It's a Mann's world: Mastering the martini

Olly Mann

This month, Olly Mann, who’s not much of a drinker, raves about his favourite cocktail in the world

I drink alcohol every night, but I’m not much of a drinker. In Britain, this isn’t especially contradictory. We inhabit such a boozy nation that someone like me—who takes wine with most meals, welcomes each weekend with a G&T, and even subscribes to a craft beer club, for goodness sake—can comfortably herald himself “not much of a drinker.” Since I rarely embark upon an evening with the sole intention of knocking back shots until I can’t remember my name, I identify as not much of a drinker.

Mind you, our nation’s relationship with drunkenness is subtly shifting: millenials are spurning the sauce to keep hold of their cash and their Instagram-friendly abs, and middle-aged personalities such as Clare Pooley (in her book, The Sober Diaries) and Adrian Chiles (in his documentary, Drinkers Like Me) are questioning whether their middle-class, Waitrose-style drinking is as addictive and potentially life-ruining as the Wetherspoon variety (answer: almost certainly). Meanwhile, “Dry January” is growing in popularity, for reasons I cannot fathom. Why would you voluntarily reject the liquid solace that offers the only relief from the dampest, dankest, darkest, most depressing month of drudgery we face? Can’t we just do Dry September, instead?

If I have a problem—and I’m not saying I do, folks, I’m just indulging in a bit of exploratory thinking here—it’s that I’ve mentally adjoined alcohol with an ever-increasing roster of events. Champagne for Valentine’s Day. Prosecco for birthdays. Pimm’s in the summer. Mulled wine at Christmas; well, all December, really. Beer with a barbecue. Port with cheese. Cocktails on a Friday night. Sherry in the trifle. An aperitif while cooking—lager shandy if it’s something spicy. Aperol Spritz when I’m on a plane—with a Bailey’s nightcap if transatlantic. Drinks when a colleague switches jobs, drinks for football, drinks for Eurovision, drinks for the theatre, drinks in the interval, drinks drinks drinks. The only time this strikes me as truly problematic is when I observe myself rushing to tuck my son into bed so I can begin the night’s drinking. But I shove that concern to the back of my mind, because I am NOT much of a drinker.

"When I saw Mad Men, and all those cool guys in suits slugging bourbon, I found myself reaching for the cocktail cabinet more often"

Anyway, I mention all this because—despite not being much of a drinker—I am in in love with the Dirty Martini. I can’t recall when I first encountered it, but I suspect it was after Mad Men. (I used to just drink beer and wine, but when I saw Mad Men, and all those cool guys in suits glugging bourbon and whisky and petrol, I found myself reaching for the cocktail cabinet more often). The Dirty Martini matches the glamour of its rival cocktails—it’s shaken over ice, it comes in its own classy little glass—but it’s not sweet, or naff, or bright orange. It’s just a proper hard hit of cold spirit, with a savoury olive kick.

When I’m in the States I drink it is as often as possible (but never before 6pm, because that would mean I have an alcohol problem—and, as I’ve explained, I’m not much of a drinker.) You can go to virtually any bar over there—in an airport, a casino, or at the side of the motorway—and get an exceptional Dirty Martini. I like mine with vodka rather than gin, a twist of lemon and “extra dirty,” ie, with about two tablespoons of brine in it—which is disgusting when you think about it, but I don’t think about it, I just drink it.

But I’ve struggled to find a comparable one in the UK. Obviously it’s not a regular order down at the Dog and Duck, and that’s to be expected, but I’ve really scoured London—The Ivy, the American Bar at the Savoy, even a bar in City that’s actually called Dirty Martini—and I’ve yet to find one as perfect as I routinely enjoy in the US. So, I started to make them at home.

I add two parts vodka to one part vermouth, shake over ice, add a spritz of lemon bitters, rim the glass with lemon and serve with an olive, a slice of lemon and LOADS of brine. I’m very proud of my Dirty Martini. All my friends have been forced to try one. I’ve been drinking it, probably twice a week, for at least five years.But then, last week, I stumbled across an online article about my favourite tipple, and suddenly realised for all this time I’ve been USING THE WRONG VERMOUTH! I’ve been casually buying Martini Bianco whenever I trudge through Duty Free, but apparently that’s a “sweet, pale vermouth best served with tonic water,” and for a “real” Dirty Martini I should be using dry vermouth, such as Noilly Prat.

I have taken this news badly, immediately spending £15 in the supermarket buying the “right” kind of vermouth, to make sure no more evenings of sipping Dirty Martinis are WASTED.

But who can blame me for this schoolboy error? I’m not much of a drinker, after all.