Martini Variations

For me, the classic martini cannot be beaten.

However, I have experimented with a whole world of martini variations and have enjoyed it thoroughly so I wholeheartedly recommend it to you all.

A martini is in all honesty a very simple drink. It consists of a glass, gin or vodka, vermouth and a garnish.

The smallest alteration to this combination can make a world of difference. Indeed, some of the most classic variations have barely different ingredients at all.

A few teaspoons of olive brine makes a dirty martini. A pickled onion makes a gibson. The lightest touch converts them into a wholly different experience, some with completely separate identities, processes, stories and fans.

There is only one way to find out which you are the biggest fan of. You need to experiment and try as many as possible.

Not in one sitting, of course, there are so many types to try! It could take months. It should probably take years – but make sure you enjoy the journey, collect the stories, experiment – this is all part of the fun. If you find – or even create – a variety that you particularly like over all others, please let me know.

I love to hear what preferences other people have, be it the timeless dirty, the luscious lychee, the subtle vesper – regale me with your own experiences. And if you come up with a new martini innovation please share it with us – your clinking comrades!

For now, here are several varieties for you to try. Have fun!


#1 The Classic Martini

The unquestionable baseline. standard. It’s made with gin, plus a small measure of vermouth.

It comes on the spectrum of sweet to dry depending on how much vermouth you add.

It should also be served with a twist of lemon peel or 1-3 olives – but not the olive brine! That would make it a dirty martini.

#2 The Vodka Martini

This variation was once known as the Kangaroo, before Sir Ian Fleming enshrined it in the martini world. In its most simple form it is made exactly the same as a classic martini but with vodka instead of gin.

#3 The Dirty Martini

The Dirty Martini is made almost the same way as a classic martini, but with the addition of olive brine, usually 2-6 tsps according to taste.

There are different conventions on the number. Some people recommend that it should be an odd number, usually one or three, others stand by the rather iconic looking two olives. I would leave it up to you to decide your preference. It’s not critical, particularly if you have some on the side as well.

#4 The Filthy Martini

Many people assume that a filthy martini is simply a dirty martini with a particularly large volume of brine added to it.

In fact, a filthy martini is like a classic, but garnished with a pickled caperberry.

Its salty-sour flavour makes it an excellent accompaniment to seafood.

It is a highly underrated martini variation.

#5 The Gibson Martini

This is a classic martini but garnished with a small, pickled onion. It can be visually striking and has a distinctive, slightly pungent flavour that gives it a perfect sharpness before dinner whilst also retaining the oily-smooth consistency of a classic martini.

I also think it looks striking in an understated, almost demure fashion. The drink has clean geometry with the straight lines of the glass paired with the perfect sphere of the pickled onion, nestling in the glass like a baby full moon.

#6 The Perfect Martini

Much like a filthy martini, the perfect martini is often misunderstood.

While some people think it means “an ideal type of martini” or something along those lines, it is actually quite a specific recipe involving two parts gin or vodka with one part each of sweet and dry vermouth.

#7 The Upside Down Martini

This is like a classic martini but mostly vermouth with a splash of gin or vodka. It’s not nearly as strong as a classic martini, but still as elegant and you can partake in just as much of the martini ceremony. It’s a version that needs more publicity.

#8 The Bone Dry Martini

This is a simple martini variation, but with only the smallest amount of vermouth, ranging from half a teaspoon to mere molecules of vapour around the glass.

The challenge, but also potentially fun part of this martini is making sure you add the correct amount of vermouth.

You can rub, swill, dump, drop, spray or even gargle your way to the finished product, but be warned – this one is strong!

#9 The Montgomery Martini

Named after Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, the 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, this is a classic martini defined by its 15:1 gin-to-vermouth ratio.

In homage to his North African victories in World War Two, it’s a dry martini, albeit not as dry as a Bone Dry Martini.

#10 The Churchill Martini

Sticking to the theme of World War Two, the Churchill martini is served the same way the First Sea Lord liked it: without vermouth.

It is simply a martini glass filled with sufficiently cold gin, but there are some delightful ceremonies that have sprung up about the pourer’s interaction with the vermouth.

#11 The Vesper Martini

Created by Sir Ian Fleming in his novel Casino Royale, this martini variation includes both gin AND vodka. It was brought to the attention of many in the 2006 film starring Daniel Craig as Bond and the beautiful Eva Green as the femme fatale Vesper Lynd after whom the drink is named.

#12 The Martinez

This is likely the closest thing to the first martini ever made or could at least be thought of as the “prequel” to what we drink today.

There are a number of stories over its creation and several variations of the recipe itself, but in general this martini is much sweeter to the dry martinis we are more accustomed today. Nonetheless it is still a good quality cocktail still often appearing on menus around the world.

