Die-hard martini fans, look away now…
This sounds like a very glamorous, American thing to order at a bar: “I’ll take a martini on the rocks“.
Conversely, it is a very uncommon thing to say in the United Kingdom.
Us Brits tend not to say “on the rocks” for fear of sounding affected. With the exception of obvious drinks such as spirits and mixers (which normally come with ice as standard), we will otherwise simply ask for a drink then ask the bar tender to put ice in it. Our eloquence may know no bounds in our literature, but when it comes to alcohol we tend to prefer clear concision and direct instruction; no BS – and certainly no risk of ballsing up the drinks order with potentially confusing idioms.
If I asked for “a martini on the rocks” I would also be very concerned that I might receive a glass of straight vermouth topped up with ice cubes. This has definitely happened in the past, and while not necessarily unpleasant for many people, it would likely disappoint a gin or vodka fiend waiting for their martini fix (you know who you are – and we’re all friends here).
This kind of vermouth calamity can sometimes happen simply when you order a martini without any mention of it being on the rocks – continental Europe take note! Presumably the bar tender merely thought you were referring to the Martini brand of vermouth, rather than the life-altering, semi-spiritual concoction that we have all come to love.
But back to this martini variation – the one with ice cubes.
The two main points that separate a martini on the rocks from a classic martini are obvious but fundamental: temperature and texture. Yes it’s just ice we’re adding, but it changes everything.
I have frequently discussed the importance of temperature when making a martini.
If the gin or vodka has been stored in the freezer it shouldn’t be necessary to add ice to the drink at any stage of its production. I don’t shake or stir my martinis with ice if the alcohol has been sufficiently chilled already. This makes it very easy to rustle up a couple of them at very short notice and they taste – in my humble opinion – the best.
The drink can easily sit pretty in your glass at minus 15 degrees Celsius (that’s 5 or below in Fahrenheit) if the gin or vodka has come from the freezer. Shake or stir your martini as often as you like, but you will never achieve this temperature.
Another crucial aspect of a martini is texture. A martini made with gin from the freezer has an almost irreplaceable texture – like cold, almost crystallised oil.
A normal martini stirred with ice is lighter, never as cold, but still somewhat smooth, but that depends largely on the quality of the gin or vodka.
A martini shaken with ice is also lighter, fresher even, sometimes with tiny flecks of ice that gradually melt as you sip. However, the ice erodes the luscious viscosity of a freezer-made martini, rendering it more like a mere mortal drink, not to mention the effort one has to put in to measuring and shaking the drink, as well as using up ice cubes which otherwise may have graced a proper gin and tonic.
A martini on the rocks that has not come from the freezer is a refreshing drink, and surprisingly tolerable to those who drink their martinis from the freezer. Nonetheless, it is still, ultimately a disappointment when compared to the real-deal.
I would also garnish this with a slice, or even wedge of lemon, to accentuate the freshness. Without the oily texture of a frozen martini, the oil from the lemon peel seems almost moot, and makes insignificant difference to the mouthfeel of this martini variation.
Otherwise I would recommend that you use the same vermouth-to-gin ratio that you’re used to (guidance here).
I therefore recommend this martini, only for the times when you have not had the opportunity to properly freeze your gin or vodka. If you’re in an especial pickle, you don’t even need a proper V-shaped martini glass for this variation (although they are always better).
Otherwise though, it’s always best to stick to the original, smooth, tranquil, classic martini, which you can see hwo to make here.
Otherwise, why not just have a gin and tonic? You read more about those here.