A dry martini doesn't mean "keep the vermouth locked up in the cupboard." Set your dry vermouth free.

Classic Martini with Olive
Classic Martini with Olive | Photo by Meredith

In the world of cocktails, there are rules, folks. Very serious rules, often conflicting. And the arguments surrounding them are vicious — primarily because the stakes are so incredibly small, as someone once said about something else entirely.

Take the martini. A mere three-ingredient (including ice) cocktail, the martini nevertheless arrives with some rigorous rules and regulations, covering the amount vermouth allowed in the cocktail and whether the cocktail should be shaken or stirred.

You see, for many martini purists, vermouth is uncouth. Or practically so. To make a proper dry martini, a thimble's worth of vermouth is almost too much. For those without a sewing kit, it's acceptable to rinse out the glass with vermouth, shaking the excess vermouth into the sink; the "legs" that run down the glass will distinguish your cocktail from a chilled glass of gin.

Credit: Ken

Less is often more, it's true. And over time, being stingy with the vermouth could be a cost-savings measure. But let's face it, there is no disgrace in ignoring this rule and being more generous with the vermouth. After all, the rule is based on a misunderstanding of what "dry" means.

Dry does not mean "keep the vermouth in the cupboard." Here, as with wine, the opposite of dry isn't wet; the opposite of dry is sweet. And a dry martini is, essentially, a martini with dry not sweet vermouth in it.

At any rate, in pursuit of my own personal perfect martini, I've gone from one extreme to the next where the vermouth is concerned, from the austere — rinsing out the glass with vermouth (swirl and dump) — to the extravagant: using equal measures of vermouth as gin (which is way too much vermouth for my tastes).

From this extreme of equal parts, I gradually pulled back on the vermouth by slight measures until I hit it just right. Unfortunately, I can't tell you what that perfect amount is. There's this nick on my shot glass, and I fill the vermouth to the top of that nick. My science is not exactly exact.

Bottom Line: Practice makes perfect. If you prefer a little more dry vermouth in the mix, go for it. It's not the wrong way to make a martini. Five-to-1, 4-to-1, 3-to-1...preference is a personal thing. Everybody's gotta find his own nick.

A few martini recipes to fiddle around with:

Check out our collection of Cocktail Recipes.