Pay Attention


Pay attention.  There aren’t too many people who will teach you how to do this correctly.  And here’s the problem: everyone’s romanticized the dry martini.  There are all kinds of clever recipes for the world’s driest martini, asking you to clink the glass against the vermouth bottle or to think about the essence of vermouth while shaking.  But let’s face it, that’s not a martini.  That’s chilled gin.  A martini has vermouth, so use it.  Are you paying attention?  Which bottle is vermouth?  Okay, yeah, you’re old enough to read, but that is sweet vermouth, see?  It’s a red wine, essentially.  You use that to make a manhattan or an old-fashioned. Only people from like Wisconsin and Minnesota drink old-fashioneds anyhow. It’s what your grandmother drinks.  No, mom’s mom.  What do you mean, what if you make a martini with sweet vermouth?  You just don’t.  Why would you? What are you, color-blind?  If you had any taste you’d toss it out after a sip.

Now son, I know you’re too young to drink a martini, but you’ll be old enough to mix them soon.  You can almost reach the icemaker, right? So you fill the shaker with ice.  Now you pour some of the DRY vermouth over it.  Both vermouths are in tall green bottles, but the dry vermouth has a green and white label, see.  The sweet’s label is red and yellow, a little black, et cetera. 

Here’s the deal, now: don’t measure it.  Okay?  Do away with those shot glasses.  The real beauty to a martini is its individuality.  Do you know what I mean by that?  Of course not.  You’ve never experienced individuality.  Tell me, what’s you favorite restaurant, son?  You see, that food is crap.  I’ve told your mother to stop bringing you there.  There is about a zillion of them and no matter which one you go to, the food is always the same.  Now how are you supposed to attach any sentiment to that food?  Okay, so now I like to eat at places like *Santo* where the chefs don’t measure.  The food doesn’t come from frozen mixes or dehydrated powders.  It’s fresh.  From whatever is in season.  So if you order the same thing twice, it will taste different.  Not terribly so, but subtlety.  So you can remember.  Every once in a while I will have the Poulet Basquaise and say, hey, this reminds me of the night I proposed to your mother.  It’s like that with a martini.  If you want them to evoke emotion you have to let them have some character.  So no measuring.  Measure by eye.  About that much.

Now the gin.  Think in terms of time, not volume.  Looking down into the shaker with the ice you can’t judge volume.  How long did you pour the vermouth?  Spend about three times as long pouring the gin.  See this?  This is Tanqueray.  Some people don’t like it.  They’ll tell you it is too piney. They’ll tell you they prefer Beefeater, or the real prudes like Bombay. It’s SUPPOSED to taste like pine.  Gin is made from juniper berries. You know what juniper is, don’t you?  A pine tree, right.  Smart boy.  Yeah, I know it sounds weird that this stuff is distilled from berries off a pine tree, but it’s an acquired taste.  You don’t like coffee either, do you? Same thing.  You’ll learn. 

Okay, now, put the top on the shaker.  Here, I’ll let you do it.  Hold on tight.  Sides are getting cold, huh?  Watch them cloud up.  Pretty amazing.  Maybe now you are starting to understand the mystique of the martini.  Now you take one of these glasses.  Let me explain the purpose of this first.  This glass is for the shaken martini.  You don’t put a martini in here and then say, gee, I’d like to put an ice cube in to keep it cool. You can add ice to a martini, but then you have to use one of these short glasses.  This is called a tub.  In movies you might hear people order drinks “on the rocks.”  That means with ice.  You can have a martini on the rocks.  No shame in that.  Use a tub, and put in some ice.  Mix it right there.  Sometimes that’s more appropriate.  Is it a backyard barbeque on a warm day?  Or, here … hold this.  Awkward, right?  So if you’re in a crowded party, walking around, maybe a tub would be easier to handle.

You see, this is what I am trying to hammer home.  Do you understand me, son?  My dad never told me this and I regret it.  It’s the little stuff that matters.  That’s my message here.  A good martini is made or broken by the mix and by being in the right glass for the right occasion.  Little things matter, see?  Everything has its place.  Don’t think the martini glass makes the martini.  Sometimes the tub is the way to go, right.  Like when?  Don’t tell me you don’t remember.  I just explained it.  

Martin Brick is pursuing a Ph.D. in British literature at Marquette University. He is currently constructing a matrix of inter-related short-shorts and character sketches (of which Pay Attention is a part). Other parts of this project have been published in Sou'Wester, The Shore, The Circle, The Journal of Modern Post, Perfectland, and other places.