Martinis: Theory and Practice
Leo Segedin   |  6/11/2003 |   Print this essay

One must be very careful how one approaches a sensitive subject like “The Martini”. In many respects, taking on the emotionally charged issues involved is not that different from discussing Iraq, politics, religion and sex – even Art - and often they are avoided for this reason. One’s attitude toward such subjects is often a matter of faith, not subject to rational discourse. One cannot reason with fundamentalists. One cannot argue with those unenlightened souls who believe that “The Martini” is the devil’s brew, the consumption of which is a sign of weakness of character, a symptom of habitual drunkenness and probable alcoholism. The less said about them the better. One cannot say to a friend who does not like Martinis, “well, you’re wrong!” and hope to remain friends. One believes or one doesn’t. Of course, there are always skeptics and agnostics – indecisive relativists who believe that everyone has a right to their own opinions. There are those who believe that wine is the superior drink, and who are perceptive to all the nuances of the distillations of the grape, those who turn up their noses at those who can’t tell the differences between vintages. We call them wine snobs, and if you think that wine snobs are bad, Martini snobs, devout believers in the juniper berry, those of us who claim to be able tell the differences between Bombay Saphire, Beafeaters and Gordons, are far worse. But, if you think that wine and Martini snobs are bad, I have to say that anti-wine and anti-martini snobs are the most insufferable of all. – Not that I’m biased.

Anti-martini snobs maintain that “The Martini” is a fashionable fad, a snobbish affectation and a status symbol - a mark of elitist, class distinction. They may be right, but “The Martini” has a unique, mythic significance in the history of American culture unlike any other vogue. “It is an American icon. An idea, a statement, and, to the very devoted, a lifestyle.” For over a hundred years, there has been a spiritual mystique, a holy aura surrounding ‘The Martini’ that is not associated with any other beverage. One does not speak of ‘the Manhattan’ or ‘the Bloody Mary’ or even ‘the Beer’ with the same reverence that one does of ‘The Dry Martini”. One has not heard of three Margarita lunches. Although it has had its ups and downs (up until the 60’s (including bathtub gin during Prohibition), down in the late 70’s, up in 80’s and 90’s) - often contaminated with many weird additives (creating what is called ‘designer martinis’) and it is true that, for many, vodka has replaced gin as its dominant component, for perfectionists, the ice-cold, ideally proportioned gin Martini remains the Classic, or, as we call it, “The Perfect Dry Martini”.

…The Perfect Martini, as an idea, has infinite possibilities. … the Dry Martini remains America’s symbol of elusive perfection, a kind of pagan Holy Grail. The dedicated Martini drinker views this deceptively simple cocktail as a true, if fleeting, salvation, a chance to savor the best possible moment before war, bankruptcy, or time itself takes it all away. …As in religion, one might not have actually witnessed the Conception of the Perfect Martini, but one accepts on faith that it exists, and that it takes away the sins of the earth – at least until tomorrow’s hangover. Whosoever shall believe in the Martini shall have salvation at cocktail hour.
- Barnaby Conrad III, The Martini, 1991

.…it was said that the making of a dry martini should resemble the Immaculate Conception, for, as St. Thomas Aquinas once noted, the generative power of the Holy Ghost pierced the Virgin’s hymen ‘like a ray of sunlight through a window – leaving it unbroken’.
- the Spanish film-maker, Luis Bunuel, 1983

Who can visualize the world before 1860, a world in which the dry Martini had no place. It must have been a bleak and arid earth that lacked the frosty, limpid, and luminous brew that today transforms the weary, work-laden executive into a sparkling and rejuvenated companion, or makes the child-bound housewife feel, for one evening hour, like a queen.
-J.A. Maxtone Graham, 1968

the supreme American gift to world culture
-Bernard De Voto

“the only American invention as perfect as a sonnet”
-H. L. Menken

The political aspect

“America’s lethal weapon”
-Nikita Khrushchev (after observing FDR plying Stalin with martinis at the Teheran Conference in 1953; 4 martinis and let’s sign)

After Nelson Rockefeller destroyed Diego Rivera’s mural in Rockefeller Center in 1933 in New York, Rivera repainted it in the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City the next year, adding a portrait of John D Rockefeller Jr. with a martini in his hand in a night club, surrounded by two “painted ladies”, symbolizing capitalist decadence.

The aesthetic aspect

“I think I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to sound like a dry martini”
-Paul Desmond, great alto sax player of the Dave Brubeck Quartet

Writers like Tennessee Williams and E.B. White had Martinis before breakfast. White called it “…the elixir of solitude”

There is a vast literature on martinis - over 50 entries in the bibliography of The Martini, by Barnaby Conrad III alone. The martini is a major focus in novels and movies.

