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The History of the Martini
Dear Martin. Perhaps the most famous cocktail, and certainly the mixed drink with the most myths, history and lore attached. It’s also the only cocktail that has a following and its own brand of snobbery. You don’t usually run into two people fighting over a Planters Punch here.
The basic martini recipe is as simple as you can get. Traditionally, a Martini is made with gin and dry white vermouth, although recently the Vodka Martini has become much more popular. The standard modern martini is five parts gin or vodka to one part vermouth, though few bartenders today would follow that model. The ingredients are shaken or stirred with ice, strained and served “straight up” without ice in a chilled cocktail glass and garnished with an olive.
Martini purists are upset that vodka is now the drink of choice when people order a martini. They insist it should be called a ‘Vodka Martini’ or if they’re really picky a ‘Bradford’.
The amount of vermouth to add is also a topic of great debate. The less vermouth, the drier the Martini. Today the most common was mixing vermouth is to coat the vermouth with ice cubes and then discard the excess vermouth. Some progressive bars now use vermouth sprinklers to coat the ice (thus saving a lot of vermouth).
Shaken or stirred?
According to a true Martini drinker, because vermouth mixes easily and evenly with its solvent (gin or vodka), a martini should always be mixed in a stirring glass. For purists, the shake “bruises” the gin and also breaks up the ice watering down the Martini.
However, thanks to the novel and film spy James Bond, who ordered his Martinis “Shaked, not stirred,” Martinis are shaken more often these days.
Shocked fans say, as with Scotch, a little water creates a more rounded flavor. They also claim that the shaking action adds oxygen to the drink and sharpens the flavor and distributes the vermouth more evenly.
The generally accepted origin of the martini begins in San Francisco in 1862. A cocktail named after the nearby city of Martinez was served at the Occidental Hotel. People drank at the hotel before taking the evening ferry to Martinez across the bay. The original cocktail consisted of two ounces of sweet Italian “Martini and Rosso” vermouth, one ounce of sweet Old Tom gin, two drops of maraschino cherry juice, one shot of bitters, shaken and served with a lemon twist. By the late 19th century, the Martini had evolved into a simpler form. Two dashes of orange bitters were mixed with half a pint 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 illegal gin production that led to the rise of the martini as the dominant cocktail of the mid-20th century.
With the repeal of prohibition and the ready availability of quality gin, the drink gradually became drier, with less vermouth being added.
The first reference to vodka being used in a Martini was in the 1950s, but it was the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming and subsequent films that raised the profile of the vodka martini in the 1960s. In the novel Casino Royale, Bond’s recipe for “vespa His “martini” was three parts Gordon’s gin, one part Russian vodka, one-half Kina Lillet aperitif, shaken over ice, served with a lemon wedge. In the second Bond novel, Live and Let Die, Bond was drinking conventional vodka Martinis.
In the seventies and eighties the martini was seen as old-fashioned and was replaced by more complicated cocktails and splashes of wine. But the mid-1990s saw a revival in the drink and an explosion of new versions. These new specialty martinis can be made with combinations of fresh fruit juices, whipped cream and brightly colored liqueurs.
Instead of the traditional olive, cocktail onion or lemon, new garnishes such as marinated capers, fresh herbs, coffee beans or sun-dried tomatoes are being used.
Today, the Martini in all its versions has returned to its position as the world’s leading cocktail.
The martini comes with its own folklore, and many past martini drinkers have their own recipes for finding the perfect or driest martini. The quest for dryness has taken on strange 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,” which was a martini mixed at a 15:1 gin:vermouth ratio, odds are that Field Marshall Montgomery would supposedly want one before going into battle.
In the 1958 film Teacher’s Pet, Clark Gable mixes a martini by turning the vermouth bottle upside down and then running the wet cork around the rim of the glass before topping it with gin.
The classic seventies TV show MASH took a satirical jab at this dryness fetish. ‘Hawkeye’ working on it, still tells his fellow military doctors: “I’m pursuing my lifelong quest for the perfect, absolutely driest martini to be found on this or any other world. And I think I can I have arrived at the perfect formula. …You pour six gins and drink it while looking at the picture of Lorenzo Schwartz, (the inventor of vermouth).
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