If you want to get technical (and we often do), a “martini” is made with gin. The other basic ingredient is vermouth. It’s usually adorned with an olive or perhaps a lemon twist. Simple, elegant, clean, and surprisingly complex. No wonder it’s a favorite of the fictional secret agent James Bond (though many bartenders disagree with his whole “shaken, not stirred” philosophy), Joe Pesci, George Takei, and anyone else who prefers their cocktails mostly comprised of booze.
While gin is technically the main spirit in a martini, many people enjoy their martinis with vodka instead. Prepared this way, it’s a cleaner, less vegetal/ herbaceous drink. The trademark botanicals of gin are missing, which leaves the vermouth as the star of the show.
To gather some insight on where bartenders stand on the gin vs. vodka martini dispute, we asked some of our favorite mixologists to tell us which gins or vodkas they pour in their martinis.
Dorothy Rondomanski, bartender at Assembly Rooftop Lounge in Philadelphia
I’m definitely a gin fan, but temperatures here in Philly get to the point that a classic London Dry with heavy juniper notes just doesn’t work. Especially in the summer months. Give me something with a little lighter juniper balanced with some citrus. As a bonus, the Bluecoat distillery is right down the street from where I live, and with the state-run liquor stores in Pennsylvania closed for COVID-19, it’s one of the only places to get a bottle of gin right now.
Tanqueray 10 Gin
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🇧🇷 O @tanqueraybr Ten é um dos meus gins preferidos. Destilado cinco vezes a partir de grãos neutros, zimbro, frutas frescas e botânicos selecionados, o Tanqueray Ten é um gin bastante equilibrado e saboroso. Hoje fui com o perfect serve do @ginclubbrasil : 50ML @tanqueraygin Maçã Verde Zimbro 200ML @riversidemixers Saúde 🖤💚 . . 🇬🇧 @tanqueraygin n.Ten is one of my favorite gin. In my drink I made the “perfect serve” of Tanqueray Ten with green apple & juniper. Who has tried this combination? Enjoy your Sunday Guys! 🖤 . . #gin #gintonico #gintonic #ginandtonic #gintonics #gintonictime #ginoclock #gintime #ginstagram #ginfluencer #gintomytonic #londondrygin #gintonica #gintleman #drinks #instagin #instadrink #drinkstagram #ginclubbrasil #lovegin #ginlovers #ginlover #ginloverspt #gintonicabrasil #londondry #londongin #welovegin #tanqueray #tanqueraygin #tanquerayten
Danny Caffall, lead bartender at The Mansion Bar in Dallas
I think it’s that Tanqueray 10 uses fresh, whole citrus as opposed to dried citrus. In this day and age of ever-increasing amounts of botanicals showing up in western style gins, it’s refreshing to taste a bright, well-rounded spirit that sticks to its roots and adds just the right number of new flavors to compliment the juniper, not disguise it. My perfect martini is Tanqueray 10, a whisper of dry vermouth, and garnish with a lemon twist. Simple elegance.
Robert Swain Jr., owner of OnTheRoX Bartending Services in the British Virgin Islands
Svedka vodka makes an exceptional martini. It has the perfect hint of sweetness, but still holds up the criteria of a smooth vodka. It’s always my go-to.
Gray Whale Gin
Nicole Quist, beverage director at Bartaco in Aventura, Florida
I am loving gray whale gin right now, light rocks, twist of lemon. This beautiful gin features sustainably sourced, fresh California botanicals foraged along the migratory path of the gray whale…Big Sur juniper, Baja citrus, mint, almonds, pine — you name it. This project also gives back to marine conservation, so you can do good while drinking well.
Hendrick’s Orbium Gin
Vance Henderson, brand ambassador at Hendrick’s Gin
Hendrick’s Orbium is a reimagining by Master Distiller Leslie Gracie of what Hendrick’s might taste like in a parallel universe. Orbium contains the same distillates in Hendrick’s Gin but is taken in an altogether new direction by infusing flavors that are traditionally associated with classic gin libations; such as quinine found in tonic (gin & tonic) and wormwood found in vermouth (martini cocktail). The final addition of blue lotus blossom balances the overall flavor. The combination of these essences creates a gin with surprising brightness and a finish that is perfect for the martini obsessed.
Peach Street Jackelope Gin
Katie Nierling, general manager at Ska Street Brewstillery in Boulder, Colorado
A martini drinker wants to taste the expression of the spirit. So a balanced spirit that stands on its own is key to making a classic martini. Peach Street’s Jackelope Gin is my pick. Locally picked Juniper berries highlight the flavor of the high desert valley, along with seven other botanicals (lemon and lime zest included) that give this gin a citrus nose that tempts your nose on aroma and finishes with that sharp and dry flavor any gin drinker is sure to relish.
James Simpson, beverage director at Espita in Washington, DC
Fords Gin by Simon Ford is my trusty English dry in a great classic martini. Mix with Dolin Vermouth de Chambéry (1:1,) two dashes of orange bitters, and expressed lemon peel, because it’s the only true way to make the martini.
Hayden Miller, head bartender at Bodega Taqueria y Tequila in Miami
If I’m making a martini, I usually grab one gin. It’s a classic and it works perfectly with vermouth. Beefeater gin is a bang on gin, no matter what.
Tim Wiggins, co-owner and beverage director at Yellowbelly in St. Louis
I usually stick to old school London Dry style gins in my martinis. I love Fords and Tanqueray right now. If I want something zestier, I will go for Tanqueray, and if I want something grassy, I will go with Fords. I usually split my martinis 50/50 with a fortified ingredient so I like clean gins with a bite and Fords and Tanqueray both offer that.
J. Rieger and Co Midwestern Gin
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Thank you, Derek, for the aviation tips. We finally created the perfect aviation cocktail and traded the muddy brown color for a beautiful periwinkle. #barmaster #cocktailchemist #aviation #heyheyclubkc #passionforthedrink #purplehaze #periwinklecocktail #jriegerco #jrieger #jriegerdistillery #jriegergin #loyalpatrons
Brock Schulte, bar director of The Monarch Bar in Kansas City
I’ve been drinking a ton of Gibsons lately, I like to vary my gins. But in this COVID outbreak right now, we have been trying to support local. J. Rieger and Co Midwestern Gin is amazing. The formula was made in collaboration with Tom Nichol, one of the foremost Master Gin Distillers in the world who worked at Tanqueray for 40 years. It’s bright, bracing, citrusy and tastes amazing with a touch of vermouth.
Absolut Elyx Vodka
Kenneth McCoy, chief Creative officer at The Rum House in New York City
If I drink vodka it’s always in a freezing cold martini with an onion so I like to use a premium vodka like Absolut Elyx, to make it rich, silky smooth, and elegant without killing your wallet.