What You Think You Know About The Martini is Probably Wrong
Like most of us out there, I’m a firm believer that a great evening begins with a great drink. I enjoy beer, I drink wine often, and I’m a sucker for a great whiskey. But, nothing speaks or invites questions quite like a Martini!
While not popular in every setting, there are few things noticed quite the way a martini glass gets noticed in a room full of pints or highball glasses. When done without the literal or figurative ‘pinky in the air’, a martini can convey a style reminiscent of a classic decadence and an almost elite transcendence from the norm.
There’s nothing like a well made martini. That being said, the martini most of us order in the bars today is nothing close to what it was in the decades of its origin. Like many things of old its been adjusted, for better or worse, through various trials and circumstances. If a savvy chap from the early 20’s of the twentieth century sauntered up to a bar and ordered a martini he may be shocked at what he’d find.
First, he’d probably have to field the question, “Would you like vodka or gin?” The question may sound absurd to a fellow from the 20’s. Martinis were made of gin not vodka. Gin was cheap, tasty, abundant, and easy to make, which came in handy during Prohibition. Vodka didn’t come into play until much later.
Second, a question may come of “up or on the rocks?” Well, martinis were always served up and chilled. That was the point. Ice mutes flavor and a martini is all about flavor. Of course, the Gentleman would want it up, in a coup glass…. What’s a coup glass you ask? It’s a stemmed, shallow but broad, curved glass, allegedly modeled after the breast of a famed mistress of King Louis the XIV (totally false). The angular modern martini glass didn’t become popular until the 40’s and 50’s.
Lastly, the poor man would have to witness the bartender barely put together a single ingredient concoction shaken roughly and poured and then garnished with something handier to the barkeep than an olive. Something like say…. a lemon (also not considered popular until after prohibition. An olive was appropriate. Salt=enhanced flavor.).
You see, believe it or not, it was Prohibition that made the martini famous and Repeal Day that began its eventual death. Speakeasies were heavy with gin. As I mentioned before it was cheap, tasty and easy to come by even in those dry years. The gin at the time wasn’t as refined as it is today and needed something to bring a balance to the bitter unrefined taste of the alcohol and feature the herbal qualities of the juniper berry in gin.[h3]Enter: Dry Vermouth.[/h3]
Most Bartenders at the time referred to a 2:1 or a 2:1:1 ratio. This proportion would become the norm and spawn every cocktail from Fitzgerald’s lavish martini to Hemingway’s Daiquiri or Churchill’s Old Fashioned. Hundreds of drinks would be made by that 2:1 golden rule. The drinks that were produced were both simple and astounding! Alcohol flavor was muted in favor of savory and sweet notes that would highlight the main ingredients. Garnishes were used for purpose not fluff. Remember the olive? That salty brine that clung the little green fruit served a great purpose. By adding salt it added another dimension of flavor that only served to highlight the herbal notes of the gin.
And, martinis were stirred not shaken! The ingredients were meant to be placed together not emulsified. Martini’s are supposed to be clear!
So, how did we drift away from the golden ratio? How did we move from the clear to the murky? Well, we did and we didn’t. Once Prohibition lifted and gin was once again refined and flavored the use of dry vermouth became less popular. The ratio slipped from 2:1 to 4:1, then 10:1 and even 50:1. Before long a ‘dry’ martini meant straight gin or vodka and merely waving the shaker in the direction of Italy (the original producers of Vermouth). The new glass brought new drinks such as the Cosmo in the 60’s. Bartenders, in search of rediscovering the muting of alcohol bitterness began shaking the drinks to bring them closer to freezing or piling on ingredients to mask it.
Thus the death of the classic cocktail!
However, in recent years there’s been a reemergence of a few nostalgic beverages that ring true to their origin. The Sazerac, The Negroni, and the Aperol Spritzer have found their way back onto eclectic cocktail lists. The Martini, though remains in it’s later for.
It’s time to change that. It’s time to rediscover the original classic cocktail along with a few of its friends. With each recipe I’ll give you a way to make it modern and a bit more your own!
- 2 oz. Gin (Hendricks or Tanqueray)
- 1 oz. Dry Vermouth (Martini & Rossi will do but explore others)
- 1 Green Spanish Olive
Combine Gin and Vermouth in a tall glass with ice and stir at a light pace. Strain into a martini or coup glass and garnish with the olive.
Make it your own: Strain out some Kalamata juice and add a ½ oz garnishing with a Kalamata olive.
[h3]The Old Fashioned:[/h3]
- 2 oz. Bourbon (There are tons out there now)
- ½ oz. Aperol
- ½ oz. Sweet Vermouth
- 1 peel of orange (no pith)
Start with the Aperol and Sweet Vermouth in a snifter with ice. Add the bourbon and stir lightly. Perfume the orange peel by twisting or smacking over the glass before adding.
Make it your own: Luxardo Cherries. Enough said.
- 2 oz. Irish Whiskey (Jameson Preferably)
- 1 oz. Sweet Vermouth
- 1 peel of lemon
Combine whiskey and vermouth in a tall glass with ice. Strain into a martini glass and perfume the lemon by twisting or smacking over the glass before adding.
Make it your own: This is basically a Manhattan but you can step this drink up by subbing out the lemon for a sprig of fresh rosemary.