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Martini (cocktail)

The martini is a cocktail made with gin and dry white vermouth or sweet red vermouth. Substituting vodka for gin is now common, and is properly called a vodka martini. The drink is almost universally garnished with an olive. It is often described as being "crisp" or "astringent". Over the years, the martini has become one of the most well-known mixed alcoholic beverages. H. L. Mencken once called the martini "the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet", and E. B. White called it "the elixir of quietude". It is the drink of the one-time "three-martini lunch" of business executives, now largely abandoned as part of companies' "fitness for duty programs.

The martini is one of six basic drinks listed in David A. Embury's classic The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks.


While variations are many, a standard modern martini is a five to one ratio, made by combining approximately two and a half ounces (or 75ml) of gin and half an ounce (or 15ml) of sweet or dry vermouth with ice. Many Europeans prefer somewhat less vermouth—about a six to one proportion of gin or vodka to vermouth; however, there are also Americans who might favor this proportion. Many bartending schools insist that a cocktail shaker tends to dull the taste of the vermouth, and some argue that it sharpens the taste of gin by "bruising" the liquid. However, it is relatively common to see a bartender mix a martini with a shaker due in part to the influence of fictional super-spy James Bond, who asked for his vodka martinis "shaken, not stirred" (such a martini is traditionally referred to as a "Bradford"). The ingredients are mixed then strained and served "up" (without ice) in a chilled cocktail glass, and garnished with either an olive or a twist of lemon (a strip of the peel, usually squeezed or twisted to express volatile oils onto the surface of the drink).

While the standard martini may call for a five to one ratio of distilled spirits to vermouth, aficionados of the dry martini may reduce the proportion of vermouth drastically for a drier martini. Connoisseurs boast of sweetening the cocktail by merely coating the glass with vermouth. It is said that a "Churchill martini" contains no vermouth, just British gin. The legend holds that Churchill would get as close to the vermouth bottle as to "look at it from across the room". On the other hand, some experts strongly object to this practice, arguing that a cocktail with one predominant ingredient is no cocktail at all, and furthermore, that the term "dry" has nothing to do with the gin-to-vermouth ratio, but with the use of dry, white, French vermouth instead of sweet, red, Italian vermouth.

Although it started with olive as a garnish, olive juice can be added to a martini to make it a dirty martini. The taste of olive distracts from the taste of straight gin and vermouth, easing the stiffness of the drink.

Some aficionados avoid imparting excessive flavors to their martinis. If they do use an olive, it is either unstuffed or is stuffed with something as neutral as an almond; the olive itself is rinsed of any brine or vinegar solution prior to use. The olive is then slipped into the martini so as not to disturb the fine mixture of gin and vermouth. A "lemon twist" is considered a more delicate garnish because of its mild and complementary flavor accent. In this case, a special lemon peeler might strip off a slender rope of lemon (including the pith) while the lemon is held carefully above the nearly finished martini. This orientation allows the mist of lemon oils to gently spray the top of the cocktail.

Classic martini recipes from the early part of the 20th century use a gin-to-vermouth ratio as low as 2:1. The most common ratio for a classic, as opposed to a modern, martini is 3:1. The broad variation of gin to vermouth ratios is the source of much discussion and speculation.

Another common variation is the vodka martini, made with vodka instead of gin. In the 1990s, the vodka martini supplanted the traditional gin-based martini in popularity. Today, when bar and restaurant customers order a "martini", they frequently have in mind a drink made with vodka. Martini purists decry this development: while few object to the drink itself, they strenuously object to it being called a martini. The martini, they insist, is a gin-based cocktail; this variation should be designated as such, with the name "vodka martini" (or "vodkatini", or "kangaroo"). Further confusion may arise from confusing Martini vermouth, a brand of vermouth, with the martini cocktail.

A more recent development that further offends martini purists is the use of "martini" (or the suffix "-tini") to refer to any beverage served in a cocktail glass, such as the appletini, the chocolatini, or the pineapple martini.

History of the drink

The origin of the martini is uncertain. By one widely disseminated account, the martini is a descendant of the Martinez, an older, sweeter cocktail consisting of two ounces of sweet vermouth, one ounce Old Tom gin (a sweetened variant), two dashes maraschino liqueur, and one dash bitters, shaken with ice, strained, and served with a twist of lemon. The Martinez was most likely invented in Martinez, California, where a plaque commemorating the birth of the martini can be found on the north-east corner of the intersection of Alhambra Avenue and Masonic Street. The earliest known reference to the Martinez is found in The Bon Vivant's Companion: Or How to Mix Drinks (1887 edition), authored by "Professor" Jerry Thomas, the head bartender at many famous watering holes, including the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco.

