also get potatoes and lip balm from the vending machine. Don't forget the cranberry!)

--Vermouth. Dry white vermouth is the KFC of the wine world. It's basically a wine distilled from fancy herbs and spices. (Why does white vermouth always come in a bottle with a million zillion words and designs and curly-cues and leaves and crests and shields and emblems and foreign languages on them, you ask? I don't know. I really have no idea. I think that in the world of alcohol packaging, most boozes are going Mac, whilst the old-school vermuthiers are stuck in Windows. See: Packaging of iPhone vs. packaging of any Microsoft product.)

--Garnish. I think that the conspicuous absence of the word "olive" probably tipped you off to the fact that this is the area where I allow "perfection" a little bit of leeway. The classic Martini, I concede, has an olive. But hear me out on this one. I allow for variation for two basic reasons. First off, the garnish, when properly applied to the beverage, is really only present for a quick bite, and doesn't affect the overall presence or general character of the beverage. Thus, it allows for variability based on taste and preference and, let's face it, class, in what is otherwise a beverage impervious to change. Second, I hate olives. I have said over and over that the great regret of my life, second to the very messy divorce, which was really all my fault, is my hatred of olives. People who love olives REALLY love olives. And I'm one of those guys who'll eat just about anything. Goat? No sweat. Brain? Bring it on. Rocky mountain oysters? More mustard, please! But friggin' olives. Never never never. More on this later).


Oh, one more aside before I begin. Just because you put the syllables "tini" on the end of a drink name doesn't make it a variation on a martini. It makes it an abomination. Appletini? Chocotini? Please. Have some fucking self-respect. (There is one exception, and that is the Honey Martini that I occasionally make, and it consists of vodka and honey liqueur. The reason that it's the ONLY exception to the rule is that I made it, and that's what I called it, and I'm the one calling the shots here.)

OK, sorry about that. I'll move on.

2. The Glass.

First of all, get yourself a cocktail glass. You know what that is, don't you? You probably know it as a martini glass. HA! No such thing! Want to earn the distain of that cute bartender at the club you go to? Ask for something in a "martini glass." No bumping uglies for you, you've gone and fucked it up. But ask for a "cocktail glass," and you're ready to swap some gravy, baby (This is irrelevant if you are smokin' hot--you can get away with saying any stupid shit, and you're still getting laid. Congratulations, you'll probably make more than your ugly co-workers, or end up with a rich guy who can buy you whatever you want. Well done, beautiful.)

Where was I? Oh, of course, your cocktail glass. (Here's your bit of trivia for the day. Know why a martini cocktail glass is shaped like it is? It's because it looks cool. James bond doesn't drink a Mai Tai or Pina Colada from a plastic pineapple or (please forgive me, Ian Fleming, for even conjuring the image) a Margarita. Can you imagine trying to spy effectively with a palm frond and bendy umbrella straw in your face, or one of those little mermaids that hangs on the side of your glass? Not to mention, how is James Bond going to shack up with the hot young Hungarian botanist/explosives expert whose father has been kidnapped for information about Germany's top secret project that will be used in Dr. Whatzit's world domination scheme? I'll tell you how--IT AIN'T GONNA HAPPEN, not with a margarita. Margaritas stay on the beach; martinis stay in the casino.).

OK, back to it...

Start with the glass. Make sure that it is no more than six inches tall. (Sorry, rest of the world. I mean "fifteen point two centimeters tall." Phffft, metric. You know, if God wanted us to use metric, he wouldn't have given us all two FEET. And he would have given us ten fingers. Oh, wait... Nicely played, God, nicely played. Really, metric is so easy, it's like the entire non-USA part of the world decided that they didn't want to deal with the challenge of converting inches to feet, feet to miles, and then the whole thing with pounds and ounces. And then you have gallons. That, my erudite friends, is a challenge worth facing. That's why the good old USA is the best at providing the world with all the truly great things like Snuggies, Chia Pets, anything in SkyMall, and pre-emptive war). Plus, a tall glass will make you look like a total ponce. A big tall glass is more for things like Cosmos and Appletinis. Keep the glass short, and make sure that the rim of the glass is thin and light. This is not because it tastes better that way, or because of some historical influence, but rather because when my ex and I registered for cocktail glasses, we basically had society's approval to sucker some friend of my dad's into paying way too much for them, and the ones we selected have very thin rims. So that's why. Makes no sense? Well if you've made it this far, then you obviously aren't a stickler for logic or sensibility.

