Just Build Your Martini on the Rocks

Photo: Claire Lower
Photo: Claire Lower

Most people — even people who know relatively nothing about cocktails — know what a martini is supposed to look like. It is supposed to be served up (without ice) in a stemmed glass with sloped sides. There should also be a lemon twist or an olive in there. It is known. But iconic as it is, that version of that drink is not refreshing. A glass full of icy gin and vermouth? That’s actually pretty refreshing.

This, of course, flies in the face of most of the things I have said about martinis but, much like erratic Portland summers, my mind and moods are known to fluctuate rapidly and without warning. (I’d also argue that once you know the rules, you are entitled to break them.)

If you don’t trust me, that’s fine: Listen to the discerning and serious cocktail voices at PUNCH, who are also fans of the martini-on-the-rocks. According to them, the drink is a retro classic — think Don Draper at a garden party — and the reasoning behind it is sound:

Ice, of course, makes things cold, and a Martini on the rocks is going to stay chilly longer than one served straight up. As Seagram’s crowed in a 1960 ad, “Who said the Martini isn’t a summer drink? Our good host above makes a martini-on-the-rocks that tastes fresh and frosty when it’s 90 degrees in the shade!”

Detractors will point out that ice, while keeping the cocktail cool, also dilutes the drink at a perilous rate. Yet, this, too, was considered an advantage at the time.

“They didn’t get you too drunk,” said Adam Platt, talking of his father’s usual, “a useful thing for a diplomat, which was his profession.”

Plus, it’s just easier to make. You don’t have to mess with a stirring glass and you don’t have to worry about nailing that perfect dilution point. Just toss it in a tumbler with some ice and let the frozen water do its job. This strategy works well with any kind of martini, but I like mine of the drier side, since there is a bit more dilution. (Though I will note that a martini-on-the-rocks is a little easier to guzzle than one served up, so it doesn’t always have the time to dilute that much.)

To make a martini-on-the-rocks, you will need:

  • 75mL ounces of your favourite gin
  • 30mL dry vermouth
  • Cracked ice

Fill a lowball with cracked ice and add your gin and vermouth. Give it a little stir, garnish with an olive or twist, and you’re done. Drink and repeat as needed, until summer is over. (These martinis are great at an outdoor BBQ, but they also make a fantastic bathtub beverage, what with the hot water and all.)

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