Earlier this month Bitter Lawyer had a post explaining "How to Make a Great Martini." For the most part the advice is pretty decent. If I were grading, I'd give it a 96. And you know what a 96 is?
96% is dead, bitch. Let's go over the three big mistakes made by Bitter Bartender.
Now, pour two ounces (two small jiggers, or a little more than one shot) of good dry gin or vodka into a cocktail shaker or glass pitcher filled with ice.
You don't end up with a lampshade on your head taking your martinis in 2 ounce portions. The minimum you should go with is a 3 ounce pour, though most martini glasses are designed to hold 4 ounces, and nature abhors a vacuum.
Also, never never never put 2 ounces of liquor into a pitcher filled with ice. You can make pitchers of martinis, and that's fine, but that's a pitcher of martinis, not a single martini being chilled with enough ice to sink the Titanic. The huge surface area of the ice means it will take a long time to pour the gin out, and you're going to get more water than liquor by the time you're finished.
If you choose vodka, use the best (read: most expensive) stuff you can get. If you choose gin, use a dry gin. Skip the Tanquerray and Bombay Sapphire. Those are fine for gin and tonics, but not much else. Beefeater is fine for a gin martini, although there are plenty of fancier options.
Beefeater is your efficiency gin. It's 94 proof, runs about $17 for a 750ml, and really is just fine for a martini. With the higher proof, just make sure you chill it a bit more to compensate, and you might want to go with a 3:1 vermouth ratio to balance.
Since Bitter Bartender didn't go in to the "fancier options," I will. Plymouth really should be the gin you reach for. It's still quite economical, coming in at about $26 per 750, and the increase in quality outpaces the rise in price. It also happens to be the gin of choice of Winston Churchill, and the man knew his martinis.
The other big player you need to know is Hendrick's. It loses a bit in the value department, coming in around $33, and really it's only on par with Plymouth. It's simply a different gin, featuring notes of cucumber over the other aromatics. This should be more your occasional change-up than your go-to drink.
Moving on to the vodka, picking the most expensive thing you can buy is just about the dumbest way of choosing your liquor. Maybe 20 years ago this was true, where price and quality really did match, but any wine drinker will gladly point out that these days production and distribution are so developed that the whole pricing model has been turned on its head.
If you reach for the top shelf at most places, you're going to get served something like Ketel One or Grey Goose. Both will run you over $30 for a 750, and are pretty mediocre in quality. Not just not worth the price, but really not ever worth buying. Stay away from them, along with Stoli and Absolut.
Instead you want to go with either of two American vodkas, Tito's and Rain. The established European brands have long hand a philosophy of filtering out all the flavor. The American brands are made with the philosophy that vodka can taste good. Tito's, coming out of Texas, isn't the highest quality. Like Beefeater, it's a workhorse, and it has the price to match, weighing in around $20 (prices really can vary here since it's not too widely distributed). The flavor is just fine for a martini, with a little bit of a sweet note from its corn base. Rain, a product of Frankfort, Kentucky, will only cost you a few dollars more, and the quality really is top notch. You have to get into ultra-premium brands like Double Cross before you can find something better.
If your friends are a bit boorish (the type who will say to grab the most expensive bottle of vodka that you can) then you might want to ditch your bottles of Tito's and Rain. Not the alcohol though, just the bottles. Rain has a gimmicky rain drop shape, and Tito's says "Texas" on it. Get yourself a nice decanter to fancy up your vodka. That's a better investment than high priced flavorless swill.
Enough about the liquor, on to Bitter Bartender's next mistake:
Now, stir — don’t shake — the booze. If you have a glass stirrer handy, use that, being careful not to touch the sides. I usually just swirl the ice and liquor around gently. Either way, keep going until there is a good frost on the outside of the container, then strain the cold liquor into the glass.
This is a point of major contention among martini enthusiasts. Shaking does three things. First, it chills your liquor a lot more. Second, it produces ice shards. Third, it bruises the gin (vodka does not bruise).
Let's start with the last point, the bruising. In the comments, Bitter Bartender does note that this is why gin is stirred. However, bruising gin isn't the worst of all things; it's a slight change in flavor. Stirring is still preferable, but keep in mind that your gin won't get as cold. That may be a problem if you're drinking Beefeater.
And that gets us to the first point. If your liquor is of lower quality, or you're just not used to drinking martinis, you'll want your drink as cold as you can get it. Stirring will never get the liquor as cold as shaking, and it takes longer to get cold at all, which means more ice melting and diluting your martini. If you're going with vodka, you're probably going to want a shake. And that brings us to the last point.
Ice shards. Ever gotten a martini that was covered by a little layer of slush? Can you believe some people actually ask for it that way? It's disgusting. It's also awkward to drink, and that ice will quickly melt and dilute your martini. So what to do? Just get a wire mesh strainer, and strain out the shards as you pour. Maximum chill, minimum dilution.
Correcting these mistakes, along with hunting down a bottle of Dolin Dry Vermouth is what you need to go from being pretty decent to blue meth quality. And really, if you don't care about pushing quality to the limit, then fuck it. Just throw in some chili powder and call it a day.