Commuter Belters 2: M&S Vermouth & Tonic

Here we are again for another instalment of COMMUTER BELTERS, my quest to find the booze best matched to the knees-rammed-against-plastic pleasures of southwestern railways.

This time, emboldened mayhap by our liaison with M&S gin-in-a-tin, let’s push the boat out a little further into the treacherous seas of M&S’s canned booze range — to their Vermouth & Tonic.

Now, to be a true commuter belter, a drink must have an affinity for the typical cuisine and ambience of the South Western Railways experience. Much as one might judge a restaurant’s wine list by its wines’ ability to punch at the level of the main dishes, one judges a would-be Belter by its resilience against whatever degradations a typical journey from Waterloo might throw its way.

Today’s degradation of choice? One carton of Pret’s Spicy Egg & Chorizo Omelette. What better foldable tray-mate for my tastefully duotone can of V&T?

In one sense, the omelette is an excellent match: the experience of consuming both it and the drink is purgatorial. One might argue that they thereby cleverly echo — satirise, even — the experience of travelling frequently by South Western Railways. But satire is no excuse for this miserable stuff.

I’ll tell you a little about the food first, shall I, since we’re both here and have relatively little else to do? Well, the egg has the texture of that expanding foam filler stuff they use to repair car bodywork. It is hideously, malignantly overcooked. Most of it is stuck to the bottom and sides of the cardboard container, and I’m certainly not tempted to scrape away at it to get my money’s worth. Pret’s hot snacks, while always touch-and-go, aren’t normally as bad as this. Small pellets of chorizo and enormous moist slugs of red pepper provide relief of a kind from egg-chewing, in the same way that being punched in the face provides relief of a kind from a bout of norovirus. A woeful effort.

As is the drink. You’re warned as much as soon as you pfft the thing open and take a sniff. Friend, it smells like making a terrible mistake.

It’s a mixture of bitter lemon and that horrible fizzy-sweet reek you get from godawful energy drinks. And that’s exactly how it tastes. Ye gods, it’s sweet. Horribly, horribly sweet. The best thing about it is the initial lemon taste (not because that’s what you wanted, but because it’s at least in the proximity of an honest flavour), but almost immediately the bombardment of sugar hits, hollowing out all other flavours but the quinine from the tonic (like the G&T-in-a-can, this does at least feature quinine-heavy tonic).

The most criminal thing about it all is that despite this pitiless assault upon my senses, I can barely taste any goddamn alcohol. I mean, there’s a vague whiff of medicinal grapiness lingering in the background, like the smell of the crap someone took in the stall five minutes ago, but nothing more. The can says it’s 5.5% ABV but the impression is less boozy than most alcohol-free beers. It tastes like the heartless trick you’d play on a gullible child in order to put them off drink for life.

In summary, our Commuter Belter is not to be found here. All change, please.

Commuter Belters 1: G&T-in-a-Can

You’ll have observed, no doubt, my proclivity for starting new ‘series’ on this blog which fail to extend beyond their first post. And I’m sorry if you mistook the expression on my face for that of somebody who gives a shit about THAT. It is with an arrogant, Dominic Cummings-esque defiance bordering on sociopathy, indeed, that I double-down and inaugurate another. This one I shall call ‘Commuter Belters’: chronicling a journey both literal (Waterloo to Petersfield, many many times) and metaphorical (the search for BELTINGLY good alcoholic beverages with which to aneasthetise oneself against the tedium of the aforementioned).

Let’s have at it.

Waterloo. It’s Friday, 6.15. Amongst the thronged congregation on the concourse, eyes raised reverently to the departure boards, waiting for the hallowed platform number to blink into existence; ‘on time’ to flip to ‘boarding’.

And when it happens, the usual weary surge of bodies is a little faster, a little looser. It’s Friday.

If you’re clever (you’re clever), you’ve anticipated your platform number and you’re quick to the gates. The gates that all operate on fractionally different timings, so that the interval between inserting your ticket and the door-flaps clacking open wrong-foots you each time. They’re open. Jerking abruptly forward, you’re through. It’s Friday.

