Undoubtedly the most famous of gin cocktails, the Martini reserves an unrivaled place at the summit of any cocktail book and is the true test of any bartender’s skills. An emblem of style and sophistication, the Martini has come to symbolize much more than just a cocktail.
The history of the martini has countless stories and although there are arguments pointing at different creators; all of them are impossible to verify with any certainty. There is however a common consensus that the Martini was most likely to have been invented in America.
Martini history begins with a drink called the Martinez – which is also the name of town in California which claims to be the geographical birthplace of the drink we now call the Martini. There is even a plaque in Martinez, California that commemorates the birth of the Martini. It covers the story of Julio Richelieu’s bar in Martinez around the year 1870. Julio made a gin and vermouth concoction and dropped an olive into the drink before serving it to the customer. The Martinez was born.
A similar story is also attributed to the bartender Jerry Thomas (Occidental Hotel, California). The Occidental Hotel had a bar that was popular with visitors who took the ferry from Montgomery Street to Martinez. Allegedly Thomas created this drink for a visitor and named it after his destination.
One of the oldest recipes can be found in The Bon Vivant’s Companion: Or How to Mix Drinks (1887). There are various other stories that are linked with the Martinez/Martini history- but no one can be sure which is true and you’ll find passionate supporters backing their claim to being the real deal.
Our understanding is that the Martini evolved from the Martinez, initially sweet, sometimes benefiting from curaçao and bitters as well as vermouth (orange bitters remained a usual ingredient until the 1940s), to dry and now even drier. However, if we fast-forward through 100 odd years of cocktail creativity, prohibition, innovative bartenders, Hollywood and cunning marketing campaigns all the way to 2010, while the basic ingredients are commonly accepted, the perfect recipe for the martini is still open to debate- To quote Jason Wilson (author of Boozehound) “It is certainly more of a broad concept than a specific recipe”.
All classic martini recipes include vermouth as an ingredient of the cocktail. The lesser the amount of vermouth, the drier the martini is considered to be. Whether to shake it or stir it has been a contentious issue for bartenders across the years, arguably only really becoming a mainstream argument since Bond started ordering his. Shaking the drink increases the dilution and introduces air bubbles into the drink, making it taste fresher and colder and while the shaken version has a slight opaqueness about it, the stirred martini is usually clear. Finally, there’s the garnish. It’s hard to overstate the importance of this final touch as this can make or break the drink. In different versions of the cocktail, different garnishes have been used including olives, cherries, lemon slices or lemon peels. It is still a tough choice to make and our advice would be to use a garnish that matches character of the gin.
Personal taste, choice of gin, vermouth and garnish allows for so much variety even if the ratios are set. Mix the two drinks lightly with some ice, stir briefly and strain it so the leftover ice doesn’t stay in your drink. Don’t be afraid to experiment in order to obtain a kind of gin Martini that best suits your tastes, and don’t forget that each gin will produce a totally different taste so tinker about with various libations.