I always marvel at people who can guzzle martini after martini (and remain lucid) - I'm not saying I'm jealous, it's just that if I had four Grey Goose martinis up with olives before dinner, my date would have to start checking my vital signs. Like many classics in our post modern lives, the martini has fallen victim to all sorts of absurdities - sugared rims, chocolate sauce and Apple Pucker, just to name a few. Perhaps the first travesty to befall this divine cocktail was the sudden, universal hatred of vermouth which took place sometime in the nineties. All at once, everyone wanted their martinis dry, dry, dry. I think this might be because it takes a certain amount of machismo to drink straight vodka (especially if you aren't picky about it, and it comes from a plastic bottle somewhere out of sight from your barstool), and this fit with the fat-cat steakhouse resurgence which happened around the same time. At least in the Midwest.
But why does everyone hate vermouth so much? Is it because we only have Martini & Rossi? At the Christmas party I hosted recently, I begged a few snobbish friends of mine (oh, now, don't get offended, you'd be absolutely livid if I called you pedestrian) to try a favorite of mine, Vya vermouth. I discovered this vermouth, or rather was introduced to it, a few years ago at the Refectory, and I have loved it ever since. Sadly, because no one else seems to share my passion, you can't really find it in any other restaurants (but it can be purchased locally at Weilands, for around $22). After a short fight in which yours truly was the sound victor, some friends finally chugged down a little Vya on the rocks. And I was vindicated. It really is delicious. Even without the booze.
So what exactly is vermouth? Well, it's basically a spiced wine aperitif (to be consumed before dinner, to perk up the appetite) - in truth, Lillet is a similar concoction, which is why I am particularly fond of mixing that with vodka, as well. Americans seem strangely resistant to the aperitif concept, which might be another notch in the classic martini's noose. I'm constantly amazed to wait on tables who go straight into cabernet. I can't fathom sitting down to dinner and drinking cab on an empty stomach. You might as well lick leather. But I digress.
And so, I beg of you, dear friends and readers, help me bring back the classic martini. Two parts gin or vodka (something decent, please, really), and one part (yes, one whole part) vermouth - try a good one. You'll find it takes the edge off the alcoholic bite - it also reduces the amount of alcohol in your cocktail, so that you might more effectively make it through that working dinner. If you're having it with gin, the herbs used to spice up the vermouth will blend nicely with the similar herbs used to give gin its character (especially if you're having something especially herbaceous, such as Bombay Sapphire, or my all-time favorite, Citadelle).
Everyone has their own opinion about how their martini should be created: I am partial to gin, vigorous shaking, the kind which leaves a metal shaker covered in a thin layer of frost, pouring into a nice traditional glass (so styled to prevent the un-mixing of the liquor and the vermouth; without vermouth, there's no reason for the unwieldy, but undeniably sexy, martini glass); notice the flecks of ice floating on top, and the addition of three olives. I put only one in the picture, because it's more aesthetically pleasing, but I like three - one for instant gratification, one halfway through the cocktail, and one very gin-soaked treat at the end.