Independence Day makes me feel proud of how our forefathers stood firm in their beliefs about what makes a nation great. We honor all of the people who fought hard to keep us free on Veterans Day, and remember all who died for our country on Memorial Day. We give thanks for all of our blessings on Thanksgiving, celebrate the birth of Christ on Christmas.
But what can I say – at least without tearing up – about the holiday we celebrate this very day?
For June 19 is National Martini Day.
A properly prepared martini is heaven on earth. An improperly prepared martini is a travesty. It is as simple as that.
My mom and dad drank martinis. On the rocks with an olive. Gin, not vodka. For a while they drank Beefeaters; eventually they became Tanqueray drinkers. But never up in a fancy glass; always on the rocks in a lowball glass.
I remember the day I tasted my first martini. I was well into my 40s, and despite my parents enjoyment of martinis, I had never really had any interest in even trying one. But I went out to a bar with a two colleagues following the conclusion of a conference we had all contributed into putting together. It was a celebration of our success. We each ordered a glass of wine. Somehow, in the course of our conversation, I mentioned that I had never tasted a martini. Before you could say “Bond, James Bond,” I had a gin martini – up, with olives – sitting in front of me, and two pairs of eyes watching my every move. What the hell? Why not?
It was love at first sight and taste. From that very moment, I appreciated the sheer beauty of the crystal clear liquid in an icy-cold glass garnished with pimento-stuffed olives. I also immediately loved – LOVED – the bite of the gin with the very slight pickle-flavor of the olive. Perfection.
I will not set off a martini drinkers’ war by making such bold proclamations as vodka martinis are not martinis, or that you can put chocolate-flavored vodka and Kahlua or apple-flavored vodka in a martini glass but it’s still not a martini. I will not weigh in on the dirty vs. non-dirty martini question. And heaven forbid that I take a public position on shaken or stirred.
I just know how I make my perfect martini.
Fill a metal cocktail shaker with cracked ice. Pour in 2 ounces of Tanqueray gin. (You can pour in more, but heed the words of a friend – one martini is not enough and two is too many) Let it sit for a few minutes to get really cold. In the meantime, take out the stemmed martini glass that you have been chilling in the freezer and pour in some Martini & Rossi dry vermouth. Swirl the vermouth around the glass and then dump the wretched tasting stuff into the sink. Give the shaker a shake shake shake, and pour the chilled gin into the glass which now has just the barest little bit of vermouth, and plop in an olive or three (remember that an even number of olives in your martini is bad luck). You can fancy it up by using bleu-cheese stuffed olives or jalapeno-stuffed olives, but I prefer the regular ol’ pimento stuffed olives. Take your icy-cold martini, sit down, preferably outdoors where you have a pretty view, and enjoy.
Of course, the choice of Tanqueray is subjective. I have a never-ending argument with my nephew Erik as to whether a great martini is made with Tanqueray or Bombay Sapphire. I will drink either, but prefer Tanqueray for the juniper-bite. Bombay is too smooth for my taste.
But here’s the thing: no matter what brand of gin you prefer, your martini will be absolutely ruined by the addition of too much vermouth. It’s as simple as that. You will turn a perfect drink into a foul-tasting catastrophe. You’re better to go without vermouth (which I never hesitate to do) than to use too much.
In the interest of camaraderie on this most important of national holidays, I am going to give you a couple of recipes for pretty drinks that can be served in martini glasses (though I still personally refuse to call them martinis).
1.5 oz. vodka
½ oz. orange liqueur
½ oz. dry vermouth
3 oz. cranberry juice
1 c. ice
Combine vodka, orange liqueur, vermouth, cranberry juice, and ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously to chill. Pour into martini glasses, and serve. Garnish with lime.
½ oz. limoncello
1 oz. vodka
1 lemon twist
1 c. ice
Combine limoncello, vodka and ice in cocktail shaker. Shake and serve in a martini glass with a lemon twist.