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Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017


As a pretty vocal martini enthusiast I am frequently asked two questions: What's my favorite brand of vodka or gin; and whether I prefer my martinis "shaken, or stirred". The brandi is a difficult question given the variety available on the market today, but my preference generally goes to the crisper and less oily varieties: Tito's is my go-to, and barring that it's usually Stoli given its ubiquity on most pub lists. 

But other brands, less commonly found on the menu, are also favorites: 7000', Hanger1, Ultimat, Tahoe Blue, Vox, Belvedere and Svedka for vodka. I like to experiment with local brands and regional favorites as they are found. My gin choices are more limited to Bombay, Tanqueray and New Amsterdam.

And as to whether I'm a "shaken or stirred" man, well, that's not as easily defined. Yes, there's the whole James Bond thing, but the question is a legitimate one. And my answer might surprise you.

But first, a diversion.

As with many things, the delight of a well-made martini is only partially in the tasting. The overall experience, from beginning to end, is part of a martini's allure. Ordering, with specifications as to "up" or on the rocks, with olives or a twist of lemon (or even lime), specifying a particular brand -- with the corresponding "what is the house vodka/gin?". It's all part of the dance to getting the best overall experience. From the sound of the shaker, to the delivery of the drink to the table (usually spilled), the first sip and the final act of eating the olives, the martini is both a drink and an experience.

Unshaken martini at SHARP'S ROASTHOUSE
The Bond films, of course, have given the world the shaken vodka martini. It wasn't invented by them...and isn't even the drink author Ian Fleming assigned his super-spy in the novels. But the movies popularized the drink and sent millions of consumers into their neighborhood pubs asking for their drink to be shaken, not stirred. 

In truth, most vodka and gin enthusiasts agree that stirring is a far more effective and correct method to mixing the vodka/gin with vermouth and ice. It creates a smoother blend and generally makes for a more sippable product. So I must prefer my martini to be stirred, and not shaken.

Not so fast.

In my travels I've consumed a lot of martinis and encountered a number of variations on the theme. Two stand out in my mind as delivering smooth and deliciously cold drinks without a lot of shaking or stirring. Chandlers, in Boise, Idaho, has a justifiably famous 10 Minute Martini, which sits in the freezer for that amount of time to congeal versus be beaten into submission. The time spent in the freezer allows the elements of the drink to come together naturally and gently. giving the finished product a smooth and natural flavor.

Likewise, Sharp's Roasthouse, next to SeaTac airport in Washington, uses the undramatic but terrific method of pouring ice-cold liquor into a shaker with ice, which is then taken straight to the table and poured - without the shake. The tie it takes the waiter/waitress to deliver the drink is sufficient to mix enough water with the alcohol to smooth over the rough edges. Then they spritz the glass with vermouth rather than combine it in the shaker.

The flaw here, of course, is the lack of drama. One of the above-referenced sensory events in ordering a martini isn't just the taste, but the sound of the drink being shaken right before delivery to the table. In most cases it's from the bartender's efforts behind the bar. The sound of a shaker has, on the martini drinker, the same effect as the sound of a blender does for those who like margaritas or daiquiris.

So it's all part of the sensory experience of a drink before it even arrives at the table. 

So I must prefer my drink shaken, right?

Not quite.

As in all things: it depends.

So let me share my absolute preferred way to mix a perfect martini. It lacks the drama and show of a shaken drink, and has a bit more smoothness than even the stirred martini.

But boy does it ever make the perfect martini.

(From my book, CHASING MARTINIS.)


6 oz* VODKA or GIN (pre-chilled in the freezer)
Chilled martini glass
Fill ice in martini shaker.
Pour chilled Vodka into shaker.
Do not shake.
Carry shaker, glass
and spritzer to table
Spritz glass twice with Vermouth
Cover shaker wth Hawthorne Strainer
Pour Vodka gently into glass
Garnish with Blue Cheese olives
Let sit for two minutes

* My friends have voiced the opinion that 6 ounces of vodka or gin is a very strong martini, and they're right. Drink size has increased significantly since the vaunted days of the "three martini lunch". Caveat emptor.

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