Bernard DeVoto, Earnest Hemingway, Ian Fleming, John Cheever, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dashiell Hammett, O. Henry, Jack London, John O’Hara and others have included martinis in their stories and novels. Can one think of William Powell and Myrna Loy in “The Thin Man”, Joan Crawford in “Humoresque”, Charles Butterworth, Mae West and Charles Winninger in “Every Day’s A Holiday”, Bette Davis in “All About Eve”, Frank Sinatra and David Wayne in “The Tender Trap”, Rosalind Russell in “Auntie Mame”, and, of course, Sean Connery as James Bond, without thinking of “The Martini”?

(There are 2,990 Google Websites devoted to gin martinis, 2,580, to vodka martinis.)

Great poetry has been written about the Martini.

“A Drink With Something In It”

There is something about a Martini,
A tingle remarkably pleasant;
A yellow, mellow Martini;
I wish I had one at present.
There is something about a Martini,
Ere the dining and dancing begin,
And to tell you the truth,
It is not the vermouth-
I think that perhaps it’s the gin.
-Ogden Nash (1935)

I like to have a Martini
Two at the very most-
After three I’m under the table,
After four I’m under the host.

-Dorothy Parker

Major celebrities clamor to be identified with the Martini

“I must get out of these wet clothes and into a dry Martini”

attributed to Robert Benchley, Alexander Wolcott, Charles Butterworth, Charles Brackett, Mae West and cited by Bennett Cerf

Scholarly texts have been written about the Martini.

Social Aspects

Lowell Edmunds, head of Classics Department, Rutgers University, in his scholarly treatise, “The Sliver Bullet” (1984) noting the ritual aspect of Martini drinking:

First, the communal Martini, at a bar with a business associate, friends, family setting,
“The Martini is in each case the totem-drink that binds together the members of the tribe. Accordingly, the mixing of the Martini is a rite, whether performed by the host or the bartender, either of whom may assume the role of the priest”.

Second, the solo drinker:

A well-made Martini or Gibson, correctly chilled and nicely served, has been more often my true friend than any two-legged creature

-M.F.K. Fisher

The negative aspects

“This isolating Martini is potentially, perhaps even essentially, uncivilized. The civilized antidote to civilization seems especially prone to misuse when it is taken in seclusion, apart from society, and that the Martini always carries with it the possibility of excess.”
-Edmonds

“More people get their glasses broken and arrested and divorced on account of Martinis than for any other reason.”
-Westbrook Pegler

So how much should you drink?

“On the whole, observe the same rule about gin martinis – and all gin drinks – that you would in judging female breasts, one is far too few and three is one too many….”
Claimed by Christopher Hitchens in Vanity Fair, but challenged by Alexander Cockburn, on May 7, in Counterpunch, who says that it was first used by Kathleen Sloan in 1995, and also by Herb Caen, etc.

Cockburn also described Hitchens as a “six-breasted drinker”.

And then, of course,

“One martini is not enough, two are just right, and three are not enough”

Humphrey Bogart’s supposedly last words,
“I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis”

Definitions

What is a Martini?

Anything in a Martini glass is a Martini (or a cocktail)

Generic Martini - Gin and vermouth in varying amounts

But what proportions? How dry?

A glass of gin straight up or on the rocks is just a glass of gin, so how close does a martini come to being straight gin and still be a martini?

Is Gin and water a martini, if you add an olive or a twist?

Pour the gin into the martini glass and show it the vermouth bottle no closer than arm’s length. Or look as the glass of gin and say the word “vermouth”. (one martini expert accused the bartender of saying “vermouth” too loudly.) Or wave vermouth over shaker, but leave lid on. Winston Churchill just looked at the vermouth bottle across the room.

A man walks into a bar and says he wants a very, very dry martini at a ratio of 25 to 1. The bartender is a little startled but mixes it precisely. As he pours into just the right glass, he asks the customer, “Would you like a twist of lemon peel with that?” The customer pounds the bar and shouts, “Listen buddy! When I want a goddamned lemonade, I’ll ask for it!”

The traditional recipe calls for teaspoon of vermouth being poured into a chilled martini glass and being swirled around, then being discarded

Vermouth can be added with eyedroppers, syringes, atomizers.

The vermouth was added to kill the taste of the bad, cheap gin and the olive allegedly was added by NY bartender, Robert Agneau, to conceal the taste of the gin and vermouth

Must be very cold.

Shaken or stirred?

Long history of shaking

Nick Charles (William Powell) in opening scene in “The Thin Man” (1934) right after prohibition, instructing a bartender:

“You see, the important thing is the rhythm. You always have rhythm in your shaking. With a Manhattan, you shake to the foxtrot time. A Bronx to two-step time. A dry Martini you always shake to waltz time.”

