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What I Learned From Making A Martini For The First Time

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Ah, the James Bond cliche: “Shaken, not stirred.”

It’s always the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of a vodka martini.

I have to admit, I had never tried a martini before this experience. It always sounded like the drink of someone more sophisticated than myself — a cool uncle, or even the CEO of a company. Not a twenty-something fast food writer in a pizza-themed T-shirt and shorts.

Before I get into how a single beverage changed my outlook on ordering drinks, here are the basics of a vodka martini:

The cocktail features a brand of vodka and vermouth (an aromatized wine), some olive juice (or pearl onions in brine), and a twist of a citrus peel. The components are then chilled and combined either by shaking or stirring it.

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On a recent trip to Sweden, I got to visit a gorgeous town called Ahus, a town most likely known best for its Absolut Elyx vodka distillery. I got to tour the distillery myself while there, during which, I was led to a copper room where master bartender Nick Strangeway made me a martini.

It was my first martini and it was kinda awesome.

Before this trip, I was pretty much a beer kind of guy. Give me a nice, cold pale lager with some hot wings and I’m a happy dude. Heck, I’ll even try a few simple cocktails you’d find at the bar of a restaurant chain if I was in the mood. The point was, I preferred drinks that were straightforward and easy to order.

I never had to customize a drink order before, like I did with a vodka martini.

Do I have it shaken? Will I like it stirred? What kind of vermouth would I use? Cocktail onions or olives? Lemon or orange twist?

Those questions led to the beauty of making my first martini. It could be anything I wanted, according to Nick.

He then asked me to come up to the bar and make my own.

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After a quick tutorial and a brief introduction to the ingredients, I was then diving headfirst into my inaugural attempt at making a martini .

Before starting, I sniffed my way through a collection of vermouths. Always being drawn to the fruitier notes, I picked Lillet.

It was a whirlwind at first, trying to remember all the steps I had decided were simple enough to follow during the introduction. I took a breath and played it through it in my head. Here we go:

One part ice, one part Absolut Elyx, a bit of vermouth, let’s get some olive juice in there, and we’re gonna finish with an orange twist. Finally, garnish with the olive.

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I stared down at the martini I made with my own to hands. Picking it up, my stomach was in the same knots I got from getting a test back in elementary school. In the moment of truth, I put the glass up to my lips and took a sip.

Holy shit. It wasn’t bad.

As I finished my cocktail, a wave of relief rushed through my being. I was unfettered from the notion that only ruggedly handsome spies and movie stars are allowed to drink martinis.

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What I learned from making my first one was that it wasn’t as intimidating as I thought it would be and I wasn’t limited to a single way to make the cocktail. Now, I wouldn’t have to confine myself to novelty drinks and beer just to stay in my comfort zone.

Consequently, the next time I go out, I can confidently order the drink; exactly the way I like it, and sound much cooler than I actually am.