You’ve been making Martinis all wrong. Just ask UK-based drinks historian Jared Brown, who literally wrote the book on the subject with his wife and fellow scholar, Anistatia Miller.
But Brown didn't come to Australia to name and shame. He visited in his capacity as master distiller for London-based Sipsmith, which has made its name with a devotion to craft culture, right down to using traditional copper pots to distil its small-batch gin (in contrast to the mass-produced gin concentrate favoured by bigger companies). Brown and Sipsmith co-founder Sam Galsworthy hosted gin-infused meals in Sydney and Melbourne – including Sipsmith Martinis paired to each course – and personalised Martini events.
At the time Brown, Galsworthy and business partner Fairfax Hall hatched the idea of opening a distillery, there was just one in London. So the trio joined a long queue of would-be distillers applying for a government licence, only to be knocked back like everyone else. As Brown discovered in his research, the reason turned out to be an archaic law from the 1870s decreeing that pot stills could be no smaller than 18 hectolitres. But the Sipsmith gang kept pushing.
“We refused to accept no for an answer,” says Galsworthy. “We spent two years lobbying, campaigning and convincing.” The law was finally changed in 2008, and Sipsmith opened the following year. A decade later, its meticulous portfolio includes London Dry Gin, London Cup, Sloe Gin and the especially unique V.J.O.P. (Very Junipery Over Proof), with a flavour balance that took three years to perfect.
“We’re staunch traditionalists,” says Brown. “That runs through everything we do. [Our] techniques would be absolutely familiar to any distiller working between 1850 and 1870. We distil in one shot on a copper-pot still, and we add nothing after distillation except for water, to bring it to bottling strength.”
So when Brown – who once acted as head bartender for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner – offers to make you a Martini, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But when you see the charismatic historian behind the bar, he won’t be shaking or stirring. He’ll be throwing. That’s a technique where bartenders let the Martini fall between two tins, from as high to as low as they can reach.
“The technique was ubiquitous throughout the history of drink,” says Brown, who learnt the bygone approach from a holdout bar in Barcelona. “I’ve traced it back as far as ancient Egypt and Greece, where it shows up in art from that period. It was the mixing choice of the Aztecs for their chocolate, and it only died out in the beginning of the 20th century. It gives the clarity of a stirred Martini with more aeration than shaking. So it’s a completely different flavour profile.”
Beyond that mind-blowing new – or, actually, ancient – technique for mixing your Martini, Brown and Galsworthy are oracles of Martini-related information. We asked them for their dos and donts.
DON’T use old vermouth or ice
Galsworthy: “So often vermouths have been around for a long time and have oxidised. They should be within two weeks opened and fridged.” Brown: “Ice will taste like whatever was in the freezer with it. So don’t use old ice crusted with the remnants of last month’s curry fest.”
DO use only lemon or orange for the twist
Brown: “Lemon and orange are the two best twists, hands down. Lime and grapefruit go a bit too sharp, and put a really bitter hit on the drink. The Martini is already very dry and beautifully citrus balanced.”
DON’T drop the twist peel into the drink
Brown: “Express the twist directly over the drink and discard it. The twist has two different flavours: sweet floral flavours and sharp lemon bitters. The drink benefits greatly from the [twist liquid], but the [peel] actually detracts from the experience.” Galsworthy: “Let the gin do most of the work. Everything else is there to enhance that.”
DO use a modest glass
Brown: “A smaller Martini is going to be a better one. There’s been a proliferation of larger and larger glasses over the years, to the point where they’re practically birdbaths. Unless you’ve had the worst day of your life, you’re not going to get to the bottom of that before it hits room temperature. I would always prefer two very cold, small Martinis to one giant one that’s gone warm.”
DON’T keep your gin in the freezer
Brown: “In mixing the Martini, you’re seeking to retain chill and dilution. Keeping it in the freezer takes all the work out of chilling, but it makes much work for the dilution, because you’re seeking 20 to 25 per cent dilution in the mixing process to open up the flavours.”
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Sipsmith.