Walk nearly all the way to the far end of the train, and walk fast. Storm past those lumbering middle-managers and dithering execs. Get a good spot, minimising the (sadly still high) probability that some coffee-breathed drone will sit next to you with his fat playmobil laptop crammed onto the crappy little food tray and his elbows poking your side. Mate. It’s Friday.

Settle in for the homeward voyage. But what’s that you’ve got in your bag?

Can of Marks & Spencer Gin & Tonic in a can

That’s what.

***

I can explain. Oh Officer, for god’s sake, I can explain.

I don’t buy ready-booze from M&S. Not since that unfortunate incident with Le Froglet, all those years ago. I learnt my lesson.

But I can’t speak for my friends. Occasionally, a gentleman named Barnaby, of a neighbouring parish, is known to patronise the same railway service. It was for this Barnaby that the offending can was bought. I swear.

But Barnaby had to catch a different train and I, for my innumerable sins, was left with this object in my possession.

There’s only one thing to be done.

M&S Gin and Tonic in a can review

Drinking G&T straight from a can is ODD. There’s no objective reason not to do this, provided the can is extremely bloody cold. But, subjectively, it’s just not very nice, is it? It’s like eating a steak off a paper plate or getting into bed with your clothes still on. ODD AND WRONG.

G&T occupies a hallowed place in my aesthetic schema, whereby I apparently believe it is owed a certain level of reverence. It’s interesting to note that I’d choose a can of basic lager over a can of G&T — even though on a totally objective level I probably like the G&T more. But of the lager, I expect no better.

The gin in a can is, you see, actually not too bad. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not a goddamn patch on a Parn-concocted G&T. But it’s not hideous. Which is an accomplishment. That it achieves this is down to the fact that (a) it goes heavy on the quinine, (b) it’s sharp and bracing and (c) it contains no filthy artificial sweeteners.

I’m really surprised. I’d expected oversweetness, but in fact this is far sharper and drier than the G&T you’d get in many bars (or homes). It tastes pretty old-school Schweppesy to me: bite like an alligator, absolutely no sentimentality or concession. The dry hit of quinine is excellent: almost abrasive.

They’ve clearly amped up the citrus in consideration of the average commuter’s inability to lay hands on a nice wedge of lemon, which takes it too far towards bitter lemon in my view, but — again — it’s not offensive (see how high I set the bar?).

Where this concoction falls down, though, is in its ratios. That’s a roundabout way of saying: NOT BOOZY ENOUGH. This is squarely a tonic & gin rather than a gin & tonic. The gin they’ve used is too light and simpering; the tonic too heavy and swaggering. As a result, especially with the amped-up lemon flavouring, I feel like I’m drinking a can of (admittedly pretty nice) fizzy pop.

Bottom line: this isn’t the belter we’re looking for. I’m sticking to my lager, and leaving the gin-in-a-cans to Barnaby’s consummate guzzling.

But no hard feelings, M&S.

It’s Friday.

The easiest way to make better cocktails & mixed drinks

This is important. What’s more, unlike most cocktail-improving tips, it’s incredibly bloody cheap (just like you). So there’s no excuse.

The one thing you can do, right now, for very little outlay, that will make the biggest difference to your cocktails and mixed drinks is this.

Buy a good ice tray.

If you are using whatever crappy plastic excuse for a tray came with your freezer, stop it. If you are using your freezer’s auto ice dispenser, stop it. If you are buying those bags of ice from the supermarket/off-license FOR THE LOVE OF GOD stop it.

You need good ice trays, friend. Trays where the icecubes are BIG. Not just in one dimension, but in all three.

Chunky ice cube alongside a tape measure. It's about 3cm cubed.

I’ve found these silicone trays are pretty good: they deliver chunky, cuboid ice at a good size for a G&T or Negroni. You can go bigger if you wish: I have this tray which makes tremendous cubes that form a delightful centrepiece to an Old Fashioned.

