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!

THE TITANS

#1 The Classic Martini

The standard. The most reliable. The tried and tested. It’s made with gin, plus a small measure of vermouth. Learn how to make it here.

It generally comes either sweet, dry or medium, or somewhere on that spectrum, which basically indicates how much vermouth you add.

It should also be served with a garnish of either a twist of lemon peel or 1-3 olives – but not the olive brine! That would make it a dirty martini (more on that later).

#2 The Vodka Martini

Some people think this is the original style of martini but it’s not true. You use gin to make a martini, and one made with vodka is specifically called a “vodka martini”.

It was once even known as the Kangaroo, before Sir Ian Fleming enshrined it in the martini world as an edgy variation of the classic, using a product made in the *gasps* Soviet Union.

In its most simple form it is made exactly the same as a classic martini but with vodka instead of gin.

In all of the other martini variations it can be used as a substitute for gin.

Use a well-filtered vodka for smoothness, but save the best quality vodkas for drinking neat, rather than in a martini (unless you’re drinking them Churchill-style – see below).

#3 The Dirty Martini

This is the most iconic of martini variations.

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. Of course, with the brine, it should also be garnished with one or more olives.

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.

There are also a range of olives you can choose from, but you will at least need to have some pickled in brine so you can flavour the drink.

#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. This is not the case.

The filthy martini is a highly underrated variation that is served with a single, pickled caperberry (these are capers that has been allowed to grow into succulent maturity). They are juicy and salty-sour, larger and more elongated than the capers so often served with seafood.

They are usually sold with a stalk, normally around a few centimetres long. They also contain little seeds that pop in your mouth when you bite.

When making this martini you might like to add a teaspoon or two of the pickle juice as well to liven it up. It goes very well before any sort of fried seafood.

#5 The Gibson Martini

This is a classic martini but garnished with a small, pickled onion. It’s iconic, striking and distinctive, much like those who drink it.

I love it when someone requests one of these. It shows that they know about martinis and they know what they like.

The hint of vinegar-pungency makes it sharper than most other variations, whilst still retaining its smooth texture. If you like, you can also add a teaspoon of the pickling vinegar as well.

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 that 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, whereby you use an equal measure of vermouth to the gin/vodka.

You can garnish it with either lemon peel or an olive or two. It’s much sweeter than a classic martini, so it might be a good choice for someone who finds them too strong.

#7 The Upside Down Martini

This is like a classic martini but with the ratios reversed.

Add a splash of gin and top up the glass with nicely chilled vermouth and garnish with lemon peel or an olive. Use a sweet or dry vermouth according to taste.

It’s obviously not nearly as strong as a classic martini so purists will likely disapprove, but remember, a martini is always about YOUR preference, not anybody else’s. If you have a few guests to share martinis with and one of them isn’t a fan, offer them one of these instead and they can have the opportunity to take part in the ceremony with the rest of you.

This might also be a good choice before some sort of fine dining dinner, because it won’t impact your taste buds in the same way as a classic martini.

I also think that while it’s less fiery than a classic martini, it can be more bitter, so it’s still a strong drink in its own mouthfeel characteristic.

I would also respect anyone who requested this version, because – like the gibson martini – it would show that they knew about martinis – and that they knew what they liked.

#8 The Bone Dry Martini

This is a simple classic martini, but with the tiniest spritz of vermouth.

You could use a (gloved or religiously scrubbed) finger to run a little vermouth around the inside of the glass. You could also use a dropper or spray diffuser.

Some people also advocate pouring a little vermouth into the glass and swilling it around before dumping the excess into the sink, leaving a thin residue of vermouth in the glass. You can then top it up with gin.

However, while this might be effective for achieving the correct ratio, I hate the wastage.

#9 The Montgomery Martini

Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, the 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, was a British veteran of both world wars.

He led Allied forces to victory in numerous fields, notably North Africa, where he was known for a key strategy of keeping his own casualties down.

His method was to try to outnumber enemy forces in any engagement with a ratio of fifteen soldiers to one – which is also the gin to vermouth ratio in this martini variation.

For a 100ml martini, this is essentially about one teaspoon of vermouth, topped up with gin.

You could garnish the drink with a twist of lemon or an olive or two but the Viscount was known to be pretty blunt so it might be appropriate to serve it with neither. Attack!

#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. Garnish with an olive or twist of lemon if rationing allows it.

Somewhat delightfully, there are also a number of ceremonies that could be included for theatrical effect to replace the action of including vermouth: glare at the vermouth bottle, bow in the general direction of France or Italy (where the majority of vermouths come from), or bow deferentially in the general direction of any currently serving troops.

Remain stoic whilst drinking. Do not grimace or complain. Others have it far worse.

#11 The Vesper Martini

A creation of Sir Ian Fleming, or rather his penned character James Bond, this martini is a mixture of Kina Lillet (unfortunately discontinued from 1986 – use Lillet Dry instead) plus gin AND vodka, with a lemon peel garnish.

It’s quite a subtle variation, named after the femme fatale bond girl Vesper Lynd.

#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.

It’s thought to have originally involved old school Genever or Old Tom gin, with the addition of orange bitters and more vermouth than is customary today.

It is therefore sweeter to what evolved in its place.

#13 The Hot Martini

This version was invented in Hollywood during the golden age of cinema.

You pour a classic martini then dribble a little bit of high proof alcohol over the back of a spoon into the drink so that it floats on the top.

You then light it, creating a heady aroma in the glass, as well as a bit of visual theatre, without warning up the chilled drink below the spectacle.

Serve – and drink – with care.

#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 goes exceptionally well with, or immediately before, seafood (such as oysters).

The drink is typically made with a few drops of Tabasco, but you can substitute it with thicker hot sauces, so long as you muddle them with the vermouth in the glass before topping up the drink with gin or vodka and giving it a stir with your garnish of choice.

It can either be a twist of lemon peel, or olives as per normal, although if your preference is for olive, you might prefer the next drink on the list.

You could also serve it with slice of raw chilli, jalapeno, roasted pepper or some other bright and fiery garnish. It also goes well with a nasturtium flower.

#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 1-3 olives. If you can find olives stuffed with pepper or chilli even better.

It’s brilliant for whetting your appetite. Those who order it are also 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.

It should be garnished with lemon peel, as the flavours don’t work quite as well if it’s made with an olive.

It sounds quite explosive and dangerous but I thoroughly recommend it as a really interesting, complex drink.

Try to use as neutral a gin as possible, or even a vodka if you’ve got an interesting whisky to try it out with.

The drink is named after the Scottish city of Paisley, once home to a roaring whisky distillery trade, so the recipe calls for Scotch whisky.

Nonetheless, I would recommend trying all manner of others, including Japanese whiskies as well as Irish and American whiskey brands as well. The possibilities are endless with this one so go ahead and experiment.

However, please don’t use the good malts. They should be drunk the traditional way, either neat or with a drop of fresh water to release the flavour. Don’t drink them after a martini either because your taste buds will have been ruined.

#17 The Smokey Martini (sometimes called the Burnt Martini)

This 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.

When ordering in a bar, don’t be surprised in the bartenders don’t know it, but if they maraschino cherries on hand,

#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.

UBIQUITOUS COCKTAILS

#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 Pornstar 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

This 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.