3. Add the Vermouth.

Start by pouring about two fingers of the vermouth into the glass. What kind of vermouth? Doesn't matter. They pretty much all taste the same. I tend to go with "cheap." You might recognize it because the bottle is green and has lots of things on the label, like leaves, curly French looking thingies, crests, emblems, and French text. Mmmm, yummy yummy French wine.

(Speaking of French wine, who first got the idea that it's OK for an expensive red wine to have a bit of a gamey or "barnyard" smell to it? I'll tell you who: the French. I tend to drink Italian-style California wines, and it was a surprise to me when I opened up an expensive bottle of Chateau de Something-or-Other from FRANCE, and it smelled like someone dropped a little bit of hay, a few duck feathers, and a wee bit of pig shit in it. Naturally, since I was preparing for an important meal (having friends over for steak and intoxication), and since this bottle of wine was expensive (gift from rich friend), I had to call my mom's (now ex-)boyfriend, who was a wine expert. So I call and leave a message saying, "Hey, Barry, this is Simon calling. I've got an issue, and I need your help. Give me a call as quick as you can," and of course Barry calls in a total panic, assuming that my mom was either dead on the side of the road, or at least in the hospital. I told him that no, it's not my mom; it's that this wine smells vaguely of pig shit. After Gary's heart medication took effect, he informed me that a quality French red wine is supposed to smell vaguely of pig shit. What's the deal, France? Christ.)

(And why is Barry my mom's ex, you ask? It's because in addition to being a wine expert, a fantastic chef, well-off and generous, and madly in love with her, he was also batshit crazy. Well, the good ones always are, huh? They seem so nice until they threaten to kill you while they are sleepwalking, and then they stalk you for a year. Oh, love, so fickle!)

Anyway, add a good ounce or two of vermouth to your glass. Straight into it. Don't use your shaker. You'll find out why in a while. A lot of people like a "dry" martini. This is "dumb" because it "defeats the purpose" of having a "martini." I like to drink straight gin as much as the next guy (straight from the bottle--Listerine does in a pinch), but that's not a martini. A martini is defined by the wine-ness that you get from the vermouth. Granted, a dry martini can be fun to make, because there are so many ways to go light on the vermouth, and they make you look clever. Examples:

  • The Mister: It's a little atomizer that you can use to baaaaaarely coat the inside of your glass before you add the gin. It's cute if you're gay.

  • The Churchill: Old Winston himself is rumored to have made his martinis by pouring a glass of gin, and then letting some light shine through the bottle of vermouth onto his glass. That, my friends, is the cleverest thing ever done by a world leader. (In comparison, G.W. Bush choked on a pretzel. I bet he wished he had some gin to wash it down, but as a recovering alcoholic, he chose instead to cleanse his palette by invading Iraq. Thanks, George, you fuck-up.)

  • The Swish: You swish the vermouth around in the glass, and then pour it out, leaving a thin layer of sweet yummy booziness on the inside of the glass. If you're a bartender, you swish the vermouth and then pour it out on the ground where it will later be mopped up. If you're me, you pour it on the kitchen floor and then wonder, two hours later, why the cats are doing keg stands and writing on each others faces with sharpies.

Anyway, a nice winey martini tastes more martini-y, and it will make all of your friends realize how COOL and DIFFERENT and UNIQUE and SPECIAL and CULTURED you are when you have the sack to drink your martini DIFFERENTLY than everyone else. Being different and unique is a good thing, but you can take it too far. I learned that when I first got Leah in the sack, and she wasn't quite ready for the clown suit, bucket of frozen fish, or the hula hoops. Sometimes different can be too different. My solution, however, was to take her to the Folsom Street Fair--now the fish seems so tame in comparison!

4. Add the Gin.

Next, get your gin out of the freezer. (Here's where the real shouting begins. "Store gin in the freezer?!?! Are you mad?" Why no, I am not mad. Here's the thing. Despite its high molecular weight, alcohol doesn't experience hydrogen bonding as readily as water, so hard liquor will live happily in your home freezer without shattering the bottle. This is not true of wine. (Have you ever put a bottle of red wine in the freezer to chill and then accidentally left it in there until it freezes and breaks? It sucks for three reasons. One, it's a pain in the ass to clean red grape slush off of your frozen peas. Two, your entire freezer smells like pig shit--thanks again, France! And three, you realize as you are cleaning up the mess that red wine is supposed to be served at room temperature anyway. Oh well, that's college for you!))

