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Shaken, not Stirred – The Martini Mystery Revealed

The Martini is the great American cocktail. It is widely known and appreciated, yet enshrouded in mystery for many reasons, much to the credit of the character James Bond, and also to the fact that a martini order comes with many questions: shaken or stirred, dirty or dry, with olives or a twist, up or on the rocks. We have put together this article for all of those martini lovers with martini anxiety; you know you love martinis but don’t know how to answer these martini questions to make a great one. We invite you to brush up on your martini history and mixology just in time for Father’s Day, because we all know that the man of the house deserves an at home happy hour where he can put his feet up and enjoy this classic cocktail on his special day.

The origins of a classic: The original martini dates back to the late 1800s, but its true origin remains a much debated mystery. The great granddaddy of the Martini is known as the Martinez, first published in 1887, and made with sweetened gin, vermouth, maraschino cherry juice, and a dash of bitters. This sweeter version of a martini later evolved into the classic Gin Martini in the early 1900s. This recipe called for 2 parts Gin, 1 part Sweet Vermouth, and a dash of orange bitters. Once the bartenders of the era began to chill the cocktail and strain it into a chilled glass, the iconic Martini was conceived.

In the 1930s the first American vodka distilleries opened for business. At this time, the vodka martini was introduced, and as sweeter drinks fell out of favor with the American cultural palate, the amount of bitters and vermouth were reduced, and gave birth to a dryer version of the classic martini. In the 1960s, James Bond’s character revives the martini with his famous line in the movie Goldfinger, “vodka martini, shaken not stirred”, and its popularity has never ceased since.

The Martini making process: So the question remains: How does one make this incredibly simple yet mysterious cocktail? A good martini comes from the quality of each of its ingredients: the vodka or gin, the vermouth and bitters if desired, and of course, the olives. Here are the steps to making a great martini:

The shaker (or stirring vessel): Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. The more ice you use, the better the result. You want the cocktail to be very cold without being watered down.

The mystery revealed: Next, pour the spirit of choice, vodka or gin, into the shaker. Most martinis use approximately 2-3 ounces of spirits. (Please beware, the martini is a strong drink, and should be sipped slowly and responsibly.) The martini comes with many questions that must be answered to please its drinker. Here is a guide to these mysterious questions:

Dirty or Dry? Dirty Martinis are quite popular these days, and the term “dirty” means that the spirits are mixed with a splash of delightfully salty olive juice. Martinis can also be ordered “very dirty”, meaning extra olive juice. This creates a cloudy effect in the glass, which is where the term comes from. A dry martini is the classic style, and simply means that a splash of dry vermouth is used. The dry recipe is often paired with a dash of orange bitters like the classic Gin Martini. Because vermouth is so strong in flavor, many martini lovers like their vermouth “in and out”. This means that a dash of vermouth is rolled around inside either the shaker or the chilled glass, and then discarded before the vodka or gin is poured. Otherwise a dash of vermouth can be used inside the shaker with the spirits.

Shaken or Stirred? Shaking is the most common preparation of the martini, and allows for maximum chilling of the spirits. Simply place the cap firmly on the shaker, and shake until the chill comes through the vessel and feels cold to the touch. If you shake it fast and forcefully, ice chips will be a part of your final product, which some people really enjoy. Then place the strainer on the shaker, and strain into a chilled glass. Martini buffs claim that gin should never be shaken because it can taste “bruised”. In this case, use a long spoon to stir the contents of the shaker very quickly until chilled. Then place the strainer on the shaker, and strain into a chilled glass.

Up or on the Rocks? \Many Martini lovers associate the drink with the famed V-shaped glass that we are so familiar with today. However, a martini can also be served on the rocks, and is no less sophisticated in this vessel. However, the ice will continue to melt, so it really depends on your personal preference.

With olives or a twist? Martinis are always garnished with a twist, an olive or sometimes even an onion. The twist refers to a lemon peel that has been twisted to release the oils, and then usually rubbed on the rim of the glass so that as the martini passes to your lips, the citrusy oils are washed back also. However, the iconic martini is served with an olive, or with an olive pick offering up 3 of these tasty delights. In today’s gourmet culture, the quality of the martini is all about the olive. Here at Di Bruno, we pride ourselves on importing the best olives from Italy, and we also make stuffed olives in-house. Here are our martini recommendations:


Castlevetrano Olives: Chefs across the country have been raving about these olives this year. This type of olive is harvested young and cured in lightly salted brine, and therefore has a mild flavor and meaty texture. They are perfect for martinis because they don’t overpower a good quality vodka or gin, and have a beautiful bright green hue. Their mild flavor makes them quite a crowd pleaser.


Blue Cheese Stuffed Olives: Blue Cheese lovers don’t need to be convinced of this olive’s excellence. At Di Bruno, we use oversized Spanish Queen Olives, and stuff them with creamy Gorgonzola blue cheese. The marriage of the velvety cheese and the sharp kick of the olive create a memorable bite, and nothing pairs better with an ice-cold martini, especially served with steak.


Sicilian Green Cracked: These olives are spicy and citrusy, and create a truly unique martini that is excellent, although untraditional, with good quality citrus flavored vodka. These are small green Sicilian olives that are cracked with a knife, so the spicy lemon and garlic brine seeps into the olive. This is the perfect choice for spice lovers who can’t decide between olives and a twist!


Fee Brothers Bitters: Fee Brothers is one of the last makers of bitters in America. Their family owned business is based in New York State, and their orange bitters are very well done. If you want to make a classic Gin martini, Fee Brothers Bitters are a “must”.

1 Comment

  • Katrina says:
    June 11, 2010 at 1:39 am

    Nice post about martinis. I am a dirty martini girl! I wish you guys carried a product called Dirty Sue. It's the best olive juice for dirties!!!

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