Martinis Continue to Shake Society

Martini Photograph
Dry as a Kiss from Grandma

It is the drink of businessmen. Traditionally, we hear about advertising executives closing significant deals over a three martini lunch.

Socialites historically consume martinis at cocktail parties, or throughout an idle afternoon. Playwright Noel Coward was never found without a tuxedo and a full martini in his hand. Consequently, the characters in his plays spend a significant amount of time making and drinking martinis. Today, it is considered by some to be America's most popular hard-liquor drink.

Martinis have spun off into every imaginable style and taste. In Texas, the hip restaurants serve an all-tequilla drink called the Mexican Martini.

A traditional martini is made by shaking gin in a shaker with cracked ice or ice cubes. Then swirl one ounce of vermouth around a cocktail glass and toss it out. Pour the gin into the glass without the ice, and add an olive or two.

This is a gin martini. You can make this instead with vodka for a vodka martini.

Martinis have staged a comeback, and drinking them is unquestionably vogue. Several new martini books have appeared this year, and martini bars are flourishing all over the country.

Like most cocktails, the actual invention has blurred over the years into word-of-mouth bar lore. One theory is that the martini was invented by German operatic composer J.P.A. Schwartzendorf (1742-1816) who wanted something strong to drink while scouring through the Montmartre absinthe palaces of Paris, France. Since then, the martini has remained a symbol of taste and sophistication as well as the bane of business luncheons and livers for well over two centuries.

Another story tells Standard Oil Baron John D. Rockefeller was introduced to the cocktail in 1910 while a regular patron of Manhattan's Knickerbocker Hotel bar. The pushy bartender was a fellow named Martini di Arma di Taggia, and Rockefeller's prestige and social influence helped make the martini a favorite among the Wall Street set.

The olive was allegedly added by another Manhattan bartender, Robert Agneau, who used it to conceal the raw taste of American gin and vermouth.

Photo of Shakers Lighthouse cocktail shaker, silver plate, replica of the Boston Lighthouse, circa 1928, International Silver Co, Meridan, Conn.

Golf bag cocktail shaker, silver plate, circa 1926 with pouring spout and golf ball top, International Silver Co.

Penguin cocktail shaker, silver plate circa 1936, manufactured by Napier Co., Meridan, Conn.

Martini Shakers

The shaker is always an interesting aspect to martini lore. Today, shakers can be purchased new or old at garage sales, antique stores, or second-hand shops. Some people have made collecting shakers into an interesting hobby.

They come in metal or glass, in literally all styles and shapes. One collectible is a Penguin-shaped shaker from the 1930's. Socialites revered the penguin, with its permanent tuxedo suit, to be a symbol of success and affluence. I guess it would have made a nice prop in the Great Gastby.

Drinks all around then!

A menu of martinis would be divided into the following categories: Classic Gin Martinis, Classic Vodka Martinis, Fruit Martinis, Dessert Martinis, Spice and Cajun Martinis, and Flavored Vodka Martinis. Actually, there would probably be even more. There are literally hundreds of ways to make a martini. Pick what you like and enjoy.

An extra-dry martini is simply gin, without the vermouth, or the slightest drops. Experienced bartenders keep an atomizer of vermouth to lightly spray the glass. Some people enjoy drinking ice-cold gin or vodka, poured in the shadow of a vermouth bottle. Technically, extra-dry means anywhere from 8 to 15 parts of gin or vodka to 1 part vermouth, depending on the bartender and individual taste.

Sir Winston Churchill helps us remember the term Extra-Dry with his interesting recipe for a Winston Churchill Martini.

Vodka martinis were popularized by Ian Fleming in his James Bond spy novels. Fleming, who drank extra-dry martinis, wrote into Bond's first novel, Casino Royale, a drink called the Vesper.

It was named after Vesper Lynd, the heroine from the novel. The Vesper was a medium-dry vodka martini with a slice of lemon in a champagne glass. All Bond movies feature him ordering this drink.

Martini Tips

Control the strength of your martini by diluting it with water from the ice. Crushed or cracked ice melts faster than cubes in the shaker. Room temperature vodka instead of chilled melts at the same rate. Also, the longer you shake it, the more the ice melts.

If you've gone to the trouble to buy a premium alcohol like Blue Sapphire gin or Absolut vodka, avoid these easy martini mixing pitfalls. Be careful to see that your ice doesn't smell like that deer meat you've been keeping in your freezer for the past year. Otherwise, the freezer smell could travel into your martini.

If your tap water has a strong taste, consider making the ice with bottled water. A good-quality olive makes a great finish. Take on society with this classic cocktail. But beware of Humphrey Bogart's alleged last words, "I should never have switched from scotch to martinis."

Ode To A Tanqueray Martini
(Heard from the Boarding Party, 1985)

We set out from Stamford town
With a fleet of stinkpots all around
When from up aloft a cry came down:
"Tanqueray Martinis, Oh!"
Southhampton girls have figures fine
Rigged loose in front and taut behind
With packing slips from Calvin Klein
"Tanqueray Martinis, Oh!"

Found on the Internet

The Rockefeller

created by Martini di Arma di Taggia for John D. Rockefeller
  • 3 oz. 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 Winston Churchill

(adapted from Winston Churchill)
  • 3 oz. London 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 and garnish.

The Vesper

(as created by Ian Fleming)
  • 3 oz. London dry gin (Plymouth or Bombay Sapphire)
  • 1 oz. Stolichnaya Cristall Vodka
  • 1/2 oz. Kina Lillet aperitif
  • Garnish: a large lemon peel
Drink Recipes
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 (not the 1960's movie Casino Royale)

This article was researched in part with the excellent The Bartender's Bible, by Gary Regan, which is available from Amazon.com.

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