Bartender’s Best

By Charlie Wohlrab

The Martini is a classic cocktail with a history dating back possibly, to 1860.  However, the drink was made with two  parts Sweet Vermouth and one part Gin. The Martini as we know it came about in the 1920s. Thanks to the availability of Gin during Prohibition the cocktail became popular. After Prohibition better Gin became available, and the Martini became progressively drier—more Gin less Vermouth, thus, the old saying, the way to make a good Martini is to fill the glass with Gin and whisper “Vermouth” over the glass.  While the ratio of Gin to Vermouth is up to the individual,  the “official” Martini ratio is 6:1.

When making a Martini, the choice of Gin or Vodka is critical, and because the taste of the sprit is dominant, it’s best use a premium or top shelf liquor. I like to stock three Gins and Vodkas in my home bar.  For example, a “house brand” for drinks in juices or sweet soda, “premium” for Martinis, and a “local” small batch for variety. 

We are lucky to be living in a time when there are local distilleries putting their own touch on traditional spirits to create unique liquors. The choice of premium Gin or Vodka is a matter of personal taste, since there are subtle, and not so subtle, differences in the taste profiles of the premium brands.  I like to try the various labels, and as I finish a bottle I may replace it with a different brand. 


• 3 ounces Gin
• ½ ounce Dry Vermouth
Garnish, Olive or Lemon Twist

Add ice to a glass cocktail mixing glass. Add the Gin and then the Vermouth and gently stir, (sorry Mr. Bond, stirred is preferred) and strain into a cocktail glass.  Garnish with 3 olives on a spear or a twist of lemon. Remember you want the oil from the rind and not the actual lemon. Serve with a Soda or water “back.” 

A few slight variations. To make a “Dirty Martini” add a bar spoon of the brine from the olive jar. To make an exceptionally “Dry Martini” add the Vermouth first, give the glass a swirl, pour off the excess Vermouth and add the Gin. Theoretically, a hint of Vermouth will stick to the ice.  To make a drink that will last longer, and therefore, you as well, make the Martini in a rocks glass with ice and sip slowly. The ice will melt adding volume (not much but some) and it will take a little longer to drink the 3 ounces of Gin. These are very potent drinks and they should be treated with respect.  Obviously, the Gin or Vodka is the main component, and you may have to try different ones to find your personal favorite as with the ratio. 6:1 is the traditional but you may like a different ratio. 

If you can find cocktail onions you can make a Gibson, which is simply a Martini with a cocktail onion garnish. A particularly nice one can be made with Little Springs Vodka, a local vodka from Heritage Spirits located in Lititz, Pennsylvania.  This Vodka has a subtle sweetness which pairs well with the spicy sweetness of a cocktail onion.  (I admit, I do like onions so I may be a little biased).


• 2 ounces Little Springs Vodka
• ½ ounce Dry Vermouth
• 2 Cocktail Onions on a spear

In a glass cocktail mixing glass add ice, the Vodka and the Vermouth, give a few gentle stirs and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with the onions on a spear, serve with a soda or water back,  and sit back and enjoy. Obviously, you can use any Vodka or Gin, but Little Springs seems to work very well. Notice I only use 2 ounces of Vodka, for a 4:1 ratio. I like to taste the hint of Vermouth, and in my house cocktails served at cocktail hour typically have 1 ½ – 2 ounces of alcohol.

Valentine’s Day is February 14 and that calls for chocolate. The following is a simple and easy recipe for a Chocolate Martini.


• 2 ounces Vodka
• 1 & ½ ounce Crème de Cacao
Hot Cocoa Mix
Hershey’s Kiss

In a cocktail mixing glass add ice, vodka and Crème de Cacao, in that order. Give a few gentle stirs and set aside.  Pour a little Crème de Cacao on a plate. On another plate sprinkle some of the Hot Cocoa mix. Roll the rim of a cocktail glass through the Crème de Cacao and then the Hot Cocoa mix. Strain the Cocktail into the prepared glass and garnish with a Hershey’s Kiss. (Get it? A kiss on Valentine’s Day). You can use any Vodka since the Crème de Cacao will cover any shortcomings of the Vodka. I use Crème de Cacao because I have it on hand, but if you have another chocolate liqueur it would be just fine.  If you don’t have hot cocoa mix I have found single serve packets have more than enough for several drinks. A word of caution: this is a sweet, potent cocktail.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Charlie Wohlrab is a mixologist whose motto, “Drinking. . .more than a hobby” has been topmost in his mind since he first started tending bar while getting his Pharmacy degree. Now retired, when he’s not restoring his older home in New Jersey, he’s made it his goal to elevate the experience of having a daily cocktail from something mundane to something more exciting. He is now Harrisburg Magazine’s official bartender in residence. 

My recipes are like my opinions,” says Wohlrab. “They continue to be refined as I try new products and work with old standbys.” Currently working on a book about cocktails, Wolhrab welcomes comments from his readers. He can be contacted at