It’s very American; however, there are differing theories about the true origin of the martini as well as countless variations, including drinks called ‘martini’ or ‘tini’ something or other (e.g., vodka martini, appletini, french martini, dirty martini, chocolate martini).
The first dry martini, aka the ‘classic’, is often traced to a cocktail mixed in the early 20th century at New York City’s Knickerbocker Hotel and another called the “Marguerite Cocktail” in a drink mixology book published in 1904. Tastes at the time were changing to a preference for less sugary cocktails, and by mid-century, the martini was at the peak of its popularity as it came to personify modern, sexy, sophisticated and glamorous ideals. Watch any film from that era, and you’ll get the idea from the many scenes involving mixing and drinking martinis. That sort of thing became outdated in the 1970’s, but in the 90’s, the martini experienced a comeback as it was rediscovered and remixed for a new happy hour crowd.
At the time of a recent search for ‘something other than wine’ to drink, it had been a few years since I’d even thought about drinking a martini, and the sparsely stocked liquor cabinet was lacking in options. However, a forgotten cocktail shaker was discovered hidden in the back behind an old bottle of rum. The big surprise… found gin and vermouth that had probably been aging 10+ years in half-emptied bottles, and there was a fresh lemon in the refrigerator. It was destiny.
I had a memory of making martinis with friends, but it had been a long time and my cocktail making skills are wanting (‘no skills at all’ is more accurate). Did some research, and came up with this version of a classic dry martini using ingredients on hand. After the first icy cold sip, I wondered why I’d waited so long for this bliss. It’s not really difficult to mix up one.
2 ounces dry gin (Tanqueray)
1 ounce dry vermouth (Martini & Rossi, Extra Dry)
Chill martini glass in the freezer
Pour gin & vermouth in shaker, fill halfway with ice, and shake** about 20 seconds
Strain in the chilled glass and garnish with lemon twist
Serve immediately, and savor simple perfection
*If you don’t have a ‘channeling knife’ bar tool, use a vegetable peeler or paring knife to remove a strip of peel from a fresh lemon with as little of the white pulp as possible remaining. Before dropping the peel into the glass, ‘twist’ it over the drink to release the lemon oil scent. I chilled the peels in the refrigerator while mixing up the drink. Olives are also a favorite martini garnish that create a very different taste.
**The ‘shake or stir’ controversy comes down to this— it’s your drink, you decide. Shaking creates a cloudy, airy, slightly textured drink. Stirring results in a clear, silky smooth martini. [Stirring Tips: Add spirits into a chilled mixing glass. Place long spoon in the glass before adding ice (about 2/3 full). Stir briskly in circular motion at least 50 times (30-25 seconds). Strain in chilled drinking glass using a julep strainer.]
The gin to vermouth ratio is personal choice. I went with a conservative 2:1 for this experiment, and liked the results. In the 1930’s the typical ratio was 3:1. It went to 4:1 in the 40’s, and the gin portion continued to escalate in the late 20th century with ratios reaching as high as 50:1 and 100:1.
Reference: “There is Something About a Martini”, by Max Rudin, American Heritage (July/August 1997)
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Feature martini photo by Flickr user, Billy Abbott, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0