#13 The Hot Martini

This is simply a martini, made as you like it, topped with some high proof alcohol and set alight.

It naturally creates a dramatic visual flair plus a heady aroma, without heating up the martini itself.

Needless to say that this martini variation comes with more safety warnings than normal.

#14 The Spicy Martini

This is a simple, classic martini, with the addition of a few drops of some form of hot sauce to taste. It’s a fantastic drink for whetting your appetite or if you fancy something with a bit of fiery bite.

You can also garnish it with a number of items, including lemon, chilli, pepper or olive, although if you pick the latter you might prefer the next martini in the list.

#15 The Hot ‘n’ Dirty Martini

This is very similar to the spicy martini, but with the addition of olive brine to taste (usually around 2-6 tsps). Garnish with roasted pepper, or olives. If you can find olives stuffed with pepper or chilli even better.

Those who order the martini are rarely boring.

#16 The Paisley Martini

This is an underrated variation in need of a revival. It’s a classic martini with the addition of a teaspoon or two of whisky, named after the Scottish town which was once the centre of the whisky industry.

The drink sounds quite explosive and dangerous but I thoroughly recommend it as a really interesting, complex and surprisingly civilised drink. It’s especially lovely in winter.

#17 The Smokey Martini

This is sometimes called the Burnt Martini. It is almost identical to a Paisley martini except you use even less whisky.

A rub of it around the inside of the glass, and maybe a little around the rim should suffice. This will add a nice, smokey aroma to the drink, without imposing upon the flavour too much.

It works well with peatier malts, such as those from the Hebridean islands.

#18 The Gypsy Martini

This is a slightly sweetened variation with a very pretty garnish.

Make a classic martini or a vodka martini, and garnish with a single maraschino cherry.

Those who prefer this variation tend to prefer their martinis with a little more vermouth than the bone dry fans. You might also prefer it with a sweet vermouth rather than a dry one.

If you’re going to pour this one, I would also recommend adding a teaspoon or two of the maraschino syrup to really enhance the flavour.

#19 The Limoncello Martini

This is a very simple variation on a classic martini. Add a teaspoon or two of limoncello to a classic martini and garnish with lemon peel, rather than olive.

I would say that it’s a classically Italian style but I was first introduced to it by an American in Beirut.

Martinis are, after all, a drink associated with internationalism and the mixing of cultures.

#20 A Martini on the Rocks

This is simply a classic martini served to your usual preference, but in a glass with ice.

It is usually a contingency drink, for the times that you either haven’t kept the gin in the freezer for long enough, or if you go to make a strong gin and tonic but realise you have run out of tonic water.

I make the drink in the classic martini glass, then pour it over ice in a lowball or rocks glass.

It’s better to serve this with a twist of lemon peel rather than an olive, but by all means serve those on the side.

Beware that if you order this in a bar, you are at risk of being served a simply vermouth on ice. Of course, this is not an unpleasant drink, but if you wanted a gin or vodka martini on ice, you may have to specify.


#21 The Espresso Martini

This relative newcomer was invented in a London cocktail bar for a supermodel who, after a long day, requested something that would wake her up and £*&# her up.

It has quickly carved its niche into the cocktail. It is certainly not a classic martini, nor even a variation, but it has made its stamp so quickly and successfully that it would be wrong not to include it.

It is one of the few martinis where you genuinely need a cocktail shaker. It involves a mixture of vodka, kahlua and espresso, shaken vigorously with ice to generate a layer of foam as much as to chill down the drink. You then strain it into a martini glass, wait for the foam to form and garnish it with some coffee beans (usually three).

Despite being quite different from a classic martini it is still a favourite of mine, particularly, like the supermodel, if I have had a long day and have a big night ahead of me.

#22 The Lychee Martini

This martini takes us back to the United States but with a decidedly Asian influence. It was reportedly invented at a Korean restaurant in midtown, New York.

Add a touch of vermouth to a martini glass, add around 15ml lychee liqueur, 35ml lychee syrup (from a tin of lychees) then top up with 50ml chilled vodka from the freezer.

Stir the drink and garnish with one or two of the tinned lychees with a cocktail stick.

I find that this tends to use up the syrup from a lychee tin faster than the lychees themselves. If I am left with several of these delectable fruits, I store them in the freezer until I have collected enough of them to turn them into a sorbet, perhaps with some of the juice left over from all those lemons I’ve zested as well.

#23 The Porn Star Martini

This is one of the most ostentation versions of a martini and was invented in London.

Cut two passion fruits in half. Scoop the contents out of two halves and add to a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice, then top up with 10ml each of passion fruit liqueur, vanilla-flavoured syrup and freshly squeezed lime juice.

Top this up with 50ml chilled vanilla vodka and shake vigorously to mix. Strain the contents into a martini glass, garnish with half of the remaining passion fruit floating cut-side up, and the other half on the side.

