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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.