“Shaken, not stirred”. It’s Martini time in the streets and bars of Rome

Martini the cocktail

Sometimes I have an insatiable thirst for a good cocktail and if you fancy a bit of pre-dinner socialising too, or “Aperitivo” as the Italian’s call the interval before the evening meal. Martinis (or other cocktails) are a good way to start.

The Martini is a a cocktail that consists of two main ingredients, a base spirit of gin or vodka, and vermouth. Vermouth is an aromatised, fortified wine flavoured with infusions of various aromatic herbs, roots, flowers, seeds. Vermouth exists in white, sweet or dry or red vermouth version and originates from Turin. Not all vermouths are equal. The ingredients or quality of vermouth can differ considerably.

Martini the brand

Don’t confuse this cocktail mix with the Italian vermouth brand named Martini though. The brand Martini originated in 1863, in Torino, Italy, but relocated shortly thereafter to nearby Pessione. Already around 1868 the firm achieved success in the U.S. market, just as vermouth was catching on there, as well as in countries like Brazil, Argentina, Greece, Portugal, Belgium, Egypt and others. To mark its 150 years of existence Martini launched a new ad campaign with two words on the little Martini napkin: #begindesire and a long and poetic run in the streets of Rome.

Back to the Martini cocktail

When you order a Martini it is important to specify the spirit you want. The classic way is with gin, but a more contemporary bartender will give you probably vodka. Gin adds a juniper, fruits or spices flavour coming from the botanicals to the Martini, vodka has a more pure taste. Adding vodka gives the Martini a softness and earthiness. But in the end it all comes down to personal preference. I love the old school Martinis, made with gin (not vodka) and stirred (not shaken) that feature lemon peel (not olives) and use a good pour of quality vermouth (more flavourful).

My advice would be to go to a good cocktail bar (yes, you can find them in Rome) and switch between various spirit and vermouth brands to find the ones you like. Or, to spend an evening doing the Martini cocktail test with par example four leading brands of vermouth and 4 leading brands of gin or vodka. A general mixing rule is five or six parts gin or vodka to one part vermouth.
Since gin or vodka are the main actors in the cocktail (due to their higher ratio and flavour profile) gin or vodka will determine most of the taste. So you better pick your samples wisely and a good bartender can always point you in the right direction.

Shaken or stirred?

In the cocktail world there has always been discussion about the classic dilemma facing cocktail lovers: is the perfect Martini shaken or stirred? James Bond’s famous words -shaken, not stirred- might come to mind. James Bond liked his Vodka & Martini cocktail shaken as we all know from Ian Fleming’s novels Live and Let (1954) or Diamonds are Forever (1956), but it was actor Sean Connery who first spoke the words on the big screen in 1964: “A Martini. Shaken, not stirred” in the Bond blockbuster movie Goldfinger. Writer W. Somerset Maugham stood on the opposite side of the stir versus shaking discussion: “Martinis should always be stirred, not shaken, so that the molecules lie sensuously one on top of the other”.

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The preference for shaking or stirring has to do with a liking for fast or slow diluting of the alcoholic beverage. The end result is the more or less the same. Shaking or stirring basically gets the drink to the same temperature. If you prefer to stir it takes up to 90 seconds to get the right dilution and chilling. If shaking is your thing, it calls for more energy, but it dilutes the drink fairly quickly, the required temperature can be attained in 10 or 15 seconds. Though some people say that shaking will dilute the drink more and “bruise” the gin. It breaks the oils out of the gin and the Martini becomes cloudy, while stirring gives a clearer, sharper looking Martini.

The dilution of the vermouth gives you a completely different sensation. A very wet Martini is normally three parts vodka to one part vermouth, but in a very dry Martini this can accrue to a ratio of 15 to 1. Ernest Hemingway called the very dry Martini, which he first drank at Harry’s Bar in Venice (1950), a Montgomery, after Field Marshal Montgomery. The story goes that it was Montgomery, who said: “he would not attack the enemy troops of German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel unless he had a 15:1 advantage in forces. 15 to 1 was also the correct proportion of vermouth to gin of his preferred Martini cocktail”. Another form of variation on the same theme is the Naked Martini, where you keep all your ingredients in the freezer until you pour them straight into a chilled cocktail glass. The Naked Martini takes advantage of all the ingredients, there’s no dilution.

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Rome’s recipe for the perfect Martini

The Jerry Thomas Project – Rome
Inspired by Jerry Thomas and his “How to Mix Drinks / The Bon Vivant’s Companion -1862” on April 10, 2010, The Jerry Thomas Project – Rome was born. It was actually Jerry Thomas, who allegedly invented the Martini at the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco, sometime around the 1860s. According to legend a prospector, about to set out on a journey to Martinez, California, put a gold nugget on the bar and asked Thomas to mix him up something special. Thomas produced a drink containing Old Tom gin, vermouth, bitters, and Maraschino, and dubbed it the “Martinez”, which later became the Martini.

On different dates this year the Jerry Thomas Project – Rome organises workshops Educational Program Pills especially dedicated to the art of mixing Vermouths & Bitters

To gain access to The Jerry Thomas Project & bar you officially need a password in the form of an answer to a question, which changes every two weeks. Check their FB page.
Vicolo Cellini, 30, 00186 Rome

Other Roman bars

Hassler Bar
The Hassler Bar is a classic cozy, hidden cocktail bar with dark wood, red leather upholstery and gilded mirrors, ideal for an aperitif or an after-dinner-drink.
Piazza Trinità dei Monti, 6, 00187 Rome

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The Gin Corner
This first specialised Italian gin bar -The Gin Corner- has more than 80 types of gin on offer. Located on Via di Pallacorda inside Hotel Adriano, this 17th Century building, next to where Caravaggio killed the nobleman Ranuccio Tommasoni, the gin corner serves a mean Gin and Tonic and of course, a majestic Martini.
Via di Pallacorda, 2, 00186 Rome

Bond Bar Hotel d’Inghilterra
Illustrious bartender Roberto Pezucco expertly mixes Martinis and other signature cocktails in an atmosphere of yesteryear which reminds of a London Gentlemen’s Club.
Via Bocca di Leone, 14, 00187 Rome

Harry’s Bar
Touristy, but in Harry’s Bar in Via Veneto still you can sip a perfect Martini, as a reminiscence of another time, 1950s Rome, La Dolce Vita, “the place where riotous loves were born, where never revealed agreements were signed and were everything was familiar”.
Via Vittorio Veneto, 150, 00187 Rome

The Martini Cocktail
1 part Gin
1 part quality dry Vermouth or Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth
2 Dashes Orange Bitters
Add all the ingredients into a mixing glass filled with ice and stir. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. When desired, garnish with either a twist of lemon, or an olive placed in the glass.

Jerry Thomas’ Bartender’s Guide
Martinez Cocktail.
(Use small bar-glass.)
Take 1 dash of Boker’s bitters.
2 dashes of Maraschino.
1 pony of Old Tom gin.
1 wine-glass of Vermouth.
2 small lumps of ice.

Shake up thoroughly, and strain into a large cocktail glass. Put a quarter of a slice of lemon in the glass, and serve. If the guest prefers it very sweet, add two dashes of gum syrup.