Serve with a chilled, tall shot glass of champagne as a chaser and sip from each glass in turn.

#24 The Breakfast Martini

This is such a delicious drink, don’t be put off by the time of day it suggests.

It works really well as a post-dinner digestif, like a dessert. It also goes really well with dark chocolate.

Muddle, stir then shake 1 tbsp each of marmalade, lemon juice and orange liqueur (such as Cointreu) plus around 65ml chilled gin. Strain into a martini glass.

The recommended garnish is a triangle of toast spread lavishly with marmalade, wedged onto the glass, but it also works well with a strip of orange peel, a slice of orange or a slice of candied orange.

#25 The Lemon Drop Martini

Strictly a cocktail rather than a martini, this is nonetheless a delicious alternative to our classic favourites, half the strength of a standard martini and a fantastic way to use up any lemons you have stripped of their zest.

Dissolve sugar into freshly squeezed lemon juice (around 3-4 tsps sugar to each lemon). Cover and chill in the fridge or freezer for at least 20 minutes then pour into a sugar-rimmed martini glass with chilled vodka in a ratio of 1:1.

Alternatively mix the sugar and lemon juice with the gin to this ratio and shake with ice before straining into the glass.

It’s a pleasant, sweet and sour drink. You can also increase the vodka to lemon juice ratio to taste if you want.

The original recipe calls for vodka but it is not unpleasant with gin, simply with more botanicals, so long as it’s a relatively smooth gin and not too bitter or complex or the flavours can clash with the lemon.

#26 The Candyfloss / Cotton Candy Martini

his is another drink that is technically a cocktail rather than a martini. I include it because of all the trashy fruit cocktails served in a conical glass and called a martini, this one is both a visual standout, as well as ironically provocative.

There are variations on the ingredients and ratios but it generally involved a mixture of chilled vodka, some raspberry or cranberry flavoured vodka if you have any to hand (homemade for the absolute win!) plus a splash of cranberry juice.

Garnish with a big chunk of candy floss / cotton candy on the side and enjoy watching it rapidly dissolve as you feed it into the drink.

It’s wildly lower deck, but fun to try out once nonetheless.

#27 The Appletini

Another US creation, this drink has been around since the 1970s but in different guises.

Originally it was a simple apple juice and vodka mixture, which is barely a martini (indeed, apple juice and vodka is considered one of the oldest spirit and mixer drinks in the world).

Some recipes call for vermouth but I personally find that it clashes too much with the apple.

The most successful and longstanding recipes now appear to be a roughly half-and-half mixture of vodka and sour apple liqueur or schnapps, with with an addition of some form of sweetener like a sugar syrup, honey or apple juice.

#28 The Gimlet

This is another drink that technically constitutes a cocktail rather than a martini. Nonetheless, I have to include it, mostly because its simplicity reflects that of a classic martini.

It’s also very easy to make with very little preparation, so it’s good if one of your guests decides at the last minute that they don’t want a full-strength martini.

It’s essentially a half-and-half mix of gin (or vodka) with lime cordial. It has to be Rose’s lime cordial.

Alternatively, you could make it using the same recipe as the Lemon Drop martini, but without the sugar rim, and replacing the lemon juice with fresh lime juice.

#29 The French Martini

A New York creation of the 1980s, a French martini is named because of its French ingredient: Chambord – a sweet, raspberry liqueur.

It is technically a fruit cocktail rather than a martini, but I include it because decades later, the martini name has stuck.

Shake vodka, chambord and pineapple juice with ice then strain into a martini glass, hopefully with a nice froth from the juice floating neatly to the top of the glass. Garnish with a slice of pineapple if you can.

#30 The Cucumber Martini

There are a few variations of this martini, but essentially, the combination of gin or vodka with cucumber is a classical, elegant marriage. You can muddle some cucumber in a cocktail shaker, add ice, stir and strain into a chilled martini glass to a measure of your choice, before topping up with gin or vodka.

Even better though, you can slice, or better, grate, half a cucumber into a jug, jar or bowl, fill it up with spirit (it goes very well with Hendricks), stir, then leave covered in the fridge for at least an hour, or possibly even all day or overnight.

Strain and remove the cucumber. You could discard it, use some of it as a martini garnish, add it to a ceviche, stir it into a yoghurt raita (adding a kick) or even mix it with onion and creme fraiche to make a potent topping for cocktail blini.

Pour the gin or vodka into a sealable container (such as a bottle) and put it in the freezer for at least six hours (or potentially for a couple of months).

However, you might want to take it out at least 30-60 minutes before pouring your martini as it will be more prone to freezing with the extra cucumber juice content.

Pour it as you would a normal classic martini, but use a slice of cucumber to garnish rather than lemon or olive.