I am really not joking (would I?) about the quality of ice being the most transformative factor in cocktail making.

Why? Because ice melts. If ice melts too quickly, your drink is rapidly diluted and loses its punch. Four things you can do to control the speed with which this happens:

  1. Use big ice cubes. Because physics. A single big cube has less surface area than two smaller cubes of the same volume.
  2. Use solid, dense cubes with minimal frost. The clearer (more transparent) ice is, the denser and therefore slower-melting it will be. Notice how a snowflake melts instantly at a touch of your fingertip? That’s what the frost on an ice cube does in your drink. This is where those supermarket ice bags fall down: they are so flimsy and frosty (generally very rough in texture and hollow) that they melt appallingly quickly. Literally as soon as the liquid hits them, you can see them diminish. And the meltwater they make is quite nasty. You are adding that meltwater to your premium gin and wanky tonic.
  3. Make sure the liquid you pour onto your ice is already fridge cold (or colder. You keep your gin in the freezer, right?)
  4. Neck it so fast it doesn’t touch the sides.

I have drunk TOO MANY G&Ts in which all elements but ice quality were excellent: premium gins, Fever Tree Light Tonic, appropriate garnish, good gin:tonic ratio. But the ice cubes were too small, too flimsy, too frosty. Net result? Mediocre G&T.

If you make a G&T (or negroni, or cocktail of other kind) with crappy ice, I reckon you may as well just use cheap gin too. Embrace mediocrity.

But don’t do that. A couple of decent ice trays will cost you under a tenner. They will last you years. They will also look a lot better, rattle around more sonorously in your glass, and quite probably get you more friends.

You could do with a few of those, couldn’t you?

The Society’s High Strength Gin Martini

This is wonderful gin. It’s not trying to be anything else. It’s juniper and citrus and booze. And it’s smoother than you could ever hope to be, mate.

Christ, yes. A martini with the Wine Society’s High Strength Gin.

I know it’s been a while, and I know this is going to look cursory. Like I’m fobbing you off.

Fob fob fob.

But, listen. The Wine Society’s High Strength Gin costs £19 for a bottle. That’s got to be some kind of fabulously benevolent joke, right? I mean, every artisanal gin-wanker on the planet is selling their wares for £30+ a pop — and good luck to them. But, right here, you have a bloody fantastic gin (at 50% ABV, no less) for nineteen sodding quid.

So you get home. You grab your martini glass from the freezer. You lace it with a dash of vermouth (mine’s Noilly Prat at the moment, but more often Dolin). You swirl the glass to get that vermouth coating the sides. Then you lift your Wine Soc Gin out of the freezer and you pour it on top. Generously.

You sling on your lemon twist. And you Friday.

This is wonderful gin. It’s not trying to be anything else. It’s juniper and citrus and booze. And it’s smoother than you could ever hope to be, mate.

Fob fob fob.

Schweppes 1783 vs Fever Tree Tonic Water

Startled from its decades-long slumber, the leviathan Schweppes has cooked up a new range of premium tonics, called 1783. How do they fare against the upstart Fever Tree? Let’s find out, shall we?

So, today — as the rather prosaic title might imply — we’re comparing Fever Tree’s tonic water (both Naturally Light and Regular versions) against Schweppes’ fancy-pants newish 1783 sub-brand (again, Light and Regular variants). And while we’re at it, let’s chuck in a comparison against classic bog-standard Schweppes tonic water for good measure.

I’ve tasted the five of the above tonics blind with dependable old Gordon’s gin. Is Schweppes’ new offering a Fever Tree beater? And how does 1783 compare against standard Schweppes tonic? I suppose we’ll find out, otherwise these two paragraphs will have been an extraordinarily cycnical instance of bait-and-switch.

Mini-cans of Schweppes 1783 Crisp Tonic water and Fever Tree Premium Indian Tonic Water

Poor, dozy old Schweppes, eh? You have to feel sorry, don’t you?, for a global brand when it takes its eye off the ball for a mere decade or so and misses a renaissance within its core category. It’s easily done.

