Martini Basics for Beginner Bartenders or Servers
What is a Martini?
The traditional martini is a blended cocktail of gin or vodka and vermouth. This article will give you the basics for how to understand what the customer is ordering and how to prepare their martini.
Breaking It Down...
- Martinis can either be made with Gin or Vodka. The only other ingredient is a liquor called Vermouth, which is actually a fortified wine product. Vermouth is made dry or sweet. Martinis call for dry vermouth.
- Martinis can be served straight up (no ice) or on the rocks (with ice). A straight up martini is served in a martini glass (see picture to right). A martini on the rocks is served in rocks glass.
- If someone orders the rocks on the side with their martini, it means they want the leftover ice from the shaker. In this situation you would strain their martini into a martini glass and pour the leftover rocks into a rocks glass for them. (see picture below)
- Martinis come with either olive or a twist garnish. A twist is a lemon rind, never lime! Making a lemon rind is easy, just take a wedge of lemon and remove all of the pulp and juice by peeling the section away, leaving just the thin rind. Some bars even have a special tool for this purpose, creating fancy twists that hang off the edge of the glass.
- A dirty martini will automatically come with olives as it’s a martini made to look “dirty” with olive juice. An extra dirty martini just means more olive juice. Some bars drop the olive or olives loose into the martini glass and some put the olives on a cocktail spear before dropping them in.
- Some people prefer “dry” or “extra-dry” martinis. This refers to the amount of vermouth in their drink. Dry=opposite of sweet. If someone is specific about wanting an extra dry martini, most restaurants and bars won’t even put any vermouth in at all. Martinis these days are made with very little vermouth to begin with!
- When someone orders a martini they will generally tell you which type of vodka (for example Stoli, Kettle One, Grey Goose, etc,) or Gin that they want (Beefeater, Bombay, Tanqueray, Hendricks, etc,). It is your responsibility as a waiter or bartender to know and recognize the brands.
Note: Liquor in a restaurant or bar falls into different categories based on price. The cheapest is called well liquor, which gets its name from its location in a bar. Every bar has at least one row of liquor that is easily accessible to the bartender (and not on display, unlike the more expensive liquors which are set out in displayed rows on top of the bar). These are called wells. The liquor in them is always the cheap stuff, and it’s what they use to make a drink unless the customer ups their order by choosing a brand name liquor. In most restaurants/bars, liquors fall into three tiers: well, call and premium. We already covered “well.” “Call” is the middle ground, meaning that a customer has specified what liquor they want (i.e not well liquor) but it isn’t the most expensive (or top shelf). “Premium” (aka top shelf) liquor = the most expensive.
When Someone Orders a Martini You Need to Know…
Vodka or gin? What type?
Straight up or on the rocks?
Twist or olives?
For example, you may hear an order like this:
“I’ll have a Tanqueray martini, straight up, with olives. And can you put the rocks on the side?”
This means they want a Tanqueray gin martini, served in a martini glass with the ice (rocks) strained out, olives as a garnish and the leftover ice in a “rocks” glass on the side.
"I'll have a Kettle One martini, on the rocks, with a twist." This means they want a Kettle One vodka martini, served on the rocks in a rocks glass, with a twist garnish.
Some say that a martini is made of a 5 to 1 ratio: 5 parts gin or vodka and 1 part vermouth. But, as mentioned above, most restaurants/bars these days use very little vermouth...a splash is the best way to describe it. You’ll have to adjust the amounts of gin or vodka depending on the size of your restaurant or bar's martini glass, which vary greatly! Basically, you're looking to fill the martini glass to whatever level your bar dictates with chilled vodka or gin and a smidge of vermouth! No recipe needed...
Making a Martini
First take the martini glass and fill it with ice, then top it with soda water. This will chill the glass quickly.
Second fill a cocktail shaker with ice. (In some bars the cocktail shaker is a large metal mixing glass that the bartender tops with an upside down draft glass to use as a lid for shaking. In other places they use cocktail shakers with specially fitted lids that have strainers built in).
Pour in the vodka or gin and vermouth (if required). Shake to mix. (Some people stir to mix, which is fine, but generally the accepted method is shaking). Add olive juice if the customer requests a dirty martini. You'll be able to tell once the drink is in the martini glass if you need to add more olive juice. Start on the conservative side -- you can always add more.
Dump the ice/soda water mix from the martini glass. Put in your olives or twist, depending on the customer's request. Strain the martini through either the lid provided with the shaker or a strainer (depending on what system your bar uses) into the martini glass.
You're ready to serve your martini!