James Bond always shook his,

Shaking creates colder drink

For some reason, stirring bruises the gin and shaking does not.

Recipes

I found listed over 500 martini recipes

The Winston Churchill

Adapted from Winston Churchill

3 oz dry gin
Garnish: lemon peel
Stir gin in a cocktail shaker with ice until very cold. Turn toward the direction of France and bow before straining into a shallow glass. Or just glance across the room at a bottle of vermouth

The Vesper

As created by Ian Fleming

Named after Vesper Lynd, the heroine of his novel, Casino Royale,

3 oz dry gin (Plymouth or Bombay Sapphire) (or [in the novel] Gordon’s)
1 oz Stolichnaya Crystal Vodka
½ oz Kina Lillet aperitif (vermouth)
Garnish: a large lemon peel

As Fleming described James Bond’s recipe, shake in a cocktail shaker with ice until very cold. Pour into a champagne goblet and add a large thin slice of lemon peel.

“I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well made.”
-James Bond, Casino Royale

The Montgomery

Named after the World War II British general, Sir Bernard Law Montgomery, General of the British Eighth Army, who would not attack unless he outnumbered the German Afrika Corps fifteen to one.

At Harry’s Bar in Venice

10-1

Also, same as Hemingway’s martini

3 oz Gordon’s Gin
1 tsp, plus a few drops Noily Prat Vermouth
olive

Pour ingredients into an ice-filled shaker. Shake, then strain into a martini glass. Place filled glass in the freezer until ready to serve.

*Option #1: to make a super Montgomery, garnish with a garlic olive.

*Option #2: multiply recipe by 73 is you’ve just liberated Paris from the Nazis and have arrived with a thirsty band of FFI (Forces Francaises L’Interieur) at the Hotel Ritz.

Hearts full of youth, hearts full of truth

Six parts gin to one part vermouth

-Tom Lehrer, 60’s, from College Days

History

The First Martini

(Or is it?)

J.P. Schwartzendorf, nicknamed “Martini”, was a German opera composer in the 18th century. His recipe called for:

2 oz Genievre (the original gin invented in Belgium)
1 oz Chablis or Rhine wine
1/16 level tsp cinnamon

Others say that the drink was first named the “Martinez” by legendary bartender, “Professor” Jerry Thomas, who made it for a miner who had passed through Martinez, CA and who dropped a gold nugget on Thomas’ bar in San Francisco, and said, “Make me something special.” (Thomas also invented the Tom and Jerry and the Blue Blazer)

From Thomas’ 1885 edition of his “The Bartender’s Guide, first published in 1862.

Use small bar glass
One dash of bitters
Two dashes of Maraschino
One wineglass of vermouth
Two lumps of ice
One pony of Old Tom gin
SHAKE up thoroughly, and strain into a large cocktail glass.
Put a quarter of a slice of lemon in the glass, and serve
If the guest prefers it very sweet, add two dashes of gum syrup.

(However, the Martinez was not among his original 10 recipes)

Thomas later moved to New York, sponsored minstrel shows, gave the great political cartoonist, Thomas Nast, his first exhibition.

The Town of Martinez, CA also claims to be the site of the first Martinez, installed a brass plaque on the corner of Alhambra and Masonic Sts claiming to be the “Birthplace of the Martini”.

The British claim that the martini derives its name from the Martini & Henry rifle used by the British army between 1871 and 1891. (The inventor of the rifle was actually a Swiss named Friedrich von Martini)

The Oxford English Dictionary gives the earliest use of the word Martini as 1894, citing an advertisement for Heublein’s Club Cocktails – a line of premixed drinks. But the OED erroneously states that “Martini” comes from Martini & Rossi vermouth, when the brand was not even imported into the United States at that time.

The first mention of the word Martini was in the new and improved Illustrated Bartender’s Manual or How to Mix Drinks in the Present Style published by Harry Johnson in 1888.

By 1900, it was in common usage.

The Rockefeller

Created by Martin di Arma di Taggia for John D Rockefeller in 1910

(claims to have invented first Martini in 1912)

3 0z London Dry Gin
3 oz Italian dry vermouth
a splash of orange bitters
Garnish: a large thin slice of lemon peel and an olive

The “Original” American Martini Recipe

1 ½ oz gin
½ oz sweet vermouth
½ oz dry vermouth
Dash of orange bitters
Stir with cubed ice, strain into chilled cocktail glass.

