I saw a great comment on how to make a good martini from Taffyg2003, posted as a reply to a question era_02_1983 asked on the 360 review. Since I’m not a martini drinker and I rarely talk about martinis, I thought Taffyg2003’s comments would be helpful to everyone. So, I’m cross-posting his thoughts below for everyone to read.
To answer your question regarding how to make and taste a martini, I will start with a description of the basic ingredients. Historically, a martini is a cocktail that is typically 3 parts gin to 1 part dry vermouth and garnished with a lemon zest slice. Often, it is garnished with 3 olives instead, as I prefer. In recent years, vodka has become an alternative to gin, and dryer cocktails using less vermouth have come into vogue. My preference is a very dry vodka martini garnished with 3 olives. The ingredients can be stirred or shaken, which I prefer due to a softening of the intensity of the cocktail’s flavor.
In evaluating a vodka martini, I look for a few aspects of the drink’s expressions. Since the majority of the cocktail is made of vodka, it is mainly the vodka that influences the results. First, I sniff the aroma to get a sense of the balance and quality of its ingredients. Then, I sip the martini to determine its initial flavor characteristics. I look for a sip that is mildly bittersweet with a fairly mellow assertiveness. Next, I get a sense of the vodka’s smoothness as the sip flows toward the back of my mouth. Then, upon swallowing the cocktail, I evaluate how much of a bite/burn the vodka exhibits. I like a vodka that imparts only a mild bite rather than a strong or nearly absent one. This leads to a pleasant, almost mint-like, cooling effect. Finally, I assess the aftertaste. I tend to enjoy a vodka martini that has a lingering mild bittersweet aftertaste; something by which to remember the enjoyable sip. I suppose that one additional aspect of the cocktail that I notice is if the martini’s pleasant characteristics remain consistent from the first to the last sip. Unfortunately, some martinis, including some that I make at home, tend to emphasize the less enjoyable vermouth flavors in the final few sips.
Based on your comments, you may have already read that my favorite vodka, especially for martinis, is Crystal Head, though 360 is also quite good and a fair amount less expensive, too. If you get a chance, give it a try. If you haven’t had much experience with vodka martinis, give a few a try in order to get a sense for how different they can taste based upon the ingredients used and their mixed proportions.