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7 Tips From Bartenders on How to Make a Better Martini

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Since the 1920s prohibition era, the martini has represented a mix of class and flair, style and elegance. And while prohibition is (thankfully) long gone, the drink’s popularity—and ABV—remain strong. Today, the martini has become half drink, half art form, and bartenders far and wide are experimenting with ways to refine and perfect this iconic cocktail.

For this year's National Martini Day (June 19), we’ve compiled seven tips and tricks from some of the most revered cocktail experts to help you have your most delicious martini yet.

1. SAY NO TO VODKA.

While some dry martini recipes may call for a splash of vodka, Derek Brown, a leading spirits and cocktail expert and owner of the Drink Company, says you’re better off with just gin.

“I’m fine with someone ordering a vodka martini, but I refuse to accept both drinks as equals,” he says. “Gin gives the martini backbone because it’s the highest ABV product in the mix, and because juniper adds complex flavors and aroma.”

2. VERMOUTH IS A MUST.

Sure, vermouth may lower the overall alcohol levels in your drink, but be honest with yourself—is that really a bad thing? Not only will you thank yourself in the morning, Brown also guarantees you’ll have a much tastier martini tonight. And his feelings are pretty strong on the issue.

“For me, vermouth represents the civilizing aspect of the martini,” he says. “A martini without vermouth is like calling gnawing on the leg of a cow a steak—pure savagery.”

3. BALANCE YOUR FLAVORS.

While it may be tempting to add extra olives or go heavy on the gin, Alexis El Sayed, head bartender at Art Bar in Manhattan, reminds us that simplicity and balance are key.

“It’s important to balance the flavors when making a great martini,” she says. “Nobody wants a drink that’s too sweet, bitter, or overly tart.”

4. DON'T OMIT ORANGE BITTERS.

To get that classically bitter martini taste, add in some orange bitters. Brown says this is the most commonly forgotten ingredient, but the combined bitterness and citrus notes can make or break your martini.

5. STIR, DON'T SHAKE.

Sure, James Bond is known for requesting his martini “shaken, not stirred,” but not only will you sound ridiculous repeating his signature line, but you'll also be doing your cocktail a disservice.

“Never say to a bartender 'shaken, not stirred' unless you’re actually wearing a tuxedo,” Brown says. “Stirring creates a cold, taut surface free from ice shards. Shaking is supposedly good to add antioxidants. But why on earth would you seek antioxidants in your poison?”

6. ADD LEMON INSTEAD OF OLIVES.

While olives may have the iconic martini look, they’re often served at room temperature and can therefore heat up your drink—a big no-no. Serve your drink cold with an expressed lemon peel for top-notch taste.

7. SERVE IT IN STYLE.

Just like a book, many judge a martini by its cover. Pay attention to the glass and garnish, and, as El Sayed suggests, “be sure that the presentation is just as pleasing as the taste.” Because let’s be honest—part of the allure of an expertly crafted cocktail is its shareability factor. A beautiful Instagram shot is one of the most important ingredients for #NationalMartiniDay!

To celebrate in style, here are two recipes from Brown and El Sayed for some tried-and-true perfect martinis.

Derek Brown’s Dry Martini

1 1/2 oz. dry gin
1 1/2 oz. dry vermouth
Dash orange bitters
Lemon peel

Combine ingredients and stir with ice until very cold. Strain into chilled cocktail glass. Express oils from lemon peel on surface then discard the peel.

Art Bar’s Hendrick's Elixir

3 parts Hendrick's gin
1 part St. Germain Elderflower liqueur
2 parts ginger beer
2 wedges of fresh lime
Cucumber slice for garnish

Pour all of the ingredients over ice into a shaker, and squeeze juice from 1 lime wedge. Shake vigorously. Strain into a martini glass, and garnish with a cucumber slice and a lime wedge. Serve immediately.

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Big Questions
Is There Any Point in Letting Red Wine Breathe?
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by Aliya Whiteley

At the end of a long day, few things beat simple pleasures like watching a good film, eating a bar of chocolate the size of your head, or drinking a big glass of red wine.

