Martini Showdown: Gin Versus Vodka

Anyone else feel like they need a stiff drink? I think we can all agree that nothing quite cuts the mustard like an ice cold martini served in a frosted glass. But, with so many ways to serve, herein begs the question: gin or vodka?

The Gin Martini

It is a challenge to make it through a cocktail article without harkening back to the likes of mixed drinks “founding” father, Jerry Thomas, who purportedly created the “martinez”. While it is likely he repurposed the recipe from another bartender, the original recipe printed in his famous Bartender’s Guide utilizes old Tom gin, sweet vermouth, maraschino liqueur, a dash of bitters and a lemon twist. His story is that the Martinez was first concocted at San Francisco’s Occidental Hotel for thirsty tourists heading down the coast to Martinez, California.

Bombay Sapphire Gin Martini Recipe 2 oz Bombay Sapphire 0.33 oz Martini dry vermouth Lemon twist Stir in metal for optimal chill, strain into a martini glass straight from the freezer. Express the oils of the lemon over the drink, then add garnish.

The boozier riff we know and love today was, again allegedly, invented by the aptly named Martini di Taggia, who was crafting a drink for none other than billionaire John D. Rockefeller. If there is one thing Succession taught us it is that billionaires like their booze, so this likely tracks. The original recipe for the high ABV swill was said to be an equal parts gin to dry vermouth concoction. These days the ratio of gin to vermouth for a perfect serve is hotly debated, but most agree that the pendulum has swung in favour of a more booze-forward drink. Why? Well, perhaps in part due to maniacs like Sir Winston Churchill who, in lieu of actually using any aromatized fortified wine in his blend, reportedly drank a chilly glass of straight gin wafted vaguely in the direction of France or Italy, the homelands of good vermouth. It’s still the drink of choice for the discerning man today — Ghostbusters director Paul Feig gave us the inside scoop on his custom gin martini.

Bombay sapphire gin next to a cup full of ice

Our only advice when crafting the perfect gin martini is to use a premium bottle, like Bombay Sapphire. Why? Well if one is consuming such a high volume of the spirit, it ought to taste good. Bombay Sapphire famously vapour infused their gin with 10 sustainably sourced botanicals, resulting in a crisp, vibrant, and delicious gin.

The Vodka Martini

The first vodka martini recipe duly appeared in Ted Saucier’s evocatively named Bottoms Up book in 1951, but how exactly did vodka even enter the chat in the first place? Well typically we humans have always been a sucker for a trend. One minute gin is in, the next moment it is out, and then you blink and it’s back again — it’s exhausting. Long story short, around the 1950s imbibers were no longer vibing on juniper forward spirits as much as they once had been, opting instead for the more “neutral” flavour of vodka.

Grey Goose Vodka Martini Recipe
2 oz Grey Goose
0.33 oz Noilly Prat Original Dry Vermouth
A dash of orange bitters
Grapefruit twist
Stir in metal for optimal chill, strain into a frosted martini glass. Express the oils of the grapefruit over the drink, then add garnish.

Liquor aficionados will of course already know this, but gin is simply a botanically infused vodka. Some drinkers to this day prefer a vodka martini purely because they enjoy a smoother, silkier, less aromatic drinking experience. To that note, there are plenty of premium vodkas that make for an excellent martini, our favourite being Grey Goose for its velvety finish. Crafted in France with soft winter wheat and spring water from the Gensac, a Grey Goose martini is, of course, best served with a French vermouth for the ultimate expérience française.

The Vesper

Vesper Gin vs Vodka Martini 3-2024 1

Okay, so what about a martini that includes both gin AND vodka? James Bond set a trend of his own in 1953 when author Ian Flemming described the international man of mystery’s favourite cocktail amid the pages of Casino Royale. The concoction — one of many Bond-inspired boozes — is composed of the two spirits in compendium with Kina Lillet, was named Vesper after a hot babe Bond met at the bar. Classic. Regretfully for lust-struck Bond, Lynd Vesper turns out to be a double agent who breaks his heart. After her untimely demise, the book ends with the simple but cutting sentence:  “the bitch is dead now”. It hurts to hurt, right? Regardless, her legend lives on in the now iconic drink.

Shaken, Not Stirred?

There are a lot of people who are all up in their feelings about the “proper” way to build a martini. While it is commonly acknowledged that traditional martinis are stirred, the Vesper is an example of a shaken variant, and the subject of Bond’s most famous quote.

bartender shaking a cocktail: gin vs vodka martini

What is the difference and why does it matter? Dilution and texture.  Stirring creates a silky smooth finish with less dilution and a shaken variation would be significantly colder, more watered-down and cloudy, due to tiny air bubbles created by the vigorous act of shaking. Like most things, the serve comes down to personal preference, with most opting for the finesse of a stirred drink.

Getting Dirty…

Unlike most classics, very few people agree on the “correct” way to deliver a martini. While it is likely the original garnish was a lemon “twist”, many people find savoury olive notes a pleasing flavour pairing, with some choosing to go the extra mile and add a bar spoon of brine to make it a “dirty” martini… meanwhile if one opts for a tiny onion then the whole drink becomes a Gibson. Once again, it all comes down to preference.

shaken vs stirred Gin vs Vodka Martini 3-2024 1

What Would Bowie Do?

Good question, and arguably an ethos to live by.  It is frequently said that the late, great Starman’s favourite cocktail was a Bombay Sapphire martini, made in the 4:1 ratio, stirred, and served with an olive.

 Cheers, Thin White Duke! As ever, your taste was impeccable. 

David Bowie hollywood star

Gin vs Vodka Martini: The Ultimate Showdown

Traditionalists and Ziggy Stardust enthusiasts may be tempted to declare a victory for gin, but if the ever-adapting history of the so-called classic is anything to go by, it really is anyone’s game. Like vodka? Great! Prefer gin? Cool!  Whatever you do, as it is the base spirit that drives this cocktail, it is important to pick a great one. Other than that, the world really is your oyster. Oysters, coincidentally, just so happen to be an impeccable pairing with a martini. Cheers!