While Schweppes was lounging around in its anachronistically colonial hammock, the upstart Fever Tree coshed its way into the marketplace and ended up with a multi-billion-pound stock market valuation (which does sort of seem, y’know, um, fizzy? But still…). In the process, a new category of ‘premium’ tonics was created — and now throngs with other challengers such as Double Dutch, Barker & Quin, 1724 and more (of which, more to come in a future post…)

At some point, I suppose, the Schweppes execs awoke from their slumbers, tumbled comically from their hammocks, and realised something was amiss.

Cue the rebrand of Schweppes Tonic and the launch of an offshoot family of tonics: 1783. The fact that I’d entirely missed this launch, despite being, as you know, fairly committed to the pursuit of gin-induced shit-facedness, is perhaps an indication of the prominence of the launch. Anyhow. 1783 is the year Schweppes started doing its anti-malarial thing, obv, and it’s the premium spin on the familiar old brand.

As soon as I realised this had happened, a mere year or two after the fact, I knew I’d be obliged, dear squidgy reader, to let you know what this new uber-Schweppes, this heritage-Schweppes, might taste like. They have a bunch of flavours including cucumber tonic, floral tonic, salty lemon tonic and suchlike. Bah. Call me a boring fart, but I go to gin for my flavour. So I’ve only bought and tasted the two normal ones.

Here’s how they fared in my blind tasting, from least nice to best. Links are all to Waitrose.com, because of course they are.

Four tonic water mini cans (Fever Tree and Schweppes 1783) plus a big bottle of Schweppes regular tonic

Schweppes vs Fever Tree Tonic Tasting

5. Schweppes 1783 Light Tonic Water

Schweppes 1783 Light is a bit odd. I mean, it doesn’t really taste like tonic, does it? It’s not hideous, I should say, but I feel like it’s more of a skinny bitter lemon than a genuine tonic water. Which is fine if that’s what you want — you misguided imbecile — but not really what I’m after, tbh. It’s got a school-trip-packed-lunch-fizzy-pop hyperactivity to it with lots of artificial perfumey stuff going on: violet and sherbert and shizz. It’s enough to give you a headache just thinking about it.

I suppose it’s possible this could partner well with certain gins (I suppose I’ll be seeing if I can find any, given I have five more mini-cans of the stuff to get through, so will let you know) but with a classic London gin, I just don’t think this works. At all.

A six-pack of Schweppes 1783 Light Tonic Water is currently on offer for £2 at Waitrose. Regular price will be £3.69, making it 61.5p per can.

4. Schweppes Tonic Water

Then we come to regular ol’ Schweppes. Now, this is sad. Because — you know what? — in so many respects it’s actually really good. It has more of a quinine kick than almost any other tonic out there. And quinine is great! It’s far more pronounced in classic Schweppes than in 1783. It’s harder, drier, more aggressively one-dimensional than any of the other tonics here. And, you know, that’s a wonderful thing. I mean, drinking it on its own, it’s nasty, obviously. But you, my friend, you are drinking it with gin. The gin is where the interesting stuff comes from, let’s be honest. Where Schweppes basic gets it TOTALLY right is in its commitment to a limited role that leaves the gin to shine. It makes for a wonderful dry G&T in which its contribution is largely limited to that dry laceration of bitterness; no floral crap and not too much sweetness.

But.

You know what’s coming, don’t you? Fucking sodium saccharin, that’s what. Jesus Howling Christ, I cannot stand artificial sweeteners. I know plenty of people don’t have this problem, and, yeah, I’m immeasurably happy for them (dickheads). But, really. That ganky catch at the back of your throat, that pissy, chemical bitterness. How can you stand it? Rank.

If you don’t have this problem, Schweppes basic tonic may well be the best tonic out there. Enjoy it. You bastard. If you want the rest of my bottle, drop me a line.

A 12-pack of Schweppes Tonic costs £4.09 at Waitrose, making it 34p per can.

Now. With those first two out of the way, things get really rather interesting. And really rather nice.

