Contrary to what James Bond thinks, a true martini is made with gin. What separates gin from vodka is its characteristic botanicals. While 51% of these botanicals are comprised of juniper, the others are left up to the imagination of the distiller. There’s gin flavored with everything from rose petals to hops. These funky gins are good. They’re creative. Sometimes, they function as “gateway” gins, converting juniper haters into gin sippers. However, while non-traditional gins work in a wide array of cocktails, when it comes to the classic martini, tradition may actually be a positive thing.
A martini is a simple cocktail. All you need is dry vermouth and, of course, gin. If you’re getting dirty, a little olive brine comes into the mix. With a concoction this stark, it’s important to choose a gin that will either sit demurely beside the vermouth or tease out other flavors without demanding that they show themselves. What you don’t want to do is reach for a gin with too much look-at-me character. This will over-intensify the drink. So pick a gin that’s modest, but stated – a gentlemanly gin, if you will. Here are nine to get you started.
Plymouth is technically both a style and a brand – how’s that for pizzazz? Plymouth is remarkably gentle. It has a sweet, delicate nose and a woodsy, lemony body. You might even get a bit of cinnamon bark on the palate. The finish is quite smooth, making Plymouth ideal for the bare bones martini. If the idea of drinking a cocktail that’s basically straight liquor freaks you out, Plymouth is a great gin to start with. It’s so welcoming, the first few sips of your martini might evolve into gulps. Drink cautiously.
This is about as old timey as it gets. Savory, agreeable, and wonderfully cohesive, Bombay Sapphire is a gin that was born to hang out in a martini. While this low-key gin runs the risk of getting lost in fruitier cocktails, it rests perfectly alongside vermouth to create a balanced martini. Sapphire’s traditional botanicals (like coriander and grains of paradise) latch onto one another to make something great. Think of Sapphire as the perfect chocolate chip cookie: it seems simple, but one taste of a failed contender tells you it ain’t.
3. Citadelle BEST ON A BUDGET
If you’re at a great bar and ask for a basic gin cocktail off-menu, there’s a good shot you’ll be tasting Citadelle. This French gin is a great quality purchase. Plenty of orange and overall citrus give Citadelle a nice burst of fruitiness without being fruit forward per se. While there are some floral notes to work with here, Citadelle really straddles the line between unique and eccentric, making it a great choice for a more aromatic, flavor-packed martini. Plus, at around $25, you don’t have a lot to lose.
All right, so Euphrosine #9 isn’t exactly traditional. In fact, it’s like you took the floral notes in Citadelle and pumped them up a notch (or three). Still, there’s enough palatable sweetness to make Euphrosine #9 a happy martini gin. If you’re looking for a martini that’s on the sweeter side, reach for this NOLA-born pick from producer Atelier Vie. You’ll pick up on hibiscus, berries, and sweet iced tea. Dare we say it, there’s something rather flirtatious about Euphrosine.
5. The Botanist
Hey, here’s something from Islay that isn’t Scotch! Bruichladdich crafts this interesting gin, which is made from thirty-one botanicals, twenty-two of which are native to Islay. While that may seem like an overwhelming amount of botanicals when compared to the standard seven or eight, The Botanist holds itself together surprisingly well. This is a complex gin, with a floral nose and an herbal palate. We get chamomile, mint, and citrus zest. Because this gin is so layered, you might want to add even less vermouth than usual. When it comes to your standard martini, The Botanist will really do all the talking, and in this case, that’s okay.
6. Gin Mare
Do you prefer your martinis dirty? Then use Gin Mare. Seriously, this Spanish gin seems to be genetically engineered for a dirty martini. In a rare instance where branding fits product, Gin Mare is a Mediterranean gin made with olives, thyme, and rosemary amongst other herbs. The viscosity of the gin, combined with its garden-fresh taste, makes it the ideal spirit for a martini with just a hint of olive tartness. With this spicy yet still contained gin, you’ll feel like you’re going beyond a basic martini. Gin Mare is a great example of how a spirit can be both contemporary and classic at the same time.
Made from the gorgeous distillery at St. George’s Spirits, Terroir gin uses local Douglas fir. Unsurprisingly, Terroir gin was created as an homage to California’s natural resources. While drinking “fir” might put you off at first, it seems that the plant works to intensify the juniper, giving us a gin that has classic pine notes. This gin has a generous layer of crisp juniper bite, yet there’s a certain earthiness to it that prevents it from being too harsh or simplistic. Expect grassy notes, moss, tree sap, and of course, a heavy coat of juniper to round this all up. Like Bombay Sapphire, this gin is as solid as a California redwood.
8. Greylock BEST OVERALL
This mighty gin from Berkshire Mountain Distillers has received tons of praise – and rightfully so. Straightforward, London Dry, and clean as a whistle, Greylock is a fantastic martini gin. Spicy licorice combined with lemon peel, black pepper, and a touch of cooking spice make Greylock both approachable and complex. Greylock will add lip-smacking flavor to your martini while still boasting enough unique spiciness to make your cocktail truly special. A hint of sugar-coated juniper berry will give way to just enough sweetness to make your martini quaffable as can be. This is an A+ gin for making martinis – we guarantee your guests will be happy with this crowd-pleaser.
Named after satirical poet and general snark icon Dorothy Parker, this gin from New York Distilling Company would make Ms. Parker proud. Similar to Euphrosine #9, the floral nose is rich with hibiscus, elderflower, pear, and cranberries. The juniper peaks its head around on the blooming palate and the finish, which is zesty. While this is half a world away from Greylock, it’s perfect if you’re looking to whip up a martini that’s a little lighter, bubblier, and of course, a bit more tart – like Ms. Parker herself.