I’m counting down the days until those in-person Christmas parties begin, when the drinks are flowing and I can clasp a martini between my fingers once more, all the while listening to Michael Buble’s It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas for the 200th time and not even feeling remotely sorry about it.
For those who caught the latest James Bond, you’ve probably felt a burst of inspiration to taste the good stuff. So, with that in mind, this week’s column is dedicated to the folks quenching a thirst for a good old martini.
There are three most frequently created; below is my recipe for each. Then find a vodka that suits you best and start stirring — or, indeed, shaking — things up.
The classic dry martini
1 tbsp dry vermouth
Olive or lemon peel to garnish
Pop the vermouth in a chilled glass, swirl around and discard (this lines the glass with vermouth). Pour the vodka into a cocktail shaker full of ice and shake. Strain into the chilled martini glass and garnish with a twist of lemon peel or olive on a cocktail stick. If you don’t want to shake, just stir all of the ingredients in your shaker half full of ice.
The dirty martini
70 ml vodka
10-15ml of olive juice / brine (to taste)
3 olives for garnish
Pop all of your ingredients into a shaker full of ice and shake. Strain into a chilled martini glass, drop one olive into the bottom of the glass and garnish the drink by placing the remaining two olives on a cocktail stick. And again, if you don’t want to shake, stir.
The Gibson martini
70 ml vodka
As before, pour of your ingredients into a shaker full of ice and shake, or stir. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with two cocktail onions on a cocktail stick but if you want to up the game, lightly fry your cocktail onions in a pan with a little truffle oil or smother them in truffle oil before using a blow torch to char.
If you’re a drinks buff, you’ve probably heard of Suntory, the company who makes famous Japanese whisky of the same name. Luckily for us, they also produce vodka. Birthed from the same high-quality rice that would make luxury saké, Haku’s journey stems from Kagoshima all the way to Osaka. Three separate distillations and bamboo charcoal filtering give way to this stunningly elegant and floral vodka. An abundant richness and a subtly sweet palate awaits. Can someone give me a Kanpai?!
And here’s a little bit of cocktail chatter for you: the western world often assumes that white rice is a staple part of every Japanese meal, but not so. To this day, pure white Japanese rice is considered a luxury, and was historically reserved for worship and only for the noble classes such as the Imperial Family.
£32, 31 Dover
First impressions can sometimes be everything and when a vodka comes in a vessel shaped like a Mammoth tusk, let’s just say you have my attention. Thankfully, in this case, the liquid is just as good as the design. So, what can you expect? Mamont is clean and silky with gentle notes of aniseed and pepper. The flavour derives from four different grains — barley, malted millet, winter wheat and rye — all of which have been farmed from one of the most ecologically preserved regions in Siberia, the Altai. Distilled six times, this single estate dream is smooth, smooth, smooth.
£42, Whole Foods Market
What happens when a country makes vodka for 600 years? They get pretty good at it. Belvedere is one of the most famous expressions deriving from Poland, arguably the vodka capital after Russia. Established in 1910, they are also one of the oldest operating Polish distilleries. Super soft and delicate with a rich velvety texture, you can expect light vanilla notes with a kiss of black pepper, gliding into a clotted cream and nutty finish. If you’ve not had a martini with this beauty, you’re missing out.
You’ve heard of Absolut before and this is their emblem release, produced in the South of Sweden from a single estate that has been cultivating wheat since the 1400s. Suffice to say, the terroir is real. With a further nod to their heritage, all of the liquid is distilled via a vintage copper column that dates back to 1921. Vibrant, sophisticated and rather sexy in design, this smooth sensation offers white chocolate, dry spice and a macadamia, walnut and hazelnut complexity. Count me in.
£35, The Bottle Club
Grey Goose is one of the first vodkas I fell in love with and to this day, am still besotted. In fact, every time I see the bottle, a glistening martini glass with a twirl of lemon is imprinted within my mind. Everything about this beauty screams French: the wheat is grown and distilled in Picardy, it’s filtered in Cognac, the water they use is filtered through limestone, deriving from the Champagne region. Distilled only once — the thinking goes, the quality of the ingredients speak for themselves — think sweet creamy toffee, brioche and a mouth-watering texture. Every bottle is washed with vodka before being properly filled and every cork is soaked with vodka too — they don’t do things by halves — and a bottle of this should always be in your drinks cabinet, it’s certainly in mine.
Another bottle that will sit on your shelf as a piece of art once you’ve explored the wonder within. At this time of year try wrapping the bottle in tinsel, bang a Santa hat on top and sit a red light directly underneath: I won’t lie, it makes for a pretty spectacular Christmas decoration.
But enough of my decor on tips, back to the vodka... Crystal Head is produced in Canada from local Canadian corn. Distilled four times and filtered seven — three of which are through Herkimer diamonds — no surprise expectations should be high, and they won’t be let down. I think the addition of Newfoundland water really does make a difference on the taste. Silky, with a kiss of citrus, vanilla and creamy white pepper.
Beluga Gold Line
Could this be the holy grail of vodka? Quite possibly, yes. They do say Russian vodka is up there with the best, but Beluga takes that to a whole new standard. Their secret blend of artesian water from 300 metre deep Siberian wells and malt spirit with specific enzyme characteristics is filtered five times. It sounds complicated because, well, it is.
A vodka like this can’t be batch produced: it takes a meticulous process and a lot of time for each bottle to begin its journey and end up in your glass. Every vessel comes with a unique serial number and a little hammer to break through the wax-sealed top. Remember, this is a vodka that is meant to be enjoyed neat, so keep the vermouth to an absolute minimum if that’s how you like your martinis. Over Christmas, Harvey Nichols has them boxed up with a little cocktail shaker, too .
£135, Harvey Nichols