A Proper Martini

9 Aug

Outside of my office – 333 West Wacker Drive in Chicago – aka “where Ferris Bueller’s dad worked”, there’s a bus shelter, and of course they have advertising on the shelter.  They just updated the ad on it with this image:

Well, far be it for me to not be inspired by this – I snapped the picture above, texted it to my pal “GASHM” who promptly replied with “Funny, I was just thinking that a “proper Martini” is the way I’m going to relax this evening.  I could shake enough for two!”

So, about 9:30 PM, it was “Martini O’Clock” on GASHM’s screened-in porch.  We solved every world problem over a couple of ice cold Ketel One Martinis.  Perfect.

Which of course inspired this blog post.  So many people seem to find the art of a proper Martini to be very daunting, but yet, it is very easy, if you just follow some simple techniques.  I thought I’d use this opportunity to teach you, my friends, the art of a proper Martini.

You know, just in case I come to visit or something.

Let’s pause a minute though to talk about what a proper Martini really is.  In my humble opinion, a proper Martini can be made ONLY with vodka or gin, Vermouth if you’d like, and some ice.  An olive for garnish or a lemon peel.  That’s it.  All those OTHER pretenders to the Martini throne – Cosmopolitans, Appletini’s, Chocomartini’s, etc. etc. are simply Martini-like cocktails.

I was taught the art of a proper Martini by none other than a woman named Tana Foreman – who was bartender in my hometown of Newton, IA back when I was in college.  Tana was the Newton Country Club bar manager – we only had a few customers that drank “up” Martinis back then and she took special care in making sure that I not only knew how to make them, but new how to make good ones.  People from Newton will remember her also from Palma’s Restaurant, and the Hawkeye Lounge at the Terrace Inn.  Hope she’s still around and kicking.

Finally, before the recipe, I have to give props to a good work friend and Martini aficionado, Lisa PF.  Lisa, who is a grand master wizard of market and language research, is a also a wizard of turning a phrase.  I LOVE the way Lisa orders a martini.  Her brand is Belvidere vodka and she orders it as such:

“Belvidere Martini up.  VERY cold.  VERY dry.  With olives.”

Of course writing it doesn’t do it justice – you have to hear Lisa’s cadence and emphasis to appreciate it.  But whenever she orders one, I’m powerless to say anything but “I’ll have what she’s having.”

The Proper Martini:

Gear:  Martini Shaker – I find that a dome-top shaker with a built in strainer and cap works well, and have a collection of them.   That said, I find that the BEST Martinis are made in a Boston shaker – which a two-part affair that most pro bartenders use – it has a metal cup that fits into a pint glass – this works great because you can get a bigger “shake” impact out of it – the shaker is larger and allows the ice to build up some speed before it whacks into the other end of the shaker.  The art though is straining it out – you can either use a separate strainer or do the “crack and pour” technique where you create a tiny slot by separating the two halves of the shaker just a bit and pouring from there.


Standard shaker




Boston Shaker




Cocktail strainer




Glassware:  the best Martini glasses aren’t those 8-oz monsters they use in restaurants these days – the best ones are 4 ounces – so you’re forced to make a smaller drink that stays cold while you drink it.


  • Ice.  LOTS of ice.  My friends always kid me about how much ice I use.  But they NEVER complain about my cocktails.
  • Water (you’ll water see in a moment)
  • Premium Vodka or Gin.  Your choice on brands. My faves are Ketel One vodka and Bombay gin (but not Sapphire).
  • Premium white vermouth – my favorite is Noilly Pratt.
  • Olives – I prefer stuffed Manzanilla cocktail olives versus the big queen monsters that taste like all salt.

For ONE proper Martini:

  • 3 oz vodka or gin
  • 1 teaspoon vermouth
  • 1 olive

Pre-chill your glass by filling it with ice to the brim, then filling it with water.  Do this 10 minutes or so before you want to serve your martini.  You can also of course just keep your glasses in the freezer, ready to go.  Or, set it outside in the snow in the winter.

