My drink of choice: a dry gin martini

July 31, 2006

martgls.jpgMartinis have now become synonymous with “cocktail.” There are many aspects of my personality that might be “girly” or [slightly] effeminate, but not in my drink of choice: a gin martini.

I love the new trend of going to trendy restaurants and being given a two page martini list. There are the children martinis, those that taste like chocolate syrup or egg nog or peppermint or some warm and fuzzy sweet drink that you gulp back not knowing how drunk you are about to be and what a horrible hangover you will have tomorrow from all the sugar and alcohol you didn’t realize was there. Then there are the almost martinis, like the pomegranate or apple or cosmopolitan martinis that complement the alcohol with a thinner sweetener. Then there are the old style martinis where the gin was so bad that you had to gag it back with a sweetener like vermouth, and so the old proportion was 1/3 vermouth and 2/3 gin (sic). As time went on, and gin got better, the proportion of vermouth has drastically dropped. The most recent incarnation is the dry martini which means little or no vermouth, whose techniques include Winston Churchill’s famous “glance across the room at the vermouth” statement, to “whisper the word ‘vermouth’ over the glass,” to swilling vermouth in the glass and then tossing it out, and my favorite, the spray dispenser that deposits a fine mist either on the glass before you pour in the gin, or on top of freshly poured out gin so that it rests on the surface, improving the nose. There is the dirty martini for those cowards afraid of tasting real gin or vodka and have to have syrupy, salty olive water put in to ruin the taste, er, make it “dirty.” (As if “dirty” meant sexually frisky: ha! Wusses, all wusses.)

Oh yes, there are those of you who like vodka martinis. Wusses. Vodka just doesn’t have the flavor that a good gin does. Ok, you have to become friends with the juniper berry. All the vodka makers have now flooded the market with infused vodkas to cover up, as it were, the fact that vodka really has very little flavor. Yes, the more expensive vodkas do have fine flavors, but they are extremely subtle and are lost the minute you put anything in it. So as far as I’m concerned, vodka, like all alcohol, is an alcohol delivery system, without the distinctive flavor of gin. Flavored vodka drinks are little more than spiked kool-aid. Sorry, it’s true.

You’re saying, alright Mr. Alky, what the hell is the best drink? Obviously, everyone has their own tastes. I love gin. It started for me when we were camping in Joshua Tree and Charlie picked some Juniper berries, scrunched them up with his fingers, and put them over our steaks that grilled in the hot desert air. That smell of juniper is one I’ll never forget. (Try it btw, putting juniper on anything. Grind it up so you can really smell it.) After that, it was Angus Whyte who first taught me to love gin and its ritual. Now, my favorite gin is Hendricks, violently shaken with a thin wedge of cucumber floating in an open martini glass. It seems that San Francisco is the most gin smart city, followed by New York and Boston. There is hope for LA, and I imagine that Portland and Seattle have a good gin following. Of the readily available bar gins, I prefer Tanqueray to Bombay, to Bombay Sapphire. Tanqueray 10 tastes like gin Kool-Aid, but isn’t bad if you want to begin experimenting with sipping gin. And since when is Tanqueray pronounced with a “G”?? I realize the “q” can be an ambiguous letter, but it is a “q” and not a “g.” Does anyone have any insight to the correct pronunciation?

Olive? Twist? Onion? An olive or twist makes it a martini, but add an onion and you have a gibson. I have read that you should NOT eat the vegetable inside your drink because it soaks up the icky chemicals from the distilling process. People say the darndest things. Maybe it’s true, maybe not.

Gin and tonic. I stopped drinking them years ago as 1) they were too acidic, and 2) quinine, in the tonic, causes tinitus (ringing in the ears) and in that I already have potential genetic hearing loss through my Dad and his Dad, as well as rock band experience, I don’t need any thing to hasten the process.

For a light, not so alky, gin-light experience, have some quality gin with sparkling water and ice. That way you can taste the gin without it being such a alcoholic taste sensation.

I am perfectly aware that most people on the planet would find the taste of a gin martini awful, medicinal, “tastes like Vitalis.” I am not encouraging the world to take up gin martinis. I just had to vent to someone.

Oh yeah, I found this article in the NY Times. I was incredulous so I scanned it. Gin has more antioxidants than any other spirit. I felt sanctified. Read it. I’ve learned all media have to be taken with a grain of salt (not dirty). So, maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not.


Speaking of which, I am obsessed with martini glasses and have probably 100 of them. My favorites are the small ones from the 1930s. I don’t like the large glasses as by the time you finish your drink, the drink is warm, and warm gin is no good. It is always best to chill your glass with ice and water before you put the martini in it. In our house, I make our drinkers chug the water in the chilling glass so as to ward off a little bit of dehydration. If you don’t, the temperature of the martini plummets, as does the quality of the drink.

Shaken” means that there are lots of ice crystals floating around, making the gin less bitter. “Stirred” is a stronger drink with less water in it, and only slightly chilled. I prefer violently shaken.