So you get the gin out of the freezer. I have discussed elsewhere on this site the importance of gin selection. Gins are like women. Some of them are classy. Some are slutty. Some taste like ass, and some roll gently down your throat like liquid pearls. Most importantly, though, you get what you pay for. (It probably sounds like I am giving away too much about my past relationships with women here, but that's not the case. Other than the monthly mortgage, the weekly groceries, the jewelry, the clothing, and the emotional blackmail, I've never paid for it. BUT, I had this friend who worked at a non-profit sex information hotline. She was the only "normal" one there. Through this connection, I got to know the most unbelievable wandering parade of human debris that you could possibly imagine. I liked all of them. What a great group to party with! Sadly, I always left before the real fun began, but I heard stories, let me tell you...Anyway, there was this one woman who we got to know pretty well, and she was working her way through law school as a call girl. I'm not talking $20 handy-jays in doorways, we're talking $5,000-a-night hi-class ho. And the best part is that she only had to do the deed about 50 percent of the time! Mostly, she was a very expensive no-strings-attached date for very rich men who didn't have time for anything more in their lives. And talk about getting what you pay for! This girl was gin like no gin that has ever been distilled! It's not that she was pretty, but she made her men feel like they were the only man in the world. I should know; she showed me. No, nothing "happened," it's just that she knew how to look me in the eyes and convince me that she was crazy about me. Really, we were at a party, and I was like, "How do you make a man who is paying for it feel like you really like him?" She says, "I do like some of them. The rest, I just act like this." And within 3 minutes, I would have married the girl. She was that good. How do I know she was only acting? Because she was a lesbian. Anyway, she finished law school at the top of her class, and stopped hooking the next day with half a million in the bank to start off with. Not bad.)

Anyway, back to the gin.

The best gins for your everyday martini are (in no particular order):

  • Bombay Sapphire

  • Hendrick's

  • Tanqueray (Good for drinking with Dr. Dre)

  • Beefeater

  • Seagram's (only if you got your cup and you ain't pitched in)

The best gins for your big night in are:

  • Boodles

  • Old Raj

I've never had Old Raj except for at a company party when I was already drunk, so it was totally wasted on me. Old Raj is what you have for your first drink of the night. Then you work your way down to the shit that tastes like Pine-Fresh Lysol. Unless you are rich (hello again, beautiful!) and then that's what you drink all the time.

(Do you like Scotch? The "Old Raj" of Scotch is "Royal Lochnagar." Run out and get some today. Christ, I sound like such a lush. Well, I am.)

OK, back to the recipe.

Now that you've taken your gin out the freezer, you simply pour a whole bunch of it into the glass, which already has your generous helping of vermouth. How much? Well, I just fill the glass. I like to drink, you see.

5. Add the Garnish.

Now we are at the garnish. This is where I'll get crucified by the attentive reader. When I say attentive, I mean "anyone not asleep after reading this far."

My favorite garnishes are, in descending order (best comes first):

  • Cocktail onion
  • Clove of raw garlic, punctured with fork
  • Lemon twist

My least favorite garnishes are, in descending order (worst comes first):

  • Olive
  • Pig shit
  • Raw fish innards

Yes, I've already said it, I don't like olives. I always thought it was psychological, but once when I was a sophomore in college, my girlfriend (who later became my ex-wife, but at least we got expensive cocktail glasses!) and I went to a very expensive fixed-price restaurant. I was 19, so very expensive meant $29 each. EACH! No WAY was I going to not clear my plate at those prices! So the main dish is eggplant. I'm no fan, but I don't hate it, but I'm a-gonna eat it since I paid $29 dollars for it. First bite, not bad. Second bite I had to spit out, because something that tasted like a decomposing rat was in it.

Guess what it was? That's right, an OLIVE! I really hate them, it's not just my imagination. Really, they taste like decomposing rats. You know on those reality shows where they make people eat gross shit and they have to do it without throwing up? They should serve olives.

So as you have likely guessed, no olives as garnish for me. If you want to get all traditional and have an olive in your martini, that's fine. But our friendship is over. If you are in my home, and we're drinking, and you ask for an olive in your martini, I'll treat you nice. Reeeally nice. But you may notice that it's a while before you are invited back. You've been warned.

I like garlic because the garlic juice sinks to the bottom of the glass, and the last sip tastes like garlic oil. It's a real treat, but don't actually eat the garlic, especially if you're trying to go home with that bartender we talked about earlier. Unless you're hot, yadda yadda yadda...

6. Fool Your Guests.

After all this, I know the question in your mind. You're wondering why I had you get the shaker out. (Oh, that's not what you were wondering? Silly me). Good question. I had you get the shaker out because martini shakers are cool. They are shaped cool. They sound cool. They look cool sitting on the shelf in your bar area. They look cool when you are shaking, when you're straining, when you're spinning them around in the air like Tom Cruise in Cocktail. (Think he did that with Suri when she was a newborn? I wouldn't be surprised.)

