Over the past century, the Martini has lived a lot of lives: on the rocks in the 1950s, kitschy and fluorescent in the ’90s and both divisive and dirty in recent years. The classic is always ripe for reinvention.
That such a traditionally austere cocktail has welcomed additions of everything from salmon to charred onion to lychee is a testament to just how far the drink’s devotees are willing to take it. Everyone has an opinion on how best to serve the drink, but also, now, more than ever, there is a serve for every drinker, whether that’s savory, briny, spicy or all three.
But for the home bartender, if oyster shells and an ultrasonic jewelry cleaner are out of reach, there is still a range of ways to make the Martini your own. Though all manner of modifiers are now seen mixed into the classic, one of the easiest ways to upgrade the drink requires no extra ingredients. Throwing a Martini—pouring the mixture between two mixing tins, often theatrically—can aerate the drink to emphasize aromatics in gin and vermouth and impart a “sparkliness” in texture, as Julio Cabrera of Miami’s Cafe La Trova puts it. Another simple approach to boost texture involves, controversially, simple syrup. A half-teaspoon of sweetener can add mouthfeel to stirred drinks, according to bar owner Joaquín Simó, though the technique should be avoided in already sugary drinks, like a fruit-forward ’tini.
Other unorthodox additions to the template address the common call for a dirty Martini. At Bonnie’s in Brooklyn, the MSG Martini benefits from a hit of salty-savory MSG olive brine, while in Manhattan, the umami element of Ernesto’s signature Pintxotini comes in the form of an anchovy and pickled pepper garnish.
But a Martini doesn’t have to be brackish to embrace minerality. In fact, since as early as the 19th century, there have been savory adaptations to the cocktail that are easy to implement at home, thanks to the salinity of sherry. Mineral water, too, imparts not only a saline quality, but also terroir and funkiness. And for seasonal intrigue, tomato water can add an umami tinge to the template.
A final technique to improve the Martini experience is one designed for efficiency. Pre-batching a Martini and freezing it not only creates a ready-to-pour drink whenever the Martini craving strikes, it also influences texture (making the cocktail more lush and creamy) and taste (softening the harshness of higher-proof spirits like gin). Most of all, though, the batched Martini is a way to preempt a treat. As Meaghan Dorman said in a Punch tasting of freezer Martinis, “I think you should treat yourself right now, and this is the way to do it.”