By the way, the biggest ripoff today are margaritas. You get 99% sugar/lime juice or whatever the hell flavor you ordered, with the teensiest amount of tequila. Sorry gang, you DON’T taste the tequila, so don’t waste your money on good tequila unless you are trying to impress someone or you love blowing your money. If you want to get to know tequila, sip it slowly, straight. This whole silly ritual of putting salt on your hand, biting into a wedge of lime, and shooting the tequila, might have been fine for rotgut booze, but for quality tequila, this is an insult. This technique of imbibing alcohol is only to “gag it back” and to get drunk, or be an alcohol delivery system.

intox.jpgIf you don’t believe that it is the nature of living things that move, to get intoxicated from time to time, read INTOXICATION by Ronald K. Siegel (Dutton).

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Red Black Window » Blog Archive » Gin
December 26, 2006 at 5:05 am

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bourland August 1, 2006 at 7:33 am

This past winter, which I spent in Santa Barbara, I had many opportunities to come and visit you and Daniel. I must say that I eagerly anticipated the stroke of 5 pm (sometimes even got a little loose with the time zone: “well, it’s 5:00 somewhere!”) so that we could enjoy our finely prepared martini (made with Hendricks of course), mine with an olive, yours with an onion.

It was a pleasant way to usher in the evening…

Now that I’m home in Andover, I don’t have Martinis at 5 anymore, as they are best shared with a special person who appreciates it.

I look forward to the day we can spend another season together, ushering in the end of every day with a delightful Martini of your making!


Your brother, Andy

djw August 2, 2006 at 2:30 am

Don’t forget the Okrini (with a spear of pickled okra), the Weswolf (with a radish, or the Bunueloni (actually a Negroni variation, with Carpano, gin, and sweet Cinzano). The latter, of course, is an invention of Luis Bunuel, who, in the chapter on “Earthly Delights” (i.e. drinking, smoking, and sex) in his ever-rereadable memoirs, My Last Breath, notes that dry martini lovers “suggest simply allowing a ray of sunlight to shine through a bottle of Noilly Prat before it hits the bottle of gin”, a positively sacramental experience.

Roger Bourland August 2, 2006 at 5:48 am

Yes my dear bro I miss our periodic martinis. Difficulty to do with you in Boston and me in LA. I’ll be patient!

and DJ, I’m ready to be your student. Let’s have a drink next time you’re in LA or I’m in, what? Germany?

DJA August 2, 2006 at 6:21 pm


As a fellow martini lover, I agree emphatically that preferring a vodka “martini” to a real (i.e., gin) martini is equivalent of preferring Michael BublĂ© to Frank Sinatra. But I will have to disagree about the much-maligned margarita. The margarita (as originally conceived) is a perfectly respectable cocktail, following classic cocktail proportions — two parts strong (tequila, ideally 100% blue agave) to one part sour (freshly squeezed lime juice) to one part sweet (Cointreau — and it really does need to be Cointreau, anything else is much too sweet), shaken vigorously and served up in a chilled cocktail glass. Obviously, today when you order a margarita you’re much more likely to get some kind of repulsive tequila slurpee, but a decent bartender in a proper cocktail bar will be happy to serve you a real margarita if you ask for it.

I love drinking a good tequila neat too, or if its hot, on the rocks with a lime squeeze, but a classic margarita can be just as sublime — and when preparing it this way, obviously the quality of the tequila matters, every bit as much as the quality of gin matters in a Pegu or Aviation.

DJA August 2, 2006 at 6:24 pm

Oh, and Hendricks is a first-rate gin, definitely, but since you’re on the left coast, try the (locally produced) Junipero. It’s a bit too full-bodied to blend well in other cocktails, but it’s perfect for martinis.

Roger Bourland August 2, 2006 at 7:20 pm

DJ: I know that I would trust you to make me an outstanding margarita. I just think there are many restaurants that short change customers on quality booze on these drinks. I love the Junipero too, a bit intense, but delicious. Daniel and I splurged on a $300 bottle of Don Julio once and savored every little drop. We decided that we would bring IT back and share it with our friends rather than feeling compelled to buy them all presents from Mexico.

DJA August 3, 2006 at 1:47 am


I agree, the state of Margaritaville is simply appalling. But many (probably most) restaurants are also incapable of serving up a proper martini. But yeah, I’ll agree that the standard for a generic “margarita” in most places is absolutely appalling and to be avoided at all costs — but if ever I’m uncertain about a bartender or a venue, I don’t order anything more complicated than a bourbon on the rocks.

However, if I’m at a reliable joint like the B-Side Lounge in Cambridge, MA, or the Pegu Club in NYC, I know I’m not gonna get stuck with a typically shitty “sour-mix-and-a-thimblefull-of-tequila-in-a-blender” faux-“margarit”a. I don’t know where Paul Harrington mixes these days, but I assume he’s still operating out of SF, and I know that official Rachel Maddow show mixologist Josie Packard just relocated to the left coast, so there ought to be at least some passable margaritas to be had within striking distance of your bailiwick.

Roger Bourland August 3, 2006 at 8:10 am

In that same spirit, as it were, to avoid a bad gin martini, and save $3, get gin on the rocks. And NO LIME WEDGES. Lime obliterates the subtle and not so subtle flavors in the gin.

My favorite gin is the $67 per bottle Ol Raj. But who can afford that? Plymouth is an excellent affordable ($20) gin that comes in several strengths.

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