According to George A. Zabriske, who republished the original book in 1928, Thomas had a client who took a ferry from the Occidental Hotel on Montgomery Street to Martinez, then the state capital of California, every morning. Thomas mixed him the Martinez to keep the morning chill off, and named it after his client's destination. Distilled spirits in the 1800s were not regulated as they are today, and were sold at cask strength—upwards of 135 proof. As the strength of the spirits decreased, smaller quantities of mixers were needed to make them palatable. Now it is more common to see a martini made with little or no vermouth. Some suggest that the drink owes its name to Martini (known in the United States as Martini & Rossi), the brand name for a popular Italian vermouth marketed internationally since the nineteenth century. Those who order a "martini" in Italy may be surprised to be served a sweet vermouth instead of a cocktail containing gin or vodka. (The martini proper is known there as a "martini cocktail".)

Modern American Drinks by George J. Kappeler, from 1895, gives this recipe for the Martini Cocktail: "Half a mixing glass full fine ice, three dashes orange bitters, one-half jigger Tom gin, one-half jigger Italian vermouth, a piece lemon-peel. Mix, strain into cocktail-glass. Add a maraschino cherry if desired by customer."

A 1901 novel, set in the mid-1880s, has a Harvard undergraduate referring to "a Martini cocktail.

The version of the Martini Cocktail given in William "Cocktail" Boothby's 1908 edition of The World's Drinks And How To Mix Them could, with the addition of lemon zest, indicate the beginning of a transition from the early sweet version to something dry more familiar to the current palate: "Into a small mixing glass place some cracked ice, two dashes of Orange bitters, half a jiggerful of Old Tom cordial gin and half a jiggerful of Martini & Rossi's Italian vermouth; stir thoroughly, strain into a stem cocktail glass which has been previously chilled, drop in a cherry, squeeze a piece of lemon rind over the top and serve with water on the side." We don't even need to hypothesize about the transition, though, because this work also includes a recipe for the Dry Martini Cocktail "a la Charlie Shaw, Los Angeles, Cal.": "Into a mixing-glass place some cracked ice, two dashes of Orange bitters, half a jigger of French vermouth and half a jigger of dry English gin (any good brand); stir well until thoroughly chilled, strain into a stem cocktail glass, squeeze a piece of lemon peel over the top and serve with an olive." Since it is the dry version which has survived as the beverage associated with the name Martini, perhaps it is to this unknown Charlie Shaw that our glasses should be raised.

William Grimes, restaurant critic for The New York Times reports the theory (in Straight Up or On the Rocks: the Story of the American Cocktail) that the dry martini was invented in 1912 by Signor Martini di Arma di Taggia, the bartender at New York's Knickerbocker Hotel. Numerous published references to the martini before 1912 discount this theory.

Winston Churchill chose to forgo vermouth completely, saying that the perfect martini involved pouring a glass full of cold gin and looking at a bottle of vermouth. General Patton suggested pointing the gin bottle in the general direction of Italy. 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-to-vermouth ratio (these supposedly being the odds Field Marshal Montgomery wanted to have before going into battle). In a classic bit of stage business in the 1955 play Auntie Mame, sophisticated pre-adolescent Patrick Dennis offers a martini, which he prepares by swirling a drop of vermouth in the glass, then tossing it out before filling the glass with gin. Similarly, in the 1958 movie Teacher's Pet, Clark Gable mixes a martini by turning the bottle of vermouth upside-down before running the moistened cork around the rim of the glass and filling it with gin. Lyndon Johnson favoured the "in-and-out martini", in which the glass is poured with vermouth, emptied, and then filled with gin.

Surrealist director Luis Buñuel was another supporter of the drink, including his personal recipe in his Oscar-winning 1972 film Le charme discret de la bourgeoisie and in his memoirs; his recipe consists basically of "coating the cubes", a method of imparting the flavor of vermouth by pouring the vermouth into a shaker of ice, then pouring it out before adding gin. A scene cut from the theatrical version of M*A*S*H suggested that a bottle of vermouth should "last an entire war." Sometimes atomizers similar to those used for perfume were used to dispense a token amount of vermouth.

The martini's popularity waned in the health-conscious, wine-and-spritzer-drinking 1970s, but has grown since the late 1980s. During this martini renaissance, vodka supplanted gin as the most commonly requested base spirit, and new variations proliferated: the green apple martini, the chocolate martini, etc. Whether the more extreme variations of this era may truly be called martinis remains a topic of debate. The first reference to a vodka martini in the United States occurs in the 1951 cocktail book Bottoms Up by Ted Saucier. The recipe is credited to celebrity photographer Jerome Zerbe.

Martini lore and mixology

Western culture has created a virtual mythology around the martini, in part because of the many legendary historical and fictional figures who favoured it, among them Winston Churchill, Truman Capote, J. Robert Oppenheimer, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Cary Grant, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and the fictional James Bond. The dry martini is also sometimes called a "silver bullet" because it "is clear, potent and never misses its mark". According to others, a "silver bullet" is simply gin on the rocks with no vermouth at all.

