If you ever want to ensure that you'll be seen as a pretentious ass at some point in your life, I heartily recommend that you develop a taste for dry martinis, along with a penchant for drinking in bars.

It's like a straight ticket to the Land of Upturned Noses. A scotch drinker, you just put it in a glass, give them a bottle of room temperature water, and they pretty much serve themselves. Vodka? Dump it over ice. A martini drinker? Depends on what time it is. 10 PM, drink 1? "Hmmm, yes, ummmm. I'd like a Bombay martini - no, no, make that a Hendrick's - very very dry, NO OLIVE, stirred, and absolutely NOT SHAKEN. You got all that? Should I write it down for you? I can come make it myself, if that's easier..."

By the third drink, roughly the point where the scotch drinker is smoking a pipe and reminiscing on the war, and the vodka drinker is out back headbutting people in the face, the martini drinker has descended to threatening the retention of a standard rate from the waiter's tip for each ice chip in their drink beyond a certain number, and the utter conflagration of the establishment if it includes anything stuck on a garish plastic toothpick.

Madness. Add in the part where they openly cringe at the people who are drinking some monstrosity involving Hershey's chocolate syrup in a martini glass and actually calling it a martini, and the drinkers are well on their way to being openly criticized as people who probably voted for Kerry and think African culture is interesting.

Eventually, the drinker will retreat to their home, where the impossible art of creating the perfect martini can be pursued to its obsessive-compulsive entirety. There is, of course, the obvious alteration of changing which brands of gin and vermouth to use, but beyond that lies an entire spectrum of subtly altering the delightful taste of good, ice-cold gin.

Shall we add a capful of vermouth to this one, no olive? No, not quite right. We'll shake the next one - perhaps bruising it a little will open up the flavor. No, still missing something... Let's add an olive this time, perhaps that will do it. UGH, no, that's terrible. We'll have to try this again tomorrow...

After a time, the experimentation moves towards a finer and finer graduation of the amount of vermouth added. Once traditional methods of measurement are exhausted, the drinker will resort to creativity. Eventually comes pouring the vermouth into the shaker along with the ice, then shaking and emptying it, leaving just the vermouth stuck to the ice to flavor the drink. After that comes swirling it in the bottom of the glass, then dumping it before pouring the gin.

But the main advantage, for me, of experimenting at home was that I got to try the holy grail of martinis. The martini I never dared order in a bar. The penultimate in dry martinis.

Bombay Sapphire, lightly shaken alone with ice. Pour into a cold martini glass. Remove the cap from a fresh bottle of Martini & Rossi Bianco dry vermouth. Raise the martini glass in your left hand to eye level, and the bottle of vermouth in your right. Rest the neck of the bottle against the rim of the martini glass, in such a manner that the opening is an inch or so above the gin. Wait roughly five seconds. Put away the vermouth. Serve with a twist.

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