Fill your shaker 3/4 full of ice, and then add the vermouth.  Put the top on the shaker and shake vigorously for about a minute.  This breaks up the ice a bit and also coats the ice with the vermouth.  Pour out the vermouth and any water using the strainer of your shaker.  Remove the top of the shaker and add the vodka or gin.  Put the top and cap on the shaker and shake vigorously for a good minute, then set the shaker down to rest for a moment.  While your shaker is resting, drink the water from your pre-chilling martini glass and toss out the ice.   The water is good hydration – you need it when you drink Martinis!  Pick up your shaker again, and shake for another 20-30 seconds, then uncap the shaker and strain it into a glass.  If you’ve done it right, there will be little shards of ice floating on top of the martini.

Spear your olive with a toothpick, shake off any excess brine (don’t use those lame plastic swords!) and gently place in your glass.  Sip.  Savor.  Ahhh. Sandpaper – it takes the rough edges off.  (Right Lisa?)


As you were,



9 Responses to “A Proper Martini”

  1. Linda Covert Campbell August 9, 2011 at 4:32 pm #

    Tana is working at the Big Steer currently….think she’s the manager.
    I can hardly wait until 5:00PM….have Bombay, shaker, ice, vermouth and olives….if you like fruit with your gin.
    “Bombay martini, please….Very Dry…VERY dry..over ice….no fruit no veggies.”

    • Stew's Brew August 9, 2011 at 4:42 pm #

      What and where is the “Big Steer”? Would love to walk in there one day and get a drink from her.

    • Jim Christianson August 10, 2011 at 2:15 am #

      I believe she manages the bar there.

  2. carpetbagger August 9, 2011 at 5:41 pm #

    I’m inspired. True confession: Jean likes them dirty. To each her own.

  3. Jim Christianson August 10, 2011 at 2:33 am #

    Two things I dearly miss in recovery; a nice red wine with my steak, and martinis. I’ve made hundreds of martinis, most on the rocks. The best ones however Stewie are the “up” ones. Certain people wanted their martinis shook, but for the most part, I believe stirring is the best. I also like to pre-chill my glasses, by dousing them with a bit of water and chilling them in the freezer. You do the vermouth correctly. (For the really dry maritini, get in your car and drive to Colfax. Get out of the car and whisper “vermouth”. Get back in your car and drive back to Newton. Now that’s a dry martini!). That could’ve been one of you dad’s old jokes, Stewie. i was always particularly enamored with Gibsons, as I loved the pickled onions. Not those puny little onions of today, but the big ones the size of a queen olive. There’s a lot of famous martini drinkers in Newton, including your mother. Another who dearly loved vodka maritnis was E.K. Shaw. Martini-drinking is a simply and glorious pleasure; truly a joy of life. I’ll drink ’em in my next one.

    • Stew's Brew August 10, 2011 at 3:07 am #

      Jim, I still tell the story to younger folks working for me of the importance of knowing the client, told on the story of you and how you had us learn the favorite drink of all the key customers and to have that drink made and sitting on the bar, or delivered to the table as they arrived. I don’t remember all the names but remember a lot of the drinks. Burt Livingston: Dewar’s and Soda; Dr. Cather: Taylor Sauterne wine (yecchhh!), Jim Powell: JB & water, tall; etc. etc. If I sat and thought or even better, had an old club directory, I could probably tell you 50 of them. That’s actually how I memorized it – I took an old club directory at home and wrote all the drink orders down.

      I like a shaken martini as I like the ice shards – the clear liquor doesn’t foam or anything and it comes out marvelous. On a cold winter’s night though, nothing beats a proper STIRRED Manhattan (who was the couple that always ordered Manhattans up???) – made with real bourbon, not Canadian. The bourbon foams if you shake it, so stirring is the play for those.

      I can understand your “mojo” for those – of alcohol drinks those are my favorites as well.

  4. Sean August 4, 2012 at 2:38 pm #

    A ‘proper’ martini shaken? Blaspheme!

    • Stew's Brew August 9, 2012 at 6:21 am #

      Yes, shaken. The ice shards are what makes it awesome. That said, for Manhattans? Stirred. The bourbon foams if you shake it.

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