3. Schweppes 1783 Crisp Tonic Water

Third place goes to Schweppes 1783 regular. It’s good. There’s an echo of that old Schweppes bite, though as I said it’s less quinine-heavy. It has slightly less depth and complexity to it than Fever Tree Regular, which (meine meinung nach) tastes that bit more adult, more savoury. With 1783 Regular, lemon zestiness is more forward, and there is a slight lemony loo cleaner aftertaste (that sounds dreadful, I realise, and it’s not nearly as bad as all that, but you know what I mean?). So it’s not quite as nice as Fever Tree, but that’s comparing the two side-by-side — and you absolutely would not be anything other than delighted if somebody gave you this G&T. It’s a good, solid, honest drink. Sweetish, softish, but with lemon and bite enough to make its presence felt.

A six-pack of Schweppes 1783 Crisp Tonic Water is currently on offer for £2 at Waitrose. Regular price will be £3.69, making it 61.5p per can.

Good stuff. But not quite as good as…

2. Fever Tree Indian Tonic Water

Fever Tree’s Regular tonic is jolly nice. I think this might possibly even be a tad sweeter than 1783 (though there’s not much in it; both are too sweet for my own preference, though not nearly as much so as some tonics). The thing that lifts Fever Tree Regular above 1873 Crisp Tonic, though, is its fullness, its depth and slight savoury element. There’s something subtly yeasty going on, alongside the usual citrus and quinine, that really fills out the drink and complements the gin without dominating. If only it were less sweet.

An eight-pack of Fever Tree Indian Tonic Water is £4.25 at Waitrose, making it 53p per can — cheaper than 1783 at full price.

Which leaves the winner. By a furlong:

1. Fever Tree Naturally Light Tonic Water

Best in show. I mean, this is normally my tonic of choice, and I’m reassured to find it remains my favourite when tasted blind. It’s the only one of the five tasted here (with the massively qualified exception, perhaps, of Schweppes basic) that isn’t too sweet, and that lets the gin shine to its fullest extent. I’m strongly of the view that the better and more interesting your gin, the more compelling the case for accompanying it with Fever Tree Light Tonic. It’s lean and clean and modest — as it bloody should be — and it steps back from the limelight. It’s got a good bite to it and it balances your gin very easily (whereas I find that the Fever Tree Regular and Schweppes 1783 both demand very careful adjustment of ratio to make sure they tip over into neither tonicky over-sweetness nor gin-heavy alco-belch territory). Fever Tree Naturally Light is far more forgiving, simply because it’s less goddamn sweet.

An eight-pack of Fever Tree Naturally Light Tonic Water is £4.25 at Waitrose, making it 53p per can — cheaper than 1783 at full price.

Please, god, tonic-makers, just tone it the fuck down with the sugar, can’t you? I realise most people presumably disagree with me on this, otherwise why would the sweet stuff be the default option? Obviously, most people are idiots.

You’re not an idiot, are you, though? No, you read this excellent blog. So you’ll stick around for the conclusions.

Fever Tree beats Schweppes 1783…

…but it’s not the thrashing I half-expected. Sure, Fever Tree Naturally Light craps on all the other options from a fairly considerable height — and it’s disappointing that the 1783 Light option isn’t close to being a worthy adversary.

But the two ‘regular’ tonics are really both very good, and Schweppes’ premium effort is only a whisker less nice than Fever Tree’s.

Not a bad effort after a few decades swinging indolently in one’s hammock, I suppose.

What I’m Doing (mid-Feb edition)

All the stuff I’m up to that I either haven’t been concentrating enough to write about properly, or else can’t quite be bothered to. If that sounds like a compelling pitch to you, god help you. Cocktails at Hide Below, Oysters at Bentley’s, alcoholic wisdom from Morgenthaler and more…

You ache, don’t you, for further insights into my almost inconceivably rich and varied lifestyle?

Well let that ache be soothed! Here’s a new series in which I rifle through the receipts crumpled in my wallet and the memories crumpled in my brain. To be published at a frequency of whenever-I-can-be-arsed. Here’s what I’ve been doing so far in February.

