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The Battle Between Vodka and Gin Martinis

Mar 14, 2013 06:22PM ● By Anonymous

It might be snobbish, but speak with any gin expert (or gin-lover, for that matter), and they’ll cringe at the notion of a proper martini being made with anything other than gin. “Vodka martinis—think of a name for it, but it’s not a martini,” says Martin Miller of Martin Miller’s Gin. “It’s very lazy, really,” he says, to steal the cocktail for vodka’s benefit. When Miller joined with two friends in London in “obsessive pursuit of gin” to create his brand in the late 1990s, gin was, at the very least, very out of fashion. “At the time, people were simply mad—why are you thinking about gin?” he says. “Gin is dead. The category is gone. All people wanted to talk about was vodka.”

James Bond aside, gin and vodka do have a little in common. Gin actually begins its life as vodka, a neutral and colorless distilled spirit, but then the botanicals are added—most notably, the forest-scented juniper. “Gin is about juniper. It holds this magical quality that works with any flavor,” says Angus Winchester, global ambassador for Tanqueray, which gets sent approximately 2,000 samples of juniper for infusing consideration per year. Of course, there are other flavors—coriander, cardamom, and licorice powder, to name a few—but juniper should almost always be front and center.

Despite a martini typically consisting of only two ingredients—gin and vermouth, in most cases—there’s a deceptive art to ordering one. If you order a dry martini, Winchester explains, a good bartender should ask four questions to demonstrate they are an expert, and to allow you to customize the drink. First, he says, is what type of gin you would like. “A martini is made with one spirit, and that is gin,” Winchester says, defiantly negating any option of vodka here. Second is the James Bond question—shaken or stirred? Other methods include resting, throwing, and rolling, all of which are prepared in the exact nature their description suggests. The third question: How much vermouth? “It used to be two parts gin to one part vermouth,” Winchester explains. The “dryness” of a martini refers to how much vermouth is in the cocktail—a “very dry” martini will have little to no vermouth. Winchester throws us a curveball here. “I personally like 50/50 Tanqueray and vermouth with a dash of bitters,” he says. The final question is one of Charles Dickens—olive or twist? “Those four questions will demonstrate to a guest immediately that the bartender knows what (he or she) is doing,” Winchester says. “It also demonstrates to the bartender that you’re not someone to be trifled with.”

Of course, martinis aren’t the only cocktail made primarily with gin, and it’s also not the only one that vodka has hijacked—the classic gin and tonic is frequently made into a vodka and tonic instead, though the gin fizz, gin rickey, and Tom Collins are safe, we think—at least for now.

However, don’t begin to think for one minute that those who prefer vodka are begrudged for it. The gin martini purists of the world simply ask it be called by any other name—we recognize that James Bond might have led you astray. And while we’re on the topic of the secret agent, his “shaken, not stirred” mantra may have caused people to wonder if shaking a martini “bruises” the gin. That’s just silly, Miller says. “It means nothing. You can’t bruise gin. All that happens is that you get more dilution (as the ice melts), just like any other drink—but stirring is best, I think.”