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The History of the Martini
Honorable Martini. Perhaps the most famous cocktail and certainly the mixed drink with the most myths, stories and lore. It’s also one cocktail that has a following and its own brand of snobbery. There aren’t usually two people here arguing about Planters Punch.
The basic martini recipe is as simple as it gets. Traditionally, Martinis are made with gin and dry white vermouth, although recently the Vodka Martini has become much more popular. A standard modern martini is five parts gin or vodka to one part vermouth, although few bartenders follow this model today. The ingredients are shaken or mixed with ice, strained and served “straight” without ice in a chilled cocktail glass and garnished with an olive.
Martini purists are upset that vodka is now the liquor of choice when ordering a martini. They insist it should be called a “Vodka Martin” or, if they’re really picky, a “Bradford.”
The amount of vermouth to add is also a matter of great debate. The less vermouth, the drier the Martini. Today, the most common way to mix vermouth was to cover ice cubes in the vermouth and then discard the excess vermouth. Some progressive bars now use vermouth splashes to cover the ice (thus saving a lot of vermouth).
Shake or stir?
Since vermouth mixes easily and evenly with its solvent (gin or vodka), according to a true Martini drinker, a martini should always be mixed in a mixing glass. For purists, shaking ‘bruises’ the gin and makes the Martini watery on ice too.
But thanks to novel and movie spy James Bond ordering his Martinis “Shaken, not stirred,” Martinis are shaken more often these days.
Shaken aficionados claim that, as with Scotch, a little water creates a rounder flavor. They also claim that shaking oxygenates the drink and sharpens the flavor and distributes the vermouth more evenly.
The generally accepted origins of the martini began in San Francisco in 1862. The Occidental Hotel served a cocktail named after the nearby town of Martinez. People drank at the hotel before taking the evening ferry across the bay to Martinez. The original cocktail consisted of two ounces of Italian sweet “Martini and Rosso” vermouth, one ounce of Old Tom’s sweet gin, two dashes of maraschino cherry liqueur, one bitter, shaken and served with a lemon twist. By the end of the 19th century, Martini had become simpler. Two drops of orange bitters were mixed with half a jigger of dry French vermouth and half a pint of dry English gin, stirred and served with an olive.
But it was prohibition and the relative ease of making illegal gin that led to the Martini’s rise as the dominant cocktail of the mid-20th century.
With the repeal of Prohibition and the availability of high-quality gin, the drink gradually became drier with less vermouth added.
The first reference to vodka being used in a martini was in the 1950s, but Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels and subsequent films made the vodka martini popular in the 1960s. In the novel Casino Royale, the recipe for Bond’s “vespa martini” was three parts Gordon’s gin, one part Russian vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet aperitif, shaken ice-cold, served with a lemon wedge. During the second Bond novel, Live and Let Die, Bond drank the usual vodka Martini.
In the seventies and eighties, the martini was considered old-fashioned and replaced by more sophisticated cocktails and wine spritzers. But the mid-1990s saw a revival of the drink and an explosion of new versions. These new specialty martinis can be made with fresh fruit juices, splashes of cream and brightly colored liqueurs.
Instead of the traditional olive, cocktail onion or lemon twist, new garnishes such as pickled capers, fresh herbs, coffee beans or sun-dried tomatoes are used.
Today, in all its versions, the Martini has returned to its position as the world’s preeminent cocktail.
The martini has its own folklore, and many past martini drinkers have their own recipes for concocting the perfect or drier martini. The pursuit of dryness has taken on bizarre proportions.
Winston Churchill’s recipe called for pouring gin into a glass and then simply bowing in the direction of France. Alfred Hitchcock’s recipe called for five parts gin and a quick glance at a bottle of vermouth. Ernest Hemingway liked to order a “Montgomery,” a martini mixed with a 15:1 ratio of gin to vermouth that Field Marshall Montgomery was said to want before going into battle.
In the 1958 film Teacher’s Pet, Clark Gable mixes a martini by turning a vermouth bottle upside down and then using a moistened cork around the rim of the glass before filling it with gin.
The classic seventies TV show MASH took a satirical spin on this obsession with dryness. Still working on it, “Hawkeye” tells his fellow military doctors, “I’m continuing my lifelong search for the perfect, absolutely driest martini to be found here or on any other world. And I think I may have hit on the perfect formula…You pour six jiggers of gin and drink it while looking at a picture of Lorenzo Schwartz (inventor of vermouth).
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