The venerable Martini. Perhaps the most famous cocktail and, without a doubt, the mixed drink with more myths, stories and traditions. It’s also the cocktail that has a following and its own brand of snobbery. You don’t usually see two people arguing over a Planters Punch.
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, filtered and served “straight” without ice in a chilled cocktail glass and garnished with an olive.
Martini purists are upset that vodka is now the spirit of choice when people order a martini. They insist that it should be called ‘Vodka Martini’ or, if they are very picky, ‘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 is to coat the ice cubes in vermouth and then throw away the leftover vermouth. Some progressive bars now use vermouth sprays to cover the ice (thus saving a lot of vermouth).
Shake or stir?
According to the true Martini drinker, because vermouth mixes easily and evenly with its solvent (gin or vodka), a martini should always be mixed in a shaker glass. For the purists, shaking “bruises” the gin and also chips the ice when diluting the Martini.
However, thanks to novel and movie spy James Bond, who ordered his “Shaken Not Stirred” Martinis, the Martini is shaken more often these days.
Shake aficionados say that, as with Scotch, a little water creates a rounder flavor. They also claim that the stirring 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 town of Martinez was served at the Hotel Occidental. People drank at the hotel before taking the afternoon ferry to Martinez across the bay. The original cocktail consisted of two ounces of “Martini and Rosso” Italian sweet vermouth, one ounce of Old Tom sweet gin, two drops of maraschino cherry liquid, a dash of bitters, shaken and served with a lemon wedge. By the end of the 19th century, the Martini had morphed into a simpler form. Two dashes of orange bitters were mixed with half a jigger of dry French vermouth and half a jigger of dry English gin, stirred and served with an olive.
But it was Prohibition and the relative ease of illegal gin manufacturing that led to the rise of the Martini as the predominant cocktail of the mid-20th century.
With the repeal of Prohibition and the easy availability of quality gin, the drink became progressively drier and less vermouth was added.
The first reference to the use of vodka in a Martini was in the 1950s, but it was Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels and subsequent films that raised the profile of the vodka martini in the 1960s. In the novel Casino Royale , Bond’s recipe for his “vespa martini” consisted of three parts Gordon’s gin, one part Russian vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet aperitif, shaken until icy cold, served with a lemon wedge. In the second Bond novel, Live and Let Die, Bond drank conventional vodka martinis.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the martini was considered old-fashioned and was replaced by more elaborate cocktails and wine sodas. But the mid-1990s saw a resurgence for the drink and an explosion of new versions. These new specialty martinis can be made with combinations of fresh fruit juices, splashes of cream, and brightly colored liqueurs.
Instead of the traditional olives, onion cocktail or lemon twist, new garnishes such as marinated capers, fresh herbs, coffee beans or sun-dried tomatoes are used.
Today, the Martini in all its versions has returned to its position as the world’s quintessential cocktail.
The Martini comes with its own folklore and many former martini drinkers have their own recipes for creating the perfect Martini or the driest. The search 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 in a 15:1 gin:vermouth ratio, the odds Quarterback Montgomery would supposedly want before going into battle.
In the 1958 film Teacher’s Pet, Clark Gable mixes a martini by upending the vermouth bottle, then running the moistened cork around the rim of the glass before filling it with gin.
The classic 1970s TV show MASH satirically attacked this dryness fetish. ‘Hawkeye’, working at his still, tells his fellow military medics: “I am pursuing my lifelong quest for the perfect martini, the absolute driest to be found on this or any other world. And I believe I can to have come up with the perfect formula”. …he pours six glasses of gin and drinks it while looking at a photo of Lorenzo Schwartz, (the inventor of vermouth).”