The martini has become a symbol for cocktails and nightlife in general; American bars often have on their signs a picture of a conical martini glass garnished with an olive. In Martini, Straight Up: The Classic American Cocktail, Lowell Edmunds, a classics professor and doyen of martini lore, analyzes the cocktail's symbolic potency in considerable depth.

For absolute purists, the bottle of gin, the mixing glass, and the vermouth are all at room temperature prior to mixing. This is so a small quantity of cold water is diluted into the drink when the ingredients are stirred with ice. This infusion of water particularly brings out the floral notes of juniper, gin's primary flavoring ingredient. The dilution of the cocktail also brightens the flavors, opens the nose, and allows more delicate notes to blossom on the palate. Unfortunately, many bartenders now store their gin and mixing glass in a freezer, which results in a blunter, more one-dimensional drink with an oily, soft texture. As far as frozen implements go, it is acceptable to cocktail purists to pour a martini into a frozen cocktail glass, as, by this point in the drink-making process, the dilution has already taken place.

The classic martini was stirred, "so as not to bruise the gin." W. Somerset Maugham declared that "martinis should always be stirred, not shaken, so that the molecules lie sensuously one on top of the other," James Bond from the Albert R. Broccoli films ordered his "shaken, not stirred", a drink properly called a Bradford. The concept of "bruising the gin" as a result of shaking a martini is an oft-debated topic. The term comes from an older argument over whether or not to bruise the mint in preparing a mint julep. A shaken martini is different from stirred for a few reasons. The shaking action breaks up the ice and adds more water, slightly weakening the drink but also altering the taste. Some would say the shaken martini has a "more rounded" taste. Others, usually citing obscure scientific studies, say that shaking causes more of a certain class of molecules (aldehydes) to bond with oxygen, resulting in a "sharper" taste. Shaking also adds tiny air bubbles, which can lead to a cloudy drink instead of a clear one. If the drink is used as an aperitif, to cleanse the mouth before eating, the tiny air bubbles restrict the gin (or vodka) from reaching all tastebuds. This is why purists would claim that a martini should always be stirred. Some martini devotees believe the vermouth is more evenly distributed by shaking, which can alter the flavor and texture of the beverage as well. In some places, a shaken martini is referred to as a "martini James Bond" or a "007" - Fleming actually named Bond's drink the "Vesper", after the heroine of the first novel Casino Royale, though it is a specific recipe.

Martini variations

Flavored vodka martinis are rapidly becoming a trend among new drinkers. Unlike gin, vodka has a neutral flavor which allows it to easily mix with other flavors to make a wide variety of flavored martinis.

Instead of the typical cocktail olive, cocktail onion, or lemon twist, unique garnishes are being used in these new flavored martinis. These garnishes include marinated capers, fresh herbs, or olives stuffed with blue cheese, anchovies, or sun-dried tomatoes.


Although Charles Dana Gibson is most likely responsible for the creation of the Gibson martini (where a pickled onion serves as the garnish), the details are debated and several alternate stories exist. In one story, Gibson challenged Charley Connolly, the bartender of the Players Club in New York City, to improve upon the martini's recipe, so Connolly simply substituted an onion for the olive and named the drink after the patron. Other stories involve different Gibsons, such as an apocryphal American diplomat who served in Europe during Prohibition. Although he was a teetotaller, he often had to attend receptions where cocktails were served. To avoid an awkward situation, Gibson would ask the staff to fill his martini glass with cold water and garnish it with a small onion so that he could pick it out among the gin drinks. A similar story postulates a savvy investment banker named Gibson, who would take his clients out for the proverbial three-martini business lunches. He purportedly had the bartender serve him cold water, permitting him to remain sober while his clients became intoxicated; the cocktail onion garnish served to distinguish his beverage from those of his clients.

Another version of the origin story, included in The Good Man's Weakness by Charles McCabe, states that the drink was created in San Francisco by Walter D. K. Gibson (1864-1938) at the Bohemian Club around 1900.

A third origin story was that it was invented at Gibsons Restaurant in Chicago, Illinois.

Dirty martini

A version of the martini is the "dirty" martini in which olive brine is used in place of, or alongside, vermouth. It is also generally garnished with an olive. Additionally, the term "dusty" martini is a dirty martini that has only a fraction of the usual olive brine.

Smoky martini

Gin with a splash of Scotch whisky, stirred and garnished with lemon peel.

In popular culture

The martini tends to be subtly used in books and movies in Anglo-American culture. The best-known fictional martini drinker is Ian Fleming's James Bond, who is famous for his preferred drink, a vodka martini (a gin martini in the original books), very dry, "shaken, not stirred" (see above). Next best-known fictional martini consumers are Captains Hawkeye Pierce, Trapper John McIntyre, and BJ Hunnicutt characters from the film and TV series ´´M*A*S*H´´ who have their own still in their tent, "The Swamp", to meet their martini needs.



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