What’s in a martini? That which we call a cocktail by any other name would taste as sweet? Okay, so for you Shakespeare nerds, it doesn’t scan, and for you mixologists, I added a dash of Maraschino--bite me. The question is, what is a martini and why, like Shakespeare (you might as well get used to it because I’m carrying this metaphor all the way through this essay), has it stood the test of time?
Somethings are iconic and will live longer than you or I, and certainly longer than this article will trend. Fads come and go, and mixologists continue to play with Absinthes rinses and flaming walnuts to create the perfect amount of smoke to add something to a cocktail; however, when it is all said and done there are tried and true mixes that never go out of fashion.
There has been as much written about the proper Martini as there has been about who actually wrote Macbeth. The likes of Dorothy Parker and George Burns famously quipped about the drink far better than I and Pappa Hemingway himself once quipped, “I had never tasted anything so cool and clean… They made me feel civilized.”
While there is a myriad of recipes out there to concoct this libation, let us set a few things straight. First, for this article, let it be known we are talking about a Martini, a real Martini, and not a Kangaroo Cocktail (see vodka). Furthermore, just because your local bartender at Chili’s pours it into a chilled martini glass does not make that fruity concoction a proper cocktail. Second, while a dry martini can undoubtedly have as little or as much vermouth as you wish, let it be known that a “Dry Martini” is not, as Winston Churchill so eloquently put it, a glass of cold gin and a nod to the French. A cocktail is just that, a cocktail. A blend of ingredients to heighten the drinking experience. If you wish to sip on a shot of gin be my guest, but don’t order a martini, and if you dislike the taste of vermouth, odds are it is because you are drinking rancid vermouth that his been sitting on a bar shelf or in a fridge for more than a year. A martini is a drink that is one-hundred percent about the interplay between gin and vermouth. The two ingredients play off one another, the botanicals in the two spirits work to create something unique.
Lastly, throw out everything just written, because at the end of the day, order the drink you want, and never quote another man about what you should drink.
And yet, odds are if you are reading this article, and likely imbibing while you do, you are here because of one man, well, two actually--technically you could add eight more bringing the total to ten, but now we’re just getting in the weeds. James Bond did to the Martini what Miles Davis did to jazz. No man has even had a more monumental impact on a drink than 007, or rather, Ian Flemming. Yet, let it be noted here that the infamous, “Shaken, not stirred,” line was a creation of the films, hence the technically eight men aforementioned, as the Bond of the novel was a bourbon man. Still, ever since Sean Connery uttered those words in his Scottish-brogue, he launched an industry of drinkers who, like Hemingway, feel dapper and civilized.
There is no shame in taking a social cue for your drink order. God knows most Americans do. We fall in line for the Old Fashioned or the Caucasian each time a hit rolls out. Like Broadway churning out Hollywood musicals and remaking cult classics, drinks take a bit of marketing to find their niche. But long before Bond, the Martini was a staple of the cocktail hour.
Legend has it that the drink was created in Martinez, California, when a miner stopped in and ordered champagne, but the bartender did not have it. So, he concocted something with what he had and created a classic. While this could be a misnomer in the same way that Bob Kane invented Batman, the credit is given to “Professor” Jerry Thomas, the man who literally wrote the book on Bar-Tending, for first coining the recipe. With Old Tom’s gin, sweet vermouth, cherry liqueur, and orange bitters (a method that still holds up today and is dangerously close to Bond’s Vesper), the Marinez was born.
Multiple recipes exist before Thomas’s book and the story that goes with it, and the fact of the matter is that various recipes using gin, Old Tom, and Genever all existed around 1870. But when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.
Despite the quarrel over what marked the first Martini, the drink evolved overtime. It began as a dry martini, meaning using the London Dry style of gin over Genever or Old Tom, and was, probably, a 50/50 ratio of vermouth to gin. Then, over time, as the tastes changed, it moved more to a 2:1 ratio, which remains the standard today, although in most bars, if you want a “standard” Martini, you have to ask for a wet martini.
Personally, I love a 2:1 ratio with a dash or two of orange bitters and an absinthe rinse and lemon twist. I will throw in a bar spoon of Maraschino if I want something a tad sweeter, or go with a Vesper (I’ll use Cocci if I have it or add bitters to Lillet).
The process of crafting a cocktail is similar to the distillation process of wine. The poetry of the bottle comes out in the glass. The only difference is that to make a spirit shine, it takes another bard to speak the verse.
A martini is not about getting drunk, although it will certainly get you there. It is not about throwing back three-martini lunches or celebrating the final shot of the day--but it can be. Martinis, like all great things, are about slow enjoyment; they’re about time; they’re about mindfulness. Benjamin Franklin may have said that beer proved God loved us, but H.L Menken said, “Martinis are the only American invention as perfect as a sonnet.”
Brock D. Vickers
This is the beginning of a new part of life: a habit: an idea: a routine to dig at what makes a man great.