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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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Courtesy New District
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Food
Say ‘Cheers’ to the Holidays With This 24-Bottle Wine Advent Calendar
Courtesy New District
Courtesy New District

This year, eschew your one-tiny-chocolate-a-day Advent calendar and count down to Christmas the boozy way. An article on the Georgia Straight tipped us off to New District’s annual wine Advent calendars, featuring 24 full-size bottles.

Each bottle of red, white, or sparkling wine is hand-picked by the company’s wine director, with selections from nine different countries. Should you be super picky, you can even order yourself a custom calendar, though that will likely add to the already-high price point. The basic 24-bottle order costs $999 (in Canadian dollars), and if you want to upgrade from cardboard boxes to pine, that will run you $100 more.

If you can’t quite handle 24 bottles (or $999), the company is introducing a 12-bottle version this year, too. For $500, you get 12 reds, whites, rosés, and sparkling wines from various unnamed “elite wine regions.”

With both products, each bottle is numbered, so you know exactly what you should be drinking every day if you really want to be a stickler for the Advent schedule. Whether you opt for 12 or 24 bottles, the price works out to about $42 per bottle, which is somewhere in between the “I buy all my wines based on what’s on sale at Trader Joe’s” level and “I am a master sommelier” status.

If you want to drink yourself through the holiday season, act now. To make sure you receive your shipment before December 1, you’ll need to order by November 20. Get it here.

[h/t the Georgia Straight]

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Wally Gobetz, flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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Food
A Brief History of the Pickleback Shot
Wally Gobetz, flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Wally Gobetz, flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It's sour. It's briny. For some, it's nauseating. For others, a godsend.

It's the pickleback shot, an unusual combination of drinking whiskey and pickle brine that has quickly become a bartending staple. Case in point? Kelly Lewis, manager of New York City's popular Crocodile Lounge, estimates she sells at least 100 pickleback shots every week.

Pickleback loyalists may swear by it, but how did this peculiar pairing make its way into cocktail culture? On today's National Pickle Day, we hit the liquor history books to find out.

PICKLEBACK HISTORY, AS WE KNOW IT

As internet legend has it, Reggie Cunningham, a former employee of Brooklyn dive bar Bushwick Country Club, invented the shot in March 2006. He was half bartending, half nursing a hangover with McClure's pickles, when a customer challenged him to join her in doing a shot of Old Crow bourbon whiskey followed by a shot of pickle juice as a chaser. As he nostalgically tells YouTube channel Awesome Dreams, "the rest is history."

Cunningham went on to introduce the pairing to more and more customers, and the demand grew so much that he decided to charge an extra dollar per shot, just for the addition of pickle brine. After that, the mixture spread like wildfire, with bars across the world from New York to California and China to Amsterdam adding "pickleback" to their menus.

THE PICKLEBACK'S UNCLEAR ORIGIN

Two shot glasses topped with small pickles.

Neil Conway, flickr // CC BY 2.0

Sure, Cunningham may have named it the pickleback shot, but after reviewing mixed reports, it appears pickle juice as a chaser is hardly novel. In Texas, for example, pickle brine was paired with tequila well before Cunningham's discovery, according to Men’s Journal. And in Russia, pickles have long been used to follow vodka shots, according to an NPR report on traditional Russian cuisine.

Unfortunately, no true, Britannica-approved record of the pickleback's origin exists, like so many do for other popular drinks, from the Manhattan to the Gin Rickey; it's internet hearsay—and in this case, Cunningham's tale is on top.

SO, WHY PICKLES?

Not sold yet? Sure, a pickle's most common companion is a sandwich, but the salty snack and its brine have terrific taste-masking powers.

"People who don't like the taste of whiskey love taking picklebacks because they completely cut the taste, which makes the shots very easy to drink," Lewis told Mental Floss. "Plus, they add a bit of salt, which blends nicely with the smooth flavor of Jameson."

Beyond taste masking, pickle juice is also a commonly used hangover cure, with the idea being that the salty brine will replenish electrolytes and reduce cramping. In fact, after a famed NFL "pickle juice game" in 2000, during which the Philadelphia Eagles destroyed the Dallas Cowboys in 109 degree weather (with the Eagles crediting their trainer for recommending they drink the sour juice throughout the game), studies have seemed to confirm that drinks with a vinegary base like pickle juice can help reduce or relieve muscle cramping.

WAYS TO PARTAKE

While core pickleback ingredients always involve, well, pickles, each bar tends to have a signature style. For example, Lewis swears by Crocodile Lounge's mix of pickle brine and Jameson; it pairs perfectly with the bar's free savory pizza served with each drink.

For Cunningham, the "Pickleback OG," it's Old Crow and brine from McClure's pickles. And on the more daring side, rather than doing a chaser shot of pickle juice, Café Sam of Pittsburgh mixes jalapeños, homemade pickle juice, and gin together for a "hot and sour martini."

If pickles and whiskey aren't up your alley, you can still get in on the pickle-liquor movement with one of the newer adaptations, including a "beet pickleback" or—gulp!—the pickled-egg and Jägermeister shot, also known as an Eggermeister.

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