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8 things you need to know: how to order a martini

November 22, 2019

Chris Anderson at Walrus Pub.
Chris Anderson makes a proper martini at the Walrus.

By Erin Henderson

The best part about classic cocktails coming back with a vengeance, is that, well, we’re all back to drinking quality, sophisticated and delicious drinks like adults.

The worst part? There’s a certain intimidation factor because that swanky Humphrey Bogart/James Bond/Ernest Hemingway vibe is really hard to pull off when you don’t what you’re doing.

Like, for the love of God, is it shaken or stirred? What the actual eff is a dry martini – isn’t it liquid? Is asking for 14 olives and a half cup of brine to be added to my cocktail elegant or adolescent?

Fear not eager imbibers. We asked Chris Anderson, bar manager at the trend-setting Toronto bars Walrus, Death & Taxes and Belfast Love for some guidance. And being the sage barkeep that comes with years working behind the wood and the smoking hot sleeve tattoos to prove it, he graciously cleared up all our embarrassing martini-ordering confusions.

BTW, at Drink Toronto we all agree that whatever and however you want drink is cool by us. We don’t care what you’re drinking, as long as you’re drinking. But if you’re looking for guidance here it is.

Shaken or stirred

On our last tour to the Walrus, our group enjoyed a lively conversation with Chris about shaken-versus-stirred and which way is the right way. And that way is stirred. Fair enough, ordering your martini stirred sounds cool in a commanding movie line uttered by a moody and mysterious fictitious spy, but martinis are made with clear spirits. Clarity is of the essence here. And shaking adds teensy air bubbles (helpful when trying to achieve a froth like you would want in a whisky sour), and can crack the ice, leaving particles to haze or cloud what is supposed to be a crystal clear and texturally smooth drink.


When the Martini was introduced in 1882, it was made with gin and vermouth. But sometime after prohibition ended, vodka started being used. Despite what purists say, it’s perfectly fine to ask for either spirit in your martini. The standard recipe is 2.5 ounces of gin or vodka to half an ounce of vermouth. Now, some will ask for their martinis with no vermouth, which is fine — it’s just not a martini. It’s just straight vodka or gin. And more power to ya, boss. But Chris says the Walrus pub sticks to the classic recipe for its dry martini: “We use a quarter ounce vermouth to two ounces of gin.”

Photo: Jamie Oliver
Photo: Jamie Oliver


Ordering your martini this way means you’re asking for much more vermouth than usual. Vermouth is technically a fortified wine, flavoured with various herbs and botanicals. When added to gin or vodka, vermouth gives the drink a little sass. Some like to punch up the flavour a smidge, and that’s why they will request a “wet” martini. It’s rumoured Julia Child liked a 5-to-1 ration of vermouth to gin in her martini, so you can see it’s a bit personal. It seems typical wet recipes range from equal parts gin to vermouth (so 1.5 ounces each), to just slightly more vermouth than the traditional half-ounce portion.

On the rocks

This is a martini in a rocks glass with ice. So don’t expect the fancy triangular coup like your martini emoji suggests.


But if you’re after that iconic, swell-looking martini glass, this is the way to go. “Up means, neat [no ice], served in a coup.”


For a drink that will really put hair on your chest, this is your game. “We rinse the glass with Scotch and then throw the excess out. We pour the martini on top of that. It gives it a little bit of oak.” And, may we suggest, fire.


It’s as hazy as a shaken martini as to how and when the gibson took hold in serious cocktail culture. But Chris says he knows he’s dealing with a pro when someone saddles up to his bar and orders one of these bad-ass classics. The recipe is the same as a classic martini, but the olives are replaced with pickled cocktail onions.


A dirty martini adds a splash of olive brine for a savoury, saline bite. But Chris assures us you’re not a novice if you add this salty flavouring to the otherwise alcohol-heavy martini. “I will say that it’s a great way to keep the night going. If you’re sitting with friends and all are drinking heavy martinis, for sure I’m getting mine dirty. It just takes a little bit longer to drink them and they go down a little bit easier.”

Bonus: Garnish

The '90s called and they want their lychee back. If cocktail swagger is what you’re after, you’ve gotta pull on your big-girl panties and let go of the fruit. Says Chris: “For our martini program we use either olives or lemon zest. With olives it’s always one or three, never two.”


Thirsty for more?

Join us on one of our Drink Tours to Toronto’s coolest restaurants and bars. Want to give the gift of good drinking and eating? Drink Toronto gift certificates are always a perfect fit.