“If God created man, then who on earth created the Martini?” — Salvatore Calabrese, Classic Cocktails
Whether it’s James Bond’s shaken-not-stirred vodkatini or the cast of Mad Men drinking their lunch, the martini is not just for TV and movies. Legend and myth obscure this pivotal cocktail’s origins, but one thing stands clear: this drink changed the world.
The martini is not just a drink. It’s an icon. The iconic cocktail is a hallmark of success, aspiration, affluence. To have a martini is not just to have a drink—it’s to show that you move the world. “It is the drink people aspire to,” Salvatore Calabrese observes in his classic book, Classic Cocktails (which seems to be out of print, but is available at fine libraries such as the Eugene Public Library).
Mixed in Mystery
The martini’s origins are as shrouded in mystery as the drink itself is sparkling clear. Many martini origin stories cite the United States as where the martini was born, though circumstances vary wildly. Some stories say the martini came about in San Francisco during the 1800s Gold Rush. Some say New York in the early 1900s was the birthplace. The English have a story that links the drink to the old British Army Martini & Henry rifle, used 1871-1891. (I have my own theory, but that’s another story for another day, because it is so wildly improbable that the person was alive then.)
We’ll probably never know exactly where and how the martini came about, but perhaps that’s not important after all. Perhaps it’s far more important that the martini is with us, casting its relaxing, emboldening spell on our lives and our imaginations.
Regardless of how the martini originated, it’s clear that even from its early days the drink cast a shadow bigger than its glass, and mystified drinkers the world over.
Over time the drink has had its changes and evolutions, too. An early 1900s recipe describes equal parts gin and sweet vermouth, finished with an optional dash of orange bitters. The overall trend through history seems to be that the vermouth has decreased, from 4 parts gin to 1 part vermouth in the 1940s, to today’s more typical few drops of vermouth.
The biggest change we know of is the change in taste from gin to vodka that dominates today’s martinis. Brought about in part by cultural icons such as James Bond, the vodkatini first appeared in the early 1950s, when vodka, as Calabrese notes, was “a spirit new to the American palate.”
Powerful Not Strong
Whether gin or vodka, equal parts vermouth or a mere nod to the bottle, the power of the martini is not in its strength, prodigious though that is. The power is in its appeal to people. The martini has been the drink—or weapon—of choice for U.S. presidents negotiating tough deals with foreign leaders. From working up-and-comers with their social sights set high, to the halls of economic and political power around the world, Calabrese explains that the martini remains the drink of the powerful and of those aspiring to power:
“A vodka Martini is now the most requested mixed cocktail in power-broking territory—Washington, DC—and throughout Europe and America the Martini, made with gin or vodka, is enjoying a resurgence.”
Given the long history of the drink, and its ability not only to bring a buzz to the body but an intoxication to the very soul, this is no surprise. The martini. We don’t know where it came from. We don’t even really know where it keeps taking us. But we do know that this drink continues to change the world.
Recipe for a Dry Martini
This recipe is adapted from Calabrese’s “My Dry Martini” recipe in Classic Cocktails, p. 69:
- 8cl / 2-3/4 oz. gin or vodka
- 1-2 drops Martini Extra Dry vermouth (he recommends storing your vermouth in an old bitters bottle with a drop pourer)
- Thin twist of lemon
- 1 green olive (optional)
Making Your Martini
- Chill a bottle of gin or vodka
- Put a cocktail glass in the freezer
- Don’t mix the martini (and don’t shake it, because James Bond is fictional and the whole shaken-not-stirred thing is frowned on by many bartenders). Just pour the gin or vodka straight into the glass. Lay 2-3 drops of vermouth on top of the spirit
- Twist the lemon to add some “tears” of the lemon to the martini. Run lemon twist around glass rim. Add olive, if using
- Change the world. Enjoy.
About The Martini of Destiny
A special martini gives courage to a doubting man, a ghost doesn’t pay for his pints, a destiny-slinging bartender questions everything, and the world will never be the same. The first Rucksack Universe Novella E-book, The Martini of Destiny is available June 20, 2013.