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What’s better than a Martini?
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To many of us, this isn’t a question so much as a riddle, like a Buddhist kōan. What could be better than a Martini? A well-made Martini is a stunning and profound thing, cold and crisp and clear as a bell on a winter night. It’s difficult to say which cocktail is the most elegant ever made, but any shortlist that didn’t include the Martini would be absurd, and instantly invalidated. The Martini is currently enjoying a surge of popularity, and the only thing that’s surprising about that is that it’s not this popular all the time.
How do you improve on such a thing? Well, this was precisely the question Salvatore Calabrese was mulling over one day in 1985, finding himself unable to satisfy a particularly demanding guest. The journalist Stanton Delaplane (the same, coincidentally, who transmitted the legendary Irish Coffee recipe to the Buena Vista in San Francisco) was at the bar at Duke’s Hotel in London, and asked for a Martini “very very cold, and very very dry.” Keeping in mind that while “dry” usually means “not sweet,” in the context of 1980s Martinis it translates more to “strong,” Calabrese was in a bind: To get it colder you have to stir it on ice longer, but this melts more ice and makes it less “dry.” He tried to navigate this for several days, before solving his puzzle with a bit of unconventional thinking—what if you kept the gin and the glassware in the freezer and just poured it straight like that, and kept the ice out of it entirely?
In that moment, Calabrese planted the seed that would become the Freezer Martini. His version, now called the Duke’s Martini, is still served there to this day, and is so strong it could resurrect the dead—the Duke’s Martini is something like a five-ounce measure (that’s a fifth of a bottle) of undiluted gin, poured straight from the freezer with just a whisper of vermouth, and even its many passionate defenders would probably admit it’s a little insane. But the Freezer Martini technique can and has been adapted to more standard specifications, and to absolutely wonderful results. You pre-batch with gin and vermouth, pre-dilute with a specified amount of water, and put it in the freezer to chill. In a few hours, you have an entire bottle of Martinis, perfectly balanced to your taste, and ready to go at a moment’s notice. With this, you are never more than 15 seconds from a perfect Martini in your hand. Dangerous? Perhaps. Revolutionary? Also, yes.
Martinis are uniquely suited to this treatment. Negronis or Manhattans shouldn’t be this cold (it attenuates their more charming characteristics) but Martinis are made for it. What’s more, a standard Martini can be subject to user error. Don’t stir it long enough, and the vermouth lingers too much on the finish; stir it too long and it loses its potency, and its concomitant elegance. This is easily fixed by a talented bartender—though you don’t always have one of those around. But take the time to dial in your preferences for the Freezer Martini (see tips below recipe) and it’ll be exquisite every time.
That’s the answer to the riddle, by the way. How do you improve upon the Martini? Not by changing the drink itself, but by adjusting the preparation to make it (1) user proof, (2) ice cold, and (3) right now.
Measurements to fill one, standard sized, 750ml bottle.
13.5 oz. Tanqueray 10 Gin (2.25 oz. for single serving)
4.5 oz. Dolin Dry Vermouth (0.75 oz.)
7.25 oz. filtered water (0.9 oz.)
Carefully add all ingredients to an empty 750ml bottle. Seal the bottle, and invert five to 10 times to ensure ingredients are fully mixed. Put the bottle in the freezer and wait several hours to fully chill. When ready to serve, pour three ounces into a chilled glass, and express the oils from a lemon peel over the top of it.
NOTES ON INGREDIENTS
Ratios, Temperature, and Dilution: Even normal, non-Duke’s Freezer Martinis are stronger than regular Martinis, and insofar as dilution is concerned, we want as much as we can get without the Martini getting slushy.
The above recipe ends up at 28.4 percent alcohol. In my freezer, this does not freeze, but some other takes on the Freezer Martini—specifically the winner of Punch’s “Ultimate” Freezer Martini, weighing in at 27.6 percent alcohol—did get a bit slushy. Everyone’s freezer is probably a little different, but just know that the difference between the two percentages above in a full-sized bottle is a mere 0.2 oz. water, so your perfect version for your equipment may need some tweaking.
If your Freezer Martini is slushy, do not drink it. Shake it up and wait a minute for the slush to melt before pouring. Otherwise, the dilution will be off (that frozen stuff is water).
Gin: I adore Tanqueray 10 in Martinis. For me, it’s perfect, still very much a robust, London Dry style, but with accents of bright zesty citrus fruit that soar out of the glass.
That said, Martinis are very personal. I firmly believe my version is the best—I’ll even go a step further to say that Tanqueray 10 is probably the closest thing to consensus you’d find if you polled 100 cocktail bartenders on “best gin for Martinis”—but still, informed opinions vary wildly. Feel free to sub in your own favorites, just know that Tanqueray 10 is 47.3 percent alcohol, and you might have to modulate the dilution with a lower proof gin to avoid the aforementioned slushiness.
Vermouth: My perennial recommendation is Dolin Dry, from France, a lovely foil for the gin and the ideal go-to bottle for almost all your dry vermouth needs. What’s more, dry vermouth oxidizes, so you don’t want to be sitting on a bottle for all that long. If you are buying one bottle, make it Dolin. That said, there is a very subtle, lightly cloying finish at this level of dilution that is just barely not perfect. I found that mixing the vermouth half and half with Dolin Dry and the lighter, cleaner Noilly Prat Dry solved that problem, the latter offering a whisper of sweetness and spice, while the former preserves the loveliness of the fruit. The reason I didn’t mention that in the above recipe is that it’s honestly pretty obnoxious to tell you to buy two bottles of dry vermouth. Dolin alone is totally fine, and gets your 98 percent of the way there. All I’ll say is that my house bottle of Freezer Martini has the vermouth split half and half.
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