By this point in the evening, most people don’t want to be told that they need to uncork the bottle and let the wine sit for at least 30 minutes before it becomes pleasantly drinkable. Yet that's (by the letter of the unwritten law) what you're supposed to do.

But why? Well, let's start with the assorted historical reasons.

Red wine has been around since the Stone Age. In fact, in 2011 a cave was uncovered in Armenia where the remains of a wine press, drinking and fermentation vessels, and withered grape vines were uncovered; the remains were dated at 5500 years old. Early winemaking often had a ritualistic aspect: Wine jars were found in Ancient Egyptian tombs, and wine appears in both the Hebrew and Christian bibles.

The concept of letting wine "breathe" is, historically speaking, relatively new and probably has its roots in the way wine was once bottled and stored.

Traditionally, sulfur is added to wine in order to preserve it for longer, and if too much is added the wine might well have an ... interesting aroma when first opened—the kind of "interesting aroma" that bears more than a passing resemblance to rotten eggs. Contact with the air may have helped to remove the smell, so decanting wine may once have been a way of removing unwelcome odors, as well as getting rid of the sediment that built up in the bottom of bottles.

It’s also possible that the concept springs from the early 1860s, when Emperor Napoleon III asked Louis Pasteur to investigate why so much French wine was spoiling in transit. Pasteur published his results, which concluded that wine coming into contact with air led to the growth of bacteria, thus ruining the vino. However, small amounts of air improved the flavor of the wine by "aging" it. In bottles, with a cork stopper, the wine still came into contact with a small amount of oxygen, and by storing it for years the wine was thought to develop a deeper flavor.

However, how much of that actually matters today?

Many experts agree that there is no point in simply pulling out the cork and letting the wine sit in an open bottle for any period of time; the wine won’t come into enough contact with oxygen to make any difference to the taste.

However, decanting wine might still be a useful activity. The truth is this: It entirely depends on the wine.

Nowadays we don’t really age wine anymore; we make it with the aim of drinking it quickly, within a year or so. But some types of wine that are rich in tannins (compounds that come from the grape skins and seeds) can benefit from a period of time in a decanter, to soften the astringent taste. These include wines from Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley, for instance.

If you really want to know if a particular wine would benefit from being given time to breathe, try your own experiment at home. Buy two bottles, decant one, and let it breathe for an hour. Do you notice a difference in the taste? Even if you don’t, it's an experiment that justifies opening two bottles of wine.

One word of warning: No matter where a wine comes from, it is possible to overexpose it to oxygen. So remember Pasteur’s experiments and don’t leave your wine out of the bottle for days. That, friends, would be one hell of a waste.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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A Beer From the Middle Ages Is Making a Serious Comeback

Hop-forward beer is all the rage today, but in the middle ages many imbibers preferred brews that skewed towards the sweeter side. Now, centuries after it fell out of fashion, Atlas Obscura reports that gruit ale is making a comeback.

Gruit beer is any beer that features botanicals in place of hops. The ingredients that give the drink its distinctive sweet, aromatic taste can be as familiar as ginger and lavender or as exotic as mugwort and seabuckthorn. The herbs play the role of hops by both adding complex flavors and creating an inhospitable environment for harmful microbes.

It may be hard for modern beer lovers to imagine beer without hops, but prior to the 16th century gruit was as common in parts of Europe as IPAs are in hip American cities today. Then, in 1516, that style of beer suddenly vanished from pint glasses: That was the year Germany passed a beer purity law that restricted beer formulas to hops, water, and barley. Many of the key botanicals in gruit beer were considered aphrodisiacs at the time, and the rising Puritan movement helped push the brew further into obscurity.

Hops have dominated the beer scene ever since, and only in the past few decades have microbrewers started giving old gruit recipes the attention they're due. In 2017, the Scratch Brewing Company in Illinois released their seasonal Scratch Tonic, made from a combination of dandelion, carrot tops, clover, and ginger. The Põhjala Brewery in Estonia brews their Laugas beer using Estonian herbs, caraway, and juniper berries. Get in touch with your local microbrewery to see if they have their own version of the old-school beer in their line-up.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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