Ingredients

Basic

  • Gin (Bombay Saphire, Tangaray, Beafeaters, Gordons)
  • Vodka
  • Tequila
  • Rum
  • Saki (Saketini)

Modifiers

  • Vermouth (sweet and/or dry)
  • Scotch
  • Curacao
  • Olive juice
  • Cranberry juice
  • Lime
  • Lemon
  • Augusta bitters
  • Strawberry liquor
  • Cordial medoc
  • Fino sherry
  • Dry marsala
  • pernod
  • honey
  • olive juice and leavings
  • pink-grapefruit-cassis
  • Chocolate
  • Tobasco
  • Aged ice (48 hrs)

From the New Yorker, last April:

19th century entrepreneur, Frederic Tudor, developed the very profitable ice trade in New England “by training bartenders to use ice in cocktails in order to illustrate the virtues of cold drinks.”

Garnishes

  • Green olive
  • stuffed with pimento (original or concentrate)
  • or blue cheese (hand stuffed)
  • or almond
  • or garlic
  • or anchovy
  • or onion
  • with pickled onion, it is called a Gibson
  • lemon twist
  • lemon peel
  • slice of lemon
  • slice of ginger marinated in vodka (for vodka martinis)
  • pickled or spicy asparagus or green bean
  • a large pistachio
  • a thin slice of firm cucumber
  • sliver of hot pepper, such as jalopeno
  • orange bitters
  • cinnamon
  • Cherry
  • Apple slice
  • Strawberry
  • Toasted almond

Something should be done with people who put pickled olives in (a martini); strangulation is best
-Bernard DeVoto

The man who first put the olive in the Martini should be shot
-1934 Esquire

Happiness is finding two olives in your Martini when you’re hungry|
-Johnny Carson, in the 60’s

Glass

Stem necessary. Hold by stem to avoid warming liquid. (Brandy glass held by bowl to warm liquid)

Health benefits

Of course, any alcohol in moderation is good for you. Thins blood, prevents blockage.

James Bond has a secret, and researchers from the University of Western Ontario in London have discovered what it is. Martinis that are shaken and not stirred are better for your health. “It is widely accepted that alcoholic drinks consumed in moderation have health benefits, reducing the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, strokes and cataracts. Generally, scientists think this is due to the alcohol’s antioxidant properties, called polyphenols. What they found was that when the ingredients of a martini – gin and vermouth were mixed, the shaken drink had more (twice?) the antioxidant activity than the stirred. And while the shaken had more antioxidant activity than the stirred, both varieties had lower amounts than the individual ingredients by themselves. (Even mixing them increases antioxidant activity.)

Although a drink a day may keep the doctor away, one does not drink Martinis for health reasons, but rather for their psychological, therapeutic and social value. A world without them would indeed be a dreary place.

Gin

Gin’s origins go back to Renaissance. A late sixteenth century Dutch professor of medicine, Franciscus Sylvius, is given credit for making the first gin, which he prescribed as a diuretic. Subsequent recipes traditionally included coriander seeds, orris, orange peel, cassia bark, lemon peel, cardamon capsules, angelica, caraway seeds, and juniper berries- genievre by the French – which is the foundation of gin’s distinctive taste. Unlike bourbons and malt whiskeys, gin has an indirect relationship with the grains from which it is derived; it is little more than the diluted alcohol flavored with juniper and other plant extracts.

Today there are two basic kinds of gin, Dutch and London. The British variety is made in two steps. A fermented mash of grain (usually corn) rye, and malt are distilled, producing a nearly flavorless alcohol. The distiller then adds flavoring agents – the aromatic extracts of plants and herbs – and dilutes the mixture with distilled water to achieve the desired bottle proof. The Dutch practice is a simpler process, putting in all the ingredients at the beginning so that the fermenting grain and flavoring agents intermingle and are distilled at a lower alcoholic level. For this reason, Dutch gin is considered more full-bodied and aromatic than London dry.

Vermouth

Vermouth has some fifty ingredients and takes about four years to concoct and distill. It is made from wine fortified with alcohol and flavored with herbs and roots, including blessed thistle, forget-me-not, wormwood, and starwort. It is aged, decanted, filtered, refrigerated, clarified, and pasteurized to remove any floating material; the process renders the vermouth colorless.

Vodka

Made in Poland originally from rye (sometimes with nettles or broad beans added), wheat, barley and oats.

Johann Joachim Becher developed a method of producing spirits from potatoes in 1669, but in was not until 1798 that the first instructions for “a practical new way of distilling vodka from potatoes” was published.

A century ago, Poland’s greatest writer of comedy, Aleksander Fredro, compared the making of Vodka to the fate of man:

In the distillery, potatoes; in the world, men

One course of life, one kind of end.

Into four stages their being’s arrayed:

During the first it is pulped, cooked and weighed,

In the second fermented, in the third abates,

Until the fourth, as if rent asunder,

The spirit goes up, and the mash goes under.

-Translated from the Polish

For gin, in cruel

Sober truth,

Supplies the fuel

For flaming youth

-Noel Coward

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© 2017 Leopold Segedin. All rights reserved.