Irradiated by LabRat
…Because it’s easy content, that’s why.
Matt polls his audience at large about the canonical martini, and its ingredients.
Agreeing with basically all of the commenters, in our opinion the original drink was made with gin, vermouth, and some variety of garnish, with the olive being the most classic and the lemon twist being another . (There are some who will say the kind with a cocktail onion is called a gibson; I tend to take the belief that unless you’re bartender with a showy repetoire, it’s a damn martini with yet another in a long line of pickled or preserved vegetable garnishes.)
James Bond popularized the vodka variant, and as Americans have never been nearly as fond of gin as the British (possibly due to cultural memory of associating it with cheap flavored poison from Prohibition days), it became the favored version in America. The argument can be made that after five decades or so of dominance in this country it is some version of “classic”, it’s just not the original.
Vodka martinis are easier to like (they used to be my preference too) just because there’s so much less pressure on vodka to be high quality not to ruin a cocktail. Really good vodka doesn’t taste of much, and bad vodka just tastes pretty much like any clear spirit; bad gin tastes like medicine-flavored paint thinner, and while bad vodka can be drowned out with just about any mixer, bad gin will destroy all it touches.
I didn’t really learn to like gin until Spear set out to convert me, and one thing I did learn is that, like absinthe, it’s a liquor you simply can’t cheap out on, and also that there is a huge variety in flavors and preferences for said flavors from drinker to drinker. What botanicals a distiller puts in besides the juniper varies tremendously, and those botanicals make all the difference in how the gin should be garnished and what kinds of drinks it should go into.
Right now there are five different gins in our collection: Hendrick’s, which is our general favorite for use in gin and tonics and tastes of a mixture of herbs with a bit of cucumber (and is best garnished with cucumber, or mixed with cucumber soda), Magellan’s, which I’m particularly fond of and always garnish with lime, basic Tanqueray, which goes into the martinis because Stingray likes ‘em dirty with pickle brine and that crushes any subtler flavors, Rangpur Tanqueray which is pretty much exclusively my drink, and Rogue spruce gin, a gift I favor as a true Pink Gin*. I probably won’t be able to lay my hands on any more of the Rogue locally, but they’re all there for a reason otherwise.
The choice of vermouth is up to you; sweet vermouth is the very original with “dry” meaning dry vermouth, but these days “dry” more usually means not much vermouth at all. I prefer the dry vermouth in general, and don’t see the logic in leaving it out of the drink entirely. If I just want gin with a garnish, that’s what I’ll drink, and I’ll pick the garnish to suit the gin.
As for the garnish: pick what you like and what plays well with the ingredients you chose. The twist of lemon goes great with the more citrusy gins, and the sharp saltiness of an olive or something pickled has its own appeal. Stingray likes his with any of the veggies pulled out of a jar of Farm Mom’s hot dill pickles; the cucumber slices themselves are the most numerous, the hot peppers give the hardest kick to the drink (and it’s surprisingly pleasant, in a martini- or at least I was surprised), though he claims the absolute best are the pickled garlic cloves.
And I… would almost always rather have a gin and tonic or pink gin. Though I think I’ll be trying that pickled okra variant just for grins.
*Meaning, I turn it into one, not that it already is one as opposed to simply being pink after aging in wine barrels. It plays quite well with the bitters.