The Martini; quite possible the most enigmatic cocktail in the world today. Once hailed as "The only American invention as perfect as a Shakespearean sonnet", the martini has now become a bastardized version of a cocktail that is hardly recognizable as nothing short of a miasma of fruit flavors that is basically diabetes in a glass. Today, we eschew all the frou-frou, neon colored, sickly sweet "martinis" and get back to the roots of the king of cocktails.
The history of the martini has been the subject of a much heated debate that has been raging for the last century and a half. The first published recipe for a martini as we know it appeared in the Bartenders Manual circa 1888. The Italian wine company Martini & Rossi claims that the drink was invented and named for their brand of vermouth 6 years later. However, the oldest claim (and most credible if you ask me) comes from the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco. It is speculated that the martini evolved from a cocktail named the "Martinez" cocktail that was named after a town 10 miles northeast of Frisco. Of course the good people of Martinez say that the cocktail was invented there, not in the city by the bay. But enough about history, I really don't want to put you people to sleep.
The first mention of a Martinez cocktail in a published recipe guide appeared in 1884. It didn't list an exact recipe but said that it was a Manhattan with gin substituted for whiskey. 3 years later, a recipe was published that called for gin, vermouth, bitters, and either curacao or absinthe which would make it a gin Manhattan. Now this is a far cry from the martini that we know and love today but 15 years later as tastes, and in turn recipes, evolved a recipe for a dry martini popped up consisting of orange bitters, 1 part vermouth to 2 parts gin. Ah-ha! now we are getting closer!
Through the years the 1:1 ratio of vermouth to gin has been increased to 2:1, 3:1, 10:1, and even 100:1. English playwright Noel Coward once quipped that the best way to make a martini is to fill a glass with gin and wave it in the general direction of Italy (where a majority of vermouth is made). In fact, Winston Churchill's favorite (or 'favourite' if you fancy the Queen's English) way to enjoy it was to have the bartender pour a glass of London Dry gin and have the bartender wave the vermouth bottle at him from across the room. My major problem with this is that you take the complimentary flavor of the vermouth out of the cocktail which leads to a travesty.
With the flavor of the vermouth gone people wanted a substitute because, believe it or not, most people that drink martinis don't like the flavor of gin! If that makes sense to you then you are more learned than me, congratulations. To fill the void, some yahoo years ago decided that it would be a good idea to not only garnish a martini with an olive (which it's not) but to add olive brine to the martini as well. I can only imagine someone, while not entirely sober, said "Hey! Let's take this complex floral and aromatic liquor known as gin and jack it all up with salty olive brine!" And then undoubtedly, someone across the bar, as equally inebriated, answered, "Bully for you!" and the dirty martini is born. I still call it a bathtub martini partly as a homage as to how bad bathtub gin tasted back in the dark days of prohibition and because, honestly, the damn thing tastes like bathwater. Surely people can't make it worse right? Right? WRONG!
Enter Bond, James Bond.
That's right; everyone's favorite jolly ol' philandering playboy from the land of bad food and worse weather took it to a whole new level. I am sure everyone is familiar with Bond's famous quote, "Shaken not stirred" which makes no sense as you are crystallizing the ice and making a martini slushie. But I am referring to one of the most egregious instances of product placement in history...SMIRNOFF F'ING VODKA. In 1962 Eon Productions released the inaugural installment of the James Bond series featuring our hero drinking a martini made with Smirnoff vodka. Due to the films popularity, Smirnoff paid Eon to feature their neutral grain sprit with not even a modicum of flavor in all subsequent releases and as the brand took off so did the idea of vodka martinis. Now we have people drinking martinis that not only don't like the taste of gin, but don't like the taste of liquor at all! For shame 007.
Walk into a pub nowadays and you will hear patrons ordering "Extra dry dirty Grey Goose martinis" which is basically a metric farkton of vodka and olive juice with little or no vermouth, shaken into an alcoholic slushie that would make Apu down at the Kwik-E-Mart in Springfield envious. Even worse, with the vodka boom of the last 20 years comes the popularization of flavored martinis made with enough fruit and sugar to be less a martini and more of diabetes in a glass. Whipped cream vodka martini?!?! Bubblegum?!?!? Frappucino?!?!? Birthday cake?!?!?
Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot. (WTF for those of you that didn't catch it). Come on people, we are above drinking bathwater. Above drinks that make us take Wilford Brimley's advice and check our blood sugar afterward. Damn sure above drinks that are basically date rape in a glass. Let us hearken back to a simpler time when men were men, ladies were ladies, and cocktails were actually cocktails.
Far be it for me to tell you how to enjoy your favorite libations, but if you consider yourself a martini drinker then try this on for size. My favorite way to enjoy a martini is as follows:
2 oz. Plymouth Gin (Old Tom works too)
3/4 oz. Italian sweet vermouth (you can sub dry if you choose)
1 dash of orange bitters
Stir and serve in a chilled cocktail glass
Garnish with a lemon peel
Rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat, rinbe, repbate, rings, retwit, rehno, sdoijrweo....
Until next time kids,