What cocktail do you think is most associated with glamour? The upper class? The glitz and glam of Hollywood?
I'm sure you may have guessed more than a few, but if your first guess wasn't a Martini, then you were wrong.
The Martini is as classy as it gets, and there is a reason for it. Its long and (widely unconfirmed) history places it within the upper echelons of cocktail history.
Only odd numbers of Olives are permitted in Martinis
The origin of the Martini is widely argued and barely confirmed
Rose in popularity during Prohibition
Martini's are linked to the portrayal of luxury and leisure
The Martini is believed to be born of the Manhattan since the Manhattan was the first
American cocktail to combine spirits and Vermouth.
What is the Truth?
Let me preface this by saying concerning the true origin and birthplace of the Martini, nobody freakin' knows. I can only offer you mere grasps at speculatory straws about the who, what, when, where, and why of this timeless Mélange.
Perhaps I'll just let you be the judge.
The most popular theory is that a gold miner hit a significant find, leading to great riches in the mid-1800s. In the town of Martinez, California, this miner wanted to celebrate his win with a drink at a local bar, and he wanted a drink that was as luxurious as his newfound riches.
He asked the bartender for champagne, but they did not have any. The bartender offered to concoct something special with the ingredients he had available.
Those ingredients are Old Tom Gin, Vermouth, maraschino liqueur, orange bitters, and a slice of lemon. It was with this concoction that the
Martinez Special was born. The miner adored this cocktail so much that he tried to order it again in San Francisco at the Occidental Hotel.
This new bartender had never heard of such a thing, and the miner had to explain to him how to make it. As the popularity of the Martinez Special continued to grow, it morphed into what we now know as the Martini. Its popularity soared so high that the recipe was published in the famous Bartender's Manual by Jerry Thomas in 1887.
Some believe that the inception of the Martini happened just as listed above; only the original city was San Francisco, not Martinez.
Another claim is that the cocktail was coined after Vermouth's Martini & Rossi brand was created and brought to market in the 1800s.
One theory claims that an Italian immigrant invented the cocktail, Martini di Arma di Taggia in New York City at the Knickerbocker Hotel right before WWI.
A surprising claim was made by a member of the Syrian Red Crescent named Dr. Ammar Martini.
When an interviewer inquired about how he got his last name, Dr. Martini claimed that his grandfather gave the name to the famous cocktail. Dr. Martini also asserted that Martini was, in fact, a common last name in Syria.
He also shared that his father tended bar in Paris and made the drink many times. He believes it is likely that the staple olive associated with the drink is a hallmark of his grandfather’s influence.
Dr. Martini believes that since his governorate, Idlib, is known for olives, it was only natural for his grandfather to incorporate it into the making of his Martini's.
Again, none of these claims have been proved or confirmed, but it does seem like an interesting topic to debate while sipping Martinis with friends!
The Dry Times
Prohibition, as we all know and love, was Gin's time to shine. Those who had no intention of going 'dry' needed spirits that could be made quick, fast, and in a hurry…or in a bathtub.
Gin was easy to make (you could even make it at home), which made it a popular base of choice for many cocktails during that time, including the Martini. Now please understand, just because it was EASY to make doesn't mean it TASTED any good.
So-called ‘Bathtub Gin’ was, in fact, just as appetizing as it sounds.
But that's why gin was so popularly mixed with the Vermouth and bitters to mask the crudely-made spirit's taste. It was also encouraged to mix spirits with juices, bitters, fruits, sugar, etc. because should The Fuzz be hot on your tail, it would be hard to prove you were drinking if they can't smell the hard liquor on your breath.
This is around the time when the popularity of many cocktails, including the Martini, took off and became staple concoctions for any bartender to know how to mix.
However, after Prohibition, The Martini fell out of favor as the production of other spirits kicked back up. As time moved on, the world was building interest in more complex and modern cocktails.
However, by the mid-1990s, the notoriety of the drink was shot up the ladder and to the roof by someone you may know as Bond...James Bond.
In Popular Culture
No doubt you are familiar with the phrase
Shaken, Not Stirred. That's good ol' James Bond ordering his fancy Martini. Apparently, after this small scene in a big production, the Martini saw a resurgence that you wouldn't believe.
Now you can go anywhere and order a martini! And there are so many different variations of cocktails that are widely recognized by bartenders everywhere - more on that a little later.
The Martini was also well advertised by being linked to places and figures of luxury and leisure, such as Ernest Hemingway, Humphrey Bogart, and, of course, James Bond.
And if any of you true fans and followers of Savannah History may recall, Johnny Mercer (famous singer and songwriter) was very fond of Martini's himself. He loved them so much so that he had his headstone turned into a bench so guests from all over could sit down, sip a Martini, and watch the ships go by as he did when he was living.
