Origins & Information - Martinis


Martini: "the elixir of quietude" - E.B. White

One thing that I wondered when I was off pretending to be fancy in any way by having that martini when I went to The Cheesecake Factory was what exactly constituted a martini. I was curious because the menu for cocktails was calling a wide variety of drinks "martinis," and these cocktails were not all composed of the same type of base spirit (i.e. vodka, gin, rum, whiskey, etc). Because of the many variations, I knew that something had to be off about the titles. So, I decided it was time to sleuth via the internet to see what I could find about martinis and was excited to find quite a bit of information, especially the fact that the drink is supposed to be made with my favorite of base spirits - gin. To gain extensive knowledge about martinis overall, an excellent source is this FAQ here, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. However, this post will be briefer but hopefully just as informational. Please let me know if this post has been interesting/helpful by leaving a comment!

Definition: To put it plain and simple, a martini is a short drink consisting of gin, vermouth, and a garnish of either a lemon twist or olive (short drinks are those whose constituents are primarily alcoholic spirits rather than non-alcoholic mixers, which are the main parts of a long drink, a cocktail often served in tall glasses with only one part alcohol). It is served in a conical stemmed glass which everyone commonly knows as a martini glass. This is a big reason for why a lot of cocktails are called martinis - they are served in the "martini glass," which is merely a cocktail glass. The reason for using this type of glass is that martinis should be had when they are cold so having the stem prevents the drinker from warming the drink with his/her hand (this applies to wine as well) and the large surface area at the top encourages the drinker to sip the drink rather than have it all in one go (though you could do that as well if you'd like).

History: The history of the martini is hard to accurately convey because there are many differing stories about how this cocktail came to be. The recipe has also changed throughout the years and included an incredible number of variations, such as the very common vodka martini (also called a kangaroo) served everywhere due to vodka's rise in popularity in drinks. One theory is that famed 19th century bartender Jerry Thomas created the drink at the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco for a prospector heading to Martinez, California and named it after the man's destination. On the flipside, those who live in Martinez believe the story that a miner from San Francisco passed by the city and paid a large amount of gold for whiskey but dissatisfied, demanded more for his nuggets and received what the bartender dubbed a "Martinez cocktail." Another theory places the birth of the martini in Europe where a well-liked German musician living in France had changed his name to Jean Paul Aegide Martini and often drank a mix of gin and white wine; his popularity amongst others led to them requesting the same type of drink in his name. There are other theories, of course, but they are more dubious than these three. As you can see, it's hard to determine the origin.

Ratios: Now you're probably wondering exactly how to make a martini. I mean, telling you its components is not going to ensure that you will all go out and make perfect martinis because you don't even know what the ratios are. The ratio, though, is a bit debatable and a bit catered to the drinker's taste. The ratio of gin to vermouth (red or white wine combined with sugar, caramel, and water and infused with various herbs with wormwood being the most crucial; dry vermouth is made with white while wet vermouth is made with red) can range from 2:1 to 15:1. The "ideal" ratio as considered by many is anywhere between 4:1 and 7:1. One should also consider that ice will melt with the mixing and dilute the drink a little. This is unavoidable but necessary anyhow; it helps mix the gin and vermouth together. The less vermouth that is used, the "dryer" the drink becomes and you should hope that the gin is of good quality since you'll be having a lot of it.

Items that you'll need to make a good martini: GOOD gin (London dry preferably), GOOD dry white vermouth, ice made from fresh and flavorless water (ice will sometimes pick up scents from foods such as freezer meat, and this will definitely transfer onto your drink), fresh lemon or pimento-stuffed green Spanish olives, a glass/stainless steel shaker, the appropriate glasses (4 oz. ones are ideal and ought to be chilled in the refrigerator to help keep the drink cold as long as possible), a measure (a traditional two-sided measure works here - it has two truncated cones of different sizes, one being a "pony" [1 oz.] and the other being a "jigger" [1.5oz.]), a strainer, and a paring knife if using lemon.

Making a martini: If you are using lemon, cut the twist first. The author of the FAQ aforementioned insists that the strip of lemon peel ought to be "1.5 — 2.5 inches long and 0.25 — 0.75 inches wide." Only cut as far in as to include some pith (the white part of the lemon) to help keep the peel's structure. For the drink, your shaker should be half full of ice. Add your vermouth and then gin using your measure (ratios will vary but keep in mind it's for a 4 oz. glass) and shake vertically for 10-15 seconds before pouring it into a glass through a strainer. Holding your lemon peel horizontally above your drink with the yellow side down, squeeze along the strip to allow the lemon oils to tinge the drink's surface. Then twist the strip, tug on the ends above the drink, reform it into a corkscrew shape, and drop it into the drink. If using olives, pay attention to the brine it was in and what is stuffed inside; these factors will change how your martini tastes as well. Note: it is faux pas to include an even-number of olives in a martini - be safe by only adding one or three.


Shaking vs. stirring: James Bond certainly popularized the idea of having an martini "shaken, not stirred." The preference lays on the drinker on which to do. Shaking the drink will lower the drink's temperature and increase dilution as the ice melts with shaking. It will also allow some of the alcohol's molecules to mix with the air, potentially making your drink "sharper." It may additionally make your drink slightly cloudy due to bubbles appearing or a chill haze from the vermouth. If you wish to stir the drink, put the mixture into a large mixing glass and have a bar spoon ready. Stir it "briskly-but-not-violently for 27 seconds" and pour through a strainer into your glass. Experiment to see which version you like better.

Enjoying the martini: The purpose of the glass' structure is to prevent you from touching the bowl of the drink and warming it. Make sure to have your drink while it is cold; no one wants a tepid cocktail! Also make sure to sip the drink and taste its subtleties. This will be especially important as you are experimenting to figure out which ratios you enjoy for the gin and vermouth. Taking the time to think about the differences between the mixtures will allow you to pick out how the two play with each other.

Martini: "the only American invention as perfect as a sonnet" - H.L. Mencken