8 Classic Ways to Order a Martini

A top view of a crystal clear martini casting a shadow across a white bar

Shaken or stirred, olives or lemon? This guide clears everything up. 

by Erin Henderson

The best part about classic cocktails coming back with a vengeance, is that, well, we’re all back to drinking quality, sophisticated, and delicious drinks like adults.

The worst part? There’s a certain intimidation factor because that swanky Humphrey Bogart/James Bond/Ernest Hemingway vibe is really hard to pull off when you don’t what you’re doing.

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Like, for the love of God, is it shaken or stirred? What the actual eff is a dry Martini – isn’t it liquid? Is asking for 14 olives and a half cup of brine to be added to my cocktail elegant or adolescent?

Fear not eager imbibers. I went in search of answers... all in the name of research, of course.

Years ago, I ran a fantastic drink tour company called Drink Toronto (the lockdown saw the end of that). It was during one such tour that I asked Chris Anderson, then the Bar Manager at the Bay Street hot spot Walrus for some guidance. And being the sage barkeep that comes with years working behind the wood and the smoking-hot sleeve tattoos to prove it, he graciously cleared up all our embarrassing martini-ordering confusions.

(BTW, we agree that whatever and however you want drink is cool by us. We don’t care what you’re drinking, as long as you’re drinking. But if you’re looking for clarity here it is.)

Sean Connery as James Bond pouring a vodka

Shaken or stirred?

Stirred.

Sure, it sounds sexy and cool to command your drink be made "shaken, not stirred," but in reality, martinis are made with clear spirits and you want to keep them that way. Shaking can add teensy air bubbles as well as crack the ice which clouds what is supposed to be a crystal clear, texturally smooth drink. Sorry, 007.

Dry

When the martini first came out in 1882, it was made with gin and vermouth, and technically that is still the way to make them.

Sometime after prohibition ended, vodka was introduced, and, despite what purists say, it’s perfectly fine to use either gin or vodka in your martini.

The standard recipe is 2½ ounces of gin (or vodka) to half an ounce of vermouth. Now, some will ask for their martinis with no vermouth, which is fine – it’s just not a martini. It’s straight vodka or gin, and more power to ya, boss.

Chris told me the Walrus pub sticks to the classic recipe for its dry martini. “For our standards, it means we use a quarter vermouth to two ounces of gin.”

Wet

So if you can order a martini dry, can you also order it wet? You bet, Chris assured me.

It just means ordering a martini with vermouth. Vermouth is a fortified wine, flavoured with various herbs and botanicals. When added to gin or vodka, vermouth gives the drink a little sass. Some like to punch up the flavour even more, and that’s why they will request a “wet” martini.

It seems standard recipes range from just slightly more vermouth than the standard half ounce to equal parts gin to vermouth (so 1½ ounces each).

It's rumoured Julia Child liked a 5-to-1 ratio of vermouth-to-gin in her martini, so you can see it’s a bit personal.

On the rocks

Chris said when he gets this order you can expect your martini will come in a rocks glass with ice. So don’t expect the fancy triangular coup like your martini emoji suggests.

Up

But if you’re after that iconic, swell-looking martini glass, Chris said this is the style you want to order. “Up means, neat [no ice], served in a coup.”

Burnt

For a drink that will really put hair on your chest, this is your game.

“This means we rinse the glass with scotch and then throw the excess out. We pour the martini on top of that. It gives it a little bit of oak.”

And, may I suggest, fire.

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Gibson

It’s as hazy as a shaken martini as to how and when the Gibson took hold in serious cocktail culture. But Chris said he knows he’s dealing with a pro when someone saddles up to his bar and orders one of these bad ass classics. The recipe is the same as a traditional martini, but simply replaces the olives with a pickled cocktail onion.

Dirty

A dirty martini adds a splash of olive brine for a savoury, saline bite. Chris assured me you’re not a novice if you order this salty flavouring to the otherwise alcohol-heavy martini. “I will say that it’s a great way to keep the night going. If you’re sitting with friends and all drinking heavy Martinis, for sure I’m getting mine dirty. It just takes a little bit longer to drink them and they go down a little bit easier.”

Bonus: Garnish

The 90’s called and it wants its lychee back.
If cocktail swagger is what you’re after, you’ve gotta pull on your big-girl panties and let go of the fruit. “For our martini program we use either olives or lemon zest. With olives it’s always one or three, never two.”

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