Shaken, not stirred. The words reverberate through popular culture, requiring no explanation.
But what do we like to have shaken, stirred, and ceremoniously sluiced into a martini glass, vodka or gin?
"That's an easy one," assures Frank Buchalski, manager at Martini Ranch. "Vodka outsells gin by far." Nationwide, vodka martinis outsell the more traditional gin version by more than 2-to-1--a dramatic shift from decades past and a change that rankles old-timers. Even worse, such colorful "alterna-tinis" such as the Cosmopolitan (vodka, cranberry juice, triple sec, and lime juice) dot bar menus. Martini Ranch serves everything from multicolored things to chocolate concoctions in the elegant, tall-stemmed glass. The classic martini consists of gin and dry vermouth chilled in a shaker and garnished with an olive. Today Martini Ranch stocks about 40 different vodkas versus only eight gins.
The two liquors provide distinct flavors, and vodka's newfound popularity may result from its cleaner taste. "It's more trendy," Buchalski adds, although he places himself firmly in the vodka camp. "I had a gin martini accidentally once," he says with a grimace. Gin comes largely from juniper berries, which create an unmistakable flavor. Vodka is distilled from more familiar sources--grain, sugar cane, or potatoes. "I don't like the taste of gin," says martini drinker Joseph Lednick. "Besides, James Bond does vodka martinis, so that's OK."
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Ah, Bond. You see, our obsession with style and all things Rat Packish lends martinis--and by association martini drinkers--a recognizable flair. "Obviously you look cool drinking a martini," says Chris O'Hagan, aficionado of all things alcoholic. "There's the classic art deco shape of the glass, the shaker, the presentation." The bartenders at Ciudad actually create art with their garnishes--provided you ask for a twist. "Plus," he continues, "it shows that you're a manly man because you basically drink straight grain alcohol." By contrast, simply pounding shots of vodka makes you look like a mere drunk.
Even ordering becomes an art form. "They order martinis up, slightly shaken, very dirty, a little dry, or whatever. People are very particular," Buchalski reports. "I like Ketel One martinis, slightly dirty," O'Hagan says. Concern over shaking and stirring comes from an old myth that violent turns in a shaker would bruise the gin, as if crushing the juniper berries, running the liquid through tubes, and dumping the finished product in a bottle left the delicate spirits unharmed.
Trendy or not, martinis inspire loyalty (vodka or gin), stealth (a detective invented a bugged martini glass), and even poetry. Yes, in praise of the perfect martini, Dorothy Parker wrote, "I like to have one martini/two at the very most/after three I'm under the table/after four I'm under my host."
She didn't mention a preference for vodka or gin.