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Posted:  |  Updated: 09/20/12 12:29 PM ET

Is Gin Or Vodka The Correct Spirit For A Martini? (GREAT DEBATE)

gin vodka martini
We love when food and booze get people really riled up. Food nerds will quite rigorously debate which is the best hot sauce, whose city has the best sandwiches and whether or not ketchup belongs on a hot dog.

But some of the most heated debates we've ever heard surrounding food have been about one of the simplest cocktails in history: the Martini. Vodka or gin? Shaken or stirred? Vermouth? Twist? Olive? We've gone back and forth with friends and foes on this issue so frequently that even our heads have started to spin.

We gathered up a few trusted resources in the spirits department and asked them to state their cases. Will gin's herbaceous complexity win you over? Vodka's clean simplicity? At the end, we should probably all enjoy a Martini together.

Join the debate below and let us know how you feel!


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Gin makes a better Martini than vodka.

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Who makes the better argument? thinks that gin is the best spirit for a Martini.

Order a Martini at many establishments (steakhouses may be the worst offenders) and you'll basically get a large glass of near-freezing vodka and, if you're lucky, an olive. Vermouth? Not even a drop.

If that's your drink of choice, then bottoms up! But please just don't call it a Martini, since it's a large glass of cold vodka. The Martini should taste like something, and the whole point of vodka is to be tasteless.

There's a reason the Martini is among the most famous cocktails in the world (and has been for more than a century), and that's not merely its ability to intoxicate. What made it known around the globe is its subtle play between gin's pleasing botanicals and the rich flavor of vermouth (dry or sweet).

More on flavor in a moment, but first, the most incontrovertible argument for the Martini being a gin cocktail -- a historical one. According to drinks historian and advisory board member David Wondrich, nobody really knows who invented the Martini, or when. But we do know that the classic recipe was already established by 1882, when it appeared in print for the first time. At that point, vodka might have been known in the United States as something Russians downed by the shot, but there was no chance you could've found any at your local bar. In fact, the first reference to vodka cocktails in this country wasn't until the early 20th century (and the spirit really didn't take off until after Prohibition).

On the other hand, gin was plentiful on our shores at the time of the Martini's birth. And its use makes sense flavor-wise as well. On a basic level, gin and vermouth are the same thing: alcohol flavored with herbs and other botanicals. This harmony creates a refreshing and complex drink. (Don't think you like gin? Try a different brand. They can vary wildly, from the juniper-heavy Beefeater to the cucumber and rose notes of Hendrick's.)

So we say ignore James Bond and Mad Men and stick with a Gin Martini. And don't even get us started on shaking versus stirring... Cheers!

Jason Baker

Jason Baker thinks that vodka is the correct spirit for a Martini.

As the advocate for the vodka Martini, I hasten to point out that I haven't got anything against gin. It makes me terribly mean, of course, and sidestepping the inconvenience of feelings is normally one of drinking's greater luxuries. And I suppose gin's vaguely imperialist aromatics of Rudyard Kipling and James Bond rub me the wrong way. Each teaspoonful contains notions of British supremacy.

I'm much more interested in American supremacy. To wit: Signing a credit card chit for an exclusive Martha Stewart Collection Martini four-pack in a Macy's basement felt positively like freedom. And let's take a look at that exemplar of glassware. The primary achievement here is to vault near-straight hooch entire inches off the surface of the bar, by way of what appears to be the nosecone of a rocket. If not for this glass, drinking Martinis would be a lot like sneaking pulls from that bottle you keep in the freezer. And vodka, when supped from the banked lip of a Martini glass, is the Twenty-First Amendment and "Puttin' on the Ritz" in liquid form.

But what has vodka got to do with America, really? Wasn't it invented by the Rooskies? Firstly, no: Vodka was first decocted in Poland, from whence hail those delectable bison grass varieties currently flooding the shelves of your local liquor shop. And it's true, America has historically sucked at producing this particular spirit. But now we've got Tito's. Award-winning and procured on the relative cheap, Tito's is made right here in river city. Meaning Texas, with which we're told, I think with justice, not to mess. Chilled, Tito's -- like the best vodkas in the world -- tastes lunar. To sip a vodka Martini is to drink the moon.

Here's how I make them. Two ounces of Tito's, the faintest rumor of dry vermouth, and a thimbleful of juice from a jar of Picholine olives. If you order a dirty Martini at your local watering hole, trust me, it will be too dirty. Obliterate all of the above in an ice shaker and strain into the glass. Lilliputian ice floes should deckle the meniscus. Picholine olives come from France, a foreign influence to be sure, but I mitigate this by sinking not one but three, reminiscent of the coffee bean trio floating in a snifter of Sambuca. Here I suspect my all-American, go-it-alone jingoism is running out of gas. I guess what I'm saying is this: As you watch the election returns this November, fix yourself a vodka Martini and vote for the Alamo. Vote for Martha Stewart and the repeal of Prohibition. Vote for the moon landing.



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Gin makes a better Martini than vodka.


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  • 1942 Martini

    Dry and refined, the Martini tends to be associated with very <em>propah</em> figures like Winston Churchill and James Bond. That's all well and good, and goes perfectly with watercress sandwiches, but if you want to inject a little New World wildness into your three-drink lunch, we suggest swapping the gin out for a nice aged <a href="">tequila</a>. Pro-tip: Stir, don't shake, and garnish with orange.<br><br><b><a href="">View recipe: 1942 Martini</a></b>

  • Cardamom Pear Martini

    The nice thing about a drink this well-designed is that it speaks for itself. From its watery chartreuse hue to the fanned-pear garnish (put "learn to fan a pear" on your weekend to-do list), this is a cocktail that has a real elegance. But the key to making it is balancing the muddled pear and simple syrup with the cardamom and bitters. Too sweet and you're in T.G.I. Friday's territory.<br><br><b><a href="">View recipe: Cardamom Pear Martini</a></b>

  • Vesper

    Named after James Bond's first female companion, Vesper Lynd (thankfully one of Ian Fleming's more subtle female sobriquets), this is the drink that gave rise to the super-spy's legendary mixological prowess. Featuring both <a href="">gin</a> and <a href="">vodka</a>, this cocktail rewards a "have it both ways" approach. Just make sure the Lillet is noticeable and the lemon garnish is robust. As in all things Bond-girl-related, tartness is key.<br><br><b><a href="">View recipe: Vesper</a></b>

  • Gibson

    Not every variation on a classic needs to claim bold new territory. Though Jimi Hendrix, for example, may have made "All Along The Watchtower" his own, Tori Amos failed to do the same for "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Sometimes, simple is best: This is a Martini with an onion in it.<br><br><b><a href="">View recipe: Gibson</a></b>

  • "Dirty Martini"

    Though we don’t mind a little brine, this clever concoction is not exactly what it seems. The delicate mixture of <a href="">Hendrick’s Gin</a>, white grape juice, simple syrup and white balsamic vinegar was an April Fool's Day recipe, but it's so tasty that we drink it year-round. Guess we should change the name.<br><br><b><a href="">View recipe: "Dirty Martini"</a></b>


Filed by Rebecca Orchant  |