Die-hard martini fans, look away now…
This sounds like a very glamorous, American thing to order at a bar: “I’ll take a martini on the rocks“.
Conversely, it is a very uncommon thing to say in the United Kingdom.
Us Brits tend not to say “on the rocks” for fear of sounding affected. With the exception of obvious drinks such as spirits and mixers (which normally come with ice as standard), we will otherwise simply ask for a drink then ask the bar tender to put ice in it. Our eloquence may know no bounds in our literature, but when it comes to alcohol we tend to prefer clear concision and direct instruction; no bullshit – and certainly no risk of ballsing up the drinks order with potentially confusing idioms.
If I asked for “a martini on the rocks” I would also be very concerned that I might receive a glass of straight vermouth topped up with ice cubes. This has definitely happened in the past, and while not necessarily unpleasant for many people, it would likely disappoint a gin-fiend waiting for their martini fix (you know who you are – and we’re all friends here).
This kind of vermouth calamity can sometimes happen simply when you order a martini without any mention of it being on the rocks – continental Europe take note! Presumably the bar tender merely thought you were referring to the Martini brand of vermouth, rather than the life-altering, semi-spiritual cocktail that we have all come to love.
But back to this martini variation – the one with ice cubes.
The two main points that separate a martini on the rocks from a classic martini are obvious but fundamental: temperature and texture. Yes it’s just ice we’re adding, but it changes everything.
I have frequently discussed the importance of temperature when making a martini.
If the gin or vodka has been stored in the freezer it shouldn’t be necessary to add ice to the drink at any stage of its production. I don’t shake or stir my martinis with ice if the alcohol has been sufficiently chilled already. This makes it very easy to rustle up a couple of them at very short notice and they taste – in my humble opinion – the best.
The other crucial aspect of a martini is texture. A martini made with gin from the freezer has an almost irreplaceable texture – like cold, almost crystallised oil.
A normal martini stirred with ice is lighter, not usually as cold, but still smooth.
A martini shaken with ice – perhaps the most famous variation – is also lighter, fresher even, sometimes with tiny flecks of ice that gradually melt as you sip. However, I don’t think it’s as magically intoxicating (in a literary sense as well as a chemical one) as a martini made with freezer-gin.
One surprise is that a martini on the rocks made by pouring room temperature vermouth and gin into a glass then topping it up with ice does not taste as whole-heartedly appalling as it might sound to a die-hard martini fan. It was somewhat refreshing, if an ultimate disappointment when compared to the real-deal.
It’s therefore preferable to use vermouth from the fridge and gin from the freezer if possible – but it’s not essential.
Otherwise I would recommend that you use the same vermouth-to-gin ratio that you’re used to (guidance here).
I would also recommend adding a generous slice of lemon, rather than a lemon twist or an olive. The latter two are too astringent or savoury for this drink.
If you’re in a bit of a pickle, you don’t even need a proper V-shaped martini glass for this variation (although they are always better).
However, with the ice cubes and lemon bobbing around in the glass this version cannot rival a smooth, tranquil, classic martini.
I would recommend it only in times of emergency, when you haven’t had the chance to chill your gin in advance. Under such circumstances, it could prove a life-saving variation on the classic drink, especially at the end of the day in a hot country. Here’s looking at you, Brazil, Australia, India, the Mediterranean and others.
Otherwise, why not just have a gin and tonic? You read more about those here.