Just like the Good Lord intended.
Drinks International listed the Martini as #4 on their World's Best Selling Cocktails list of 2021. There is even a National Martini Day on June 19th, sharing a date with Juneteenth.
The Three Martini Lunch
If you were a working guy or gal during the 1960s and 1970s, you might have heard something called the Three Martini Lunch. If not, let me tell you about the good ol' days.
In days of yore, office executives all over the country could go out to lunch and 'entertain' clients by taking them out to lunch and essentially getting sloshed.
What's more, these expensive, lengthy, and boozy lunches were tax-deductible. No ladies and germs, I am not joking. You and a group of pals could go to a hotel bar at 11 am and drink all the Martini's you'd like, all on the government's dime.
The Three Martini Lunch was a hot topic in regards to its renown and its ties to high society. The concept of the Three Martini Lunch was believed to be a living and breathing example of the separation of the classes.
The typical working man could not qualify and most certainly not afford such leisurely escape from the day-to-day. That luxury was usually afforded to men in the financial districts who worked with budgets that had more than enough for a few cocktails here or there during the week.
Still, the Martini Lunch was regarded as a mark of success. It was widely utilized and blatantly advertised as something only the wealthy and successful could take part in.
It wasn't until 1986 when lawmakers got serious about refining the limitations of meal deductions for businesses and removed the Three Martini Lunch as a deductible tax for businesses.
However, tax law is nothing if not convoluted and constantly changing. Fear not, my martini genies: the Three Martini Lunch may not be lost and gone forever!
Wet or Dry?
There are countless variations and recipes for the Martini. So much so that we would be here all day trying to sort through them all.
However, I will give you the lowdown on how to order a Martini like a pro. It can seem overwhelming because of the various modifications of the drink, but allow me to break down some of the basics for you.
Now keep in mind that a standard Martini is mixed with Gin, Vermouth, and ice, with a lemon or olive garnish.
Dry means little to no vermouth mixed with the Gin - extra stiff.
Wet means that you want more Vermouth than usual mixed with the Gin - a bit sweeter.
50:50 means that you want equal parts gin and Vermouth.
Dirty means that there will be olive brine/juice added to your Martini.
Extra Dirty means that there will be more olive brine/juice added to your Martini.
A Vodkatini/Kangaroo means that you want Vodka instead of Gin. Savant bartenders would argue that vodka negates the whole foundation of a Martini and changes the original taste you get with the Gin. The only similarities would be the serving in a martini glass and the olive that acts as the typical garnish.
Reverse means you want a glass full of Vermouth with a splash of Gin.
Shaking a martini dilutes the Gin significantly, which would take away that velvety texture that the Martini is known for. However, if you want to dilute the strength of the Martini, shaken is the way to go.
Stirred is the traditional way that martinis are prepared. It dilutes the Gin just enough so that you can taste the botanicals that they are usually infused with and very slightly breaks down the intense initial taste of the Gin.
With A Twist
You simply say that you would rather have your Martini garnished with lemon rather than an olive.
A martini, but with a pickled onion as a garnish instead of an olive or lemon.
It might take you several attempts to find your perfect martini, but patience is a virtue! If you need some inspiration, it is said that Alfred Hitchcock took his Martini in 5 parts gin with a quick glance at a bottle of Vermouth.
Now when you serve, or you are served a Martini, be sure that there are either one or three olives as your garnish.
Five is considered obnoxious, and even numbers are considered bad luck. It's rumored that this is derived from an Italian superstition that anything served in even numbers is terrible luck or done in bad taste.
That superstition makes a traditional Italian spaghetti dinner particularly tedious. Who knows if you have an even or odd number of noodles on your plate?
Regardless, when it comes to the martini, it's something that has always been respected, and far be it from us to test fate now!
Now I have an assignment for you. If you haven't already, make your way to your favorite drinking hole and give this classic cocktail a spin.
Find out if you like it wet, dirty, with a twist, or an onion, or find out that you hate Gin altogether and give it a go with vodka.
However you may like to take it, raise it high, and sip it slowly. And lift a pinky while you're at it! Because, hey, only those looking for luxury in a glass dare to tango with martinis. And we like to tango, indeed!
2 ½ ounces London of dry Gin
¾ ounce dry Vermouth
1 dash of orange bitters (for sweetness)
Lemon twist or olive garnish
Stir gin, Vermouth, and bitters slowly in a mixing glass filled with ice for one minute to thoroughly chill and to minimally dilute.
Strain into a chilled martini glass.
Garnish with a lemon twist or olive.