How A Vodka Martini Allows The Flavors Of Vermouth To Shine

Cocktail purists may claim the only true martini cocktail is one made from gin and vermouth, according to Kegworks. But their logic may be flawed. You see, when the word "cocktail" first came into use, it referred to a libation composed of four elements: alcohol, water, sugar, and bitters. As Esquire explains, the very first written reference to the word appeared in 1806 in conjunction with a recipe for an Old Fashioned, for which the alcohol was whiskey, the water — a splash of soda, the sugar — a sugar cube, and the bitters being Angostura. The martini, it goes without saying, is a mix of just two alcohols. 

If martinis aren't cocktails, then perhaps cocktail purists might consider making room for vodka as a viable martini alternative. Indeed, plenty of martini fans have done just that. The notion that a martini might be made with vodka, as opposed to gin, made a strong debut in 1948's seminal "The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks" by David Embury, as Grey Goose points out. Then Ian Fleming's 1958 best-selling, "Dr. No," very prominently namechecked the vodka martini, which then went on to make its own major motion picture debut in 1962 — in the movie by the same name, aka, the first James Bond film, ever. 

Cocktail purism aside, there is, nevertheless, a theory held by several modern mixologists — that the vodka martini allows the complex flavors of the vermouth to shine in a way a gin martini cannot. 

Vermouth is your martini's mixer

When Alton Brown makes a dirty martini, he favors vodka, as he notes in an episode of "Quarantine Kitchen" (via YouTube). The reason? Vodka is flavorless, thereby spotlighting the mixer — in that case, brine. Similarly, you won't see a Cosmopolitan made with gin because a Cosmo is meant to deliver the fruity flavors of its mixers through a pleasant but flavorless alcohol burn. And what base alcohol permits that better than vodka? 

Accordingly, if you regard a martini as a cocktail in which vermouth is the mixer, then shouldn't it stand to reason that a vodka martini allows said mixer's flavors to shine better than one made from gin — which is prized for its assertive botanicals? Not that there's anything wrong with a martini that leans on its botanicals, per Decanter. But vermouths, which come in different varieties, may boast an array of complex, often unexpected flavors, including rosemary, cinnamon, saffron, ginger, wormwood, citrus peel, cardamom, coriander, and chamomile. 

Vodka can lengthen and enhance these flavors in a way gin cannot mixology expert Jon Howard told Liquor. "Vodka allows you to present vermouth in a more poignant way," Howard explained. "It's not just botanical-on-botanical." Moreover, as Wine Enthusiast notes, vodka's neutral profile offers an opportunity for the more adventurous martini drinker (could that be you?) to more fully appreciate some of the more assertively flavored vermouths out there, including some of the shining stars in our roundup of the ten best vermouths