Drinking Out at Hide Below

Hide (verb, I presume, not noun) is rather trendy. Pretty much anything anyone writes about it will start by talking about the staircase. How tedious; how predictable. Oh fuck it.

Staircase at Hide Restaurant in London

We descended those shapely stairs for cocktails. Which are expensive, obviously. You don’t get the cash to build stairs like those in Mayfair with a business plan that involves BOGOFs and happy hours. The bar staff are utterly charming and the drinks are good. Everything I tried was a bit sweet for my taste, but the flavours were excellent. I appreciated the complexities and subtlety. And the turding great ice block they put in my second drink.

Eating Out at Bentley’s Oyster Bar

I see why Bentley’s is an institution. It’s the kind of restaurant where the curtains are heavier than your maiden aunt, and probably first saw the light of day at around the same time. The oysters are bloody lovely. Perhaps one day I’ll have enough of a clue to be able to choose between six different types. As it was, the seafood platter was the perfect, delicious opt-out of making such a choice. And some magical grilled turbot afterwards.

Drinking In with Chateau Mont-Pérat

I whipped this charming fellow from the rack the other day to drink with garlic and rosemary roast beef with caramelised onion gravy. A lovely substantial mouthful of dark fruit with some proper tannin to grab onto. Almond and pepper and spice too. Serious but totally approachable.

Chateau Mont-Perat Grand Vin de Bordeaux 2009 was £16 from The Wine Society but is now, alas, sold out. You can search for stockists via Wine-Searcher. Good luck…

Reading Jeffrey Morgenthaler

I tore my way (not literally; it’s a hardback) through Morgenthaler’s Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique (£21.99, but reduced to £15.43 at Blackwell’s at time of writing). I bloody love this kind of thing. It speaks to the monstrous geek lurking within me who wants to know exactly the most efficient method for everything, and also likes to know why.

Morgenthaler dissects the many elements of cocktail making. Elements may be processes, equipment, ingredients and so on. Simple but fucking crucial things (like ice) which most cocktail recipes consign to a sentence are here the basis of whole chapters. Hell, the man does a controlled experiment to demonstrate that neither rolling citrus before squeezing it nor keeping it at room temperature measurably increase juice yield, thereby making the life of everyone who reads this that little bit better for ever afterwards.

Saint the man, I say.

Mongenthaler's 'Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique' atop a wooden table

Unlike lots of booze books that I tend to dip into and out of, I read this one all the way through.

Listening

I’ve been listening to quite a lot of organ music — one of many areas about which I’m reprehensibly ignorant.

Bach’s C Major Prelude & Fugue for Organ (BWV 553) speaks for itself and needs no besmirchment of ugly human words from me. I’ve been accompanying it with Nikka From The Barrel Japanese Whisky (£36.99 from Masters of Malt) which which has a combination of power, pellucid clarity and focus that feels entirely appropriate.

The Perfect Gin Martini Recipe

Right, listen. This is important. You either make a perfect martini or you don’t make one at all. Read on for Old Parn’s rhapsody on the innumerable savage charms of this noble drink — and, natch, the recipe for the aforementioned perfect martini…

Your first gobful of martini should brace you even as it slams you. You should gasp. Your mouth should thrill, your blood should pump, your heart should sing.

Not an ounce of this liquid should be in any goddamn way a compromise. It must be utterly intense. It should not quench your thirst; it should quench your desire.

The disinterested, thuggish punch of the gin. Wrapped in the shimmering gossamer of the botanicals, mitigated (but so slightly, so slightly) by the sweet yield of the vermouth. The lingering scent on the boxer’s glove.

And — just when you think you’ve got your tastebrain around it all — the savage perfume of the lemon or the oily, dirty smear of the olive.

That. That, my friends, is a martini.

Let it never be less.

Essential rules for making the Perfect Gin Martini

Right. In many respects, I am open-minded. But open-mindedness stops here. Because there are three rules — no, scratch that, there are three commandments. Disobey them and you will not have a perfect martini; you’ll have a shit drink unworthy of the name. With them, you’re well on your way to the promised land.