I don't bother using my shaker for a martini because I keep my gin in the freezer. Technically you're supposed to shake your martini with ice in your shaker, but when you shake it (like a Polaroid picture), you also add ice and water to the mix. I am a functioning alcoholic, so I am loathe to see space in my glass taken up by water and ice that could otherwise be taken up by booze. (By that same token, I don't eat chocolate chip cookies with nuts. Why waste that precious chocolate space with something as stupid as a pecan? And don't get me started on peanut M&Ms. Those are for SUCKERS.)

But your guests would be shocked to watch you make them a martini without using a shaker, so here's what you do. You don't let them watch you. (I always use the line, "No, no, you sit here and relax. Let me be a good host and prepare your drink over in this other room where you can't see me. No, really, I'd prefer if you didn't watch. It makes me nervous, and then I can't pee." Unfortunately, this often makes guests think that urine is your "secret ingredient," but if you are sincere enough, you'll manage to keep them from leaving immediately. Also, lock the door.)

You fill the shaker with ice and some water, and you shake it (gently, gently, don't spaz out) just enough to make "the sound." You clever bastard! No one will ever know your secret, unless you post it on the internet! (Hint: If you're going to ever post such a salacious secret on the internet, make sure to do it at the end of a long and rambling entry that no sane person will actually read. Then it's just as good as a real secret.)

7. Imbibe.

And that's it! Enjoy!

Well, that's not quite it. I'd also like to add that a good martini is consumed slowly. I have no instructions for you on this point, because I have never done this. I have two drinking speeds: On and Off. A martini goes down like beer goes down like water. What I can tell you about the drinking part is this: My passion for making the perfect martini is replaced, after three of them, with a passion for getting most of the booze into the glass instead of on the counter. Keeping this in mind, always start the evening with the good stuff, and finish up with the cheap stuff. If you do this for no other reason, do it because you will feel very smart, for a drunk. How many times have I said to myself, "Self, you are terminally wasted drunk. You'll be lucky if you make if from the living room to the hallway. But at least you're not wasting the good stuff on yourself in this state. Oooh, look! It's the cat. I wonder if I can catch it?"?

This also goes for drinking your fancy French red wine. Drink the pig shit stuff first, so you can really appreciate it like you're supposed to.


OK, so for those of you who want the short version:

  1. Remove nice gin in the freezer.
  2. Put two fingers of dry vermouth in a cocktail glass.
  3. Cover it with gin--the more the better.
  4. Add garnish of your choice.
  5. Imbibe.
  6. Repeat.

Thanks for reading. Please send photos of yourselves drinking martinis to simon_the_boy (at) yahoo dot com.


Might I offer up another suggestion for garnish? My husband is a lover of martinis and a hater of olives. We have found these little gems called Tomolives. They look like olives, but are instead little green pickled tomatoes. They can often be hard to find, but they can be ordered online.

Oh and my husband says it must be Tomolives and not some other knock off brand, as those suck.

Also? Do you think a person can own too many martini glasses? Because I think so, my husband disagrees. And I've got about 80 martini glasses in my house that I'm tired of looking at. (not an exaggeration)

God, now I'm craving a martini at 6:30 in the AM. Try Stock brand vermouth, if you can find it. It's Italian and I think it really does make a difference. Thanks for the excellent instructions. I can't wait to try the no shaker thing.

I am SO GLAD I asked you to guest post. The world has been in dire need of some Simon Says.

I always knew there was a reason I liked you. It turns out that it's because you understand about actually putting vermouth in martinis, and about how adding "-tini" to the name of any random cocktail is dumb, and about olives. Well-done, sir.

What if you made a really, really, really small martini -- like in a doll-sized glass -- and called it a Teenytini? That would be okay, right? A clever loophole, I think...

Holly--He has totally made me a teenytini before! I was just too drunk to be that clever.

"They seem so nice until they threaten to kill you while they are sleepwalking, and then they stalk you for a year. Oh, love, so fickle!"

I'm laughing so hard over here.

Well done. And I tried my first martini over the weekend. Wasn't bad, but I'd be on the floor after a few sips.

P.S. I'm an olive hater too.

The parenthetical notes are killing me! Also, I completely agree about olives and their resemblance to rotten rats. It's good to know I'm not alone in this.

Just a few comments: 1) Olives suck!, 2) I completely agree that French red wine sucks...that's why I drink Australian, 3) I hate vermouth, so that's why I tend to stick with straight gin, but if you want to serve me a martini with vermouth in it, I will happily drink it after a couple of glasses of Bombay Sapphire.

"It's cute if you're gay."

Hee. I need to start saying that about EVERYTHING.

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