The Martini is one of the most recognizable and iconic cocktails, typically signified by a Martini glass and an olive skewered with a cocktail pick—a symbol that has been emblazoned into neon signs hung above drinking establishments good or bad, stitched into cocktail napkins, turned into trinkets and digitized into emojis. And yet the Martini is a cocktail that has gone through many growing pains, from postwar booze-heavy Martinis, shaken per James Bond, to the flavored Appletinis of the ’90s. It’s gone through an identity crisis, if you will.
Yet throughout the storied eras of cocktail history, the classic Martini has remained constant—a quiet, yet reliable, libation for those who know Martinis and how they like to drink them. What’s to love about a Martini, other than everything? “A Martini is a splendorous thing. For me, it’s a pacifying ritual that washes over the excitement of the day with equanimity,” says Kyle Ford, the unofficial Martini ambassador and frequent Instagrammer of Martinis. “A Martini is a highly individualistic drink, whose composition should be determined by its chosen ingredients, personal taste and motivation.”
While Ford is an unwavering Gin Martini drinker, his rules of worship can be applied to Vodka Martinis as well. “Modern drinkers are rediscovering the drink’s origins and demanding classic ratios,” says Ford, ratios that can be used to make Martinis per the classic specs, or modern variations that add flavor and texture to a drink. The Vodka Martini can be a mainstay in a home bar, modified with a dash of liqueur here, a particularly lovely vermouth there and, of course, a few dashes of bitters.
Vodka has magical properties in a Martini: It dilutes the flavor of a sweet liqueur or a saturated bitter without diluting the ABV of the drink, which makes the flavors easier to palate. As long as you are using a high-quality vodka such as Absolut Elyx, Ketel One or Hangar One, the quality of the Martini is pretty consistent. The vermouth, however, is a game changer. Your Martini lives or dies by your vermouth, so invest in quality craft brands such as Dolin or La Quintinye Vermouth Royal, and always keep your vermouth in the refrigerator.
These are five Vodka Martini variations to try—modified classics that will make you feel civilized.
This Martini is a variation typically made with gin and Atholl Brose, a Speyside single-malt scotch liqueur made with honey and herbs. Atholl Brose can be difficult to find stateside, and Drambuie is an excellent substitution to make this smooth and sweet Martini with flavors of honey, dried citrus peels and mixed spices.
This cocktail is light and delicate, yet flavorful and potent, making for a perfect Martini. It’s made with quality vodka, blanc vermouth such as La Quintinye Vermouth Royal, which gives the drink just a hint of floral aromatics, and Luxardo maraschino liqueur. Typically, maraschino liqueur is very sweet and can be a bit difficult to work with. However, when used as a modifier in a Martini, it opens up gorgeously, showing the many layers of complex flavor. A few dashes of celery bitters give this cocktail just a touch of salinity to balance out the sweetness of the cherry.
A Blue-Cheese–Olive Martini is a steakhouse classic that’s arguably more appetizer than cocktail. This modification uses pickled green tomatoes and Atsby Amberthorn vermouth, an herb-forward vermouth that works especially well in a savory Martini. The vodka gives the vermouth room to breathe, and the herbal flavors work beautifully with the pickled tomato and its brine. The real treat of this cocktail is the stuffed tomato, pickled a second time in the Martini, which is euphorically creamy, briny and, of course, boozy.
For those who enjoy savory Martinis, this one by Stir and Strain is an essential addition to your Martini rotation. This opinionated cocktail is for those who love garlic and black pepper and aren’t afraid of flavor (i.e. maybe not the best choice for a first date but OK for married folks). Freshly poured, this drink is fresh and clean, and as it marinates, it increasingly picks up the garlic flavor until that blissful last sip and the reward of the booze-soaked garlic at the bottom of the glass.
The simplest Martini variation is the 50/50, a cocktail made with equal proportions of spirit and vermouth. Some swear by gin in their 50/50s, but they’re also great with vodka, because it doesn’t compete with the subtle aromatics of the vermouth. The 50/50 is a great drink to experiment with at home: Try different types of vermouth, citrus garnishes and a few dashes of bitters to add more flavor.