  1. Everything must be as cold as you can humanly get it. I mean everything. Possibly including your soul.
  2. Your gin and your vermouth should be of good quality — because they are literally all you are tasting, here.
  3. You do not make the perfect martini in a hurry.

So, first up, let’s talk temperature. You’re making martinis? You’d better have lots of ice. Big solid chunks of ice, please; none of your crushed rubbish. And every single ingredient of the drink should, at bare minimum, be fresh from the fridge. I keep my gin in the freezer. I also keep my martini glasses in there, so long as Amy hasn’t filled it up with goddamn peas (three bags, people, three bags.). Were it not for discomfort and physical impossibility, I’d keep the hands that are ultimately going to hold the martini in there. You understand?

Now, ingredients. Our perfect martini is not the place for your bargain basement, paint-stripper gin. Because gin is the sodding main ingredient, here. It is front and centre. If you only have mediocre gin, wise up and make a different drink. And much the same goes for vermouth. It’s relatively inexpensive, in the scheme of things, and you can keep a bottle of it in the fridge for a few weeks (usefully, it doubles up as an excellent cooking wine).

I’m not going to tell you which gins and vermouths to use. There are bloody hundreds of ’em out there, and trying new combinations is pretty interesting. But if you’re looking for a starting point, I suggest you could do a lot worse than a classic unpretentious and juniper-led gin like Plymouth (which is the house choice at the marvellous Dukes Hotel bar) or Tanqueray. For vermouth I typically use Noilly Prat (£12, Ocado), which is splendid stuff, but the Wine Society’s Chambery (£8.95, The Wine Society) is a fine alternative.

And, finally, speed. This is where I used to go wrong, making martinis. I went at it like a madman. But, no. Making a perfect martini requires patience. You actually want (you see) a very little of that ice to melt — a little water to bind together your gin and vermouth. Just enough to smoodge them together a bit. And you get this by taking your time.

How to Make the Perfect Martini

Gin Martini shot from below. Frosted from the cold, with a lemon twist

Get your cocktail mixer (or a jug/large mixing glass, if you don’t have one) and fill it full of ice. A lot of ice, in big cubes.

Pour your vermouth over the ice and stir gently. I’d suggest a ratio of 1 part vermouth to 4-5 parts gin — which is dry but not show-offy (my own view is that the vermouth is there for a reason, and once you get to 1:15 ratios and the like, you’re really not getting the benefit of it). However, this is for you to toy around with.

Take your gin from the freezer (don’t hurry, don’t hurry) and pour that in, too. Stir once again, gently but firmly — you want to move the ice and liquid around thoroughly, but you don’t want to smash up the ice cubes and add shards of ice to the liquid. When you’ve given it a decent long stir, leave it to settle.

Put away your gin. Put away your vermouth. Refill the ice tray(s) you emptied and put them in the freezer for tomorrow evening. Take out your (refrigerated) olives, and thread a couple of them onto a cocktail stick. Or (if you’re of a citric persuasion) take a slice of rind from your lemon, trying — if you can manage it with your hands shaking like that, old boy — not to cut off too much pith. And this all should be conducted at the leisurely pace befitting a suave martini-drinker such as yourself.

Thirsty yet? Too bad. Stir again. Go for a little walk to the sitting room and back, why don’t you? Entertain your guests with an offhand fragment of your debonair wit (or just mutter to yourself, you massive, booze-dependent loner). Then come back.

Take your martini glasses out of the freezer. If you’ve taken the lemon route, you should give the rind a good squeeze-twist, holding it over the glass for which it is destined, before you add it to the glass. The objective is to release those delicious citric oils. Or if you’re having olives instead of lemon, chuck ’em in.

Stir the gin & vermouth one last time, then strain the precious liquid into the glass. You are now in possession of the perfect martini.

Serve. Immediately. This is the only time at which you actually should hurry.

Bask in the admiration of your peers. Get working on the second one.