Behind the Drink: The Martini

Who created the Martini?

It seems like a simple question. After all, the Martini was an instant icon, and not knowing who invented it is kinda like not knowing who invented the six-gun, the Model T or Coca-Cola. And yet we do not know. There are theories, to be sure—although perhaps it’s more accurate to label them what they are: myths, legends and exercises in wish-it-were-so.

First of all, what was the damn thing originally called? A Martini, a Martina or a Martine? Maybe a Martigny, a Martineau or a Martinez? All of those names show up in connection with the traditional combination of gin and vermouth between 1882, when it first finds its way into print, and 1910. But then again, there were those who dubbed that mixture a “Turf Club,” and even one who insisted that it was a Manhattan. He was, to put it politely, mistaken.

Some of those variations are tied to particular creation stories. In 1904, for example, The New York Times posited that the Martini was devised by Randolph Martine, a rather sporty member of the local judiciary who had died nine years earlier. Possible, but Martine had been known as a strict Champagne drinker, so not likely.

The tipple’s appearance in an 1884 New York cocktail guide as the “Martinez” has often been used to support a shaky claim dating back to the 1940s that it originated in Martinez, Calif. In its fullest form, that tale involves a gold miner in a year when no gold was being mined buying a drink in a saloon that there is no record for from a man who doesn’t appear to have existed, as witnessed by someone who had to have been a newborn at the time.

And those are the good theories. As things stand, the Martini is another American legend, like Billy the Kid: a larger-than-life invention of the nation’s collective will; an intoxicant so sharp, clean and deadly that it cuts the head off while the legs keep walking.

As much as I want to discover the true origins of the king of mixed drinks, I think I ultimately like it better this way. Who doesn’t enjoy a mystery?

1905 Dry Martini

Contributed by David Wondrich

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1.5 oz Tanqueray London Dry Gin
  • 1.5 oz Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth
  • 1 dash Regans’ Orange Bitters No. 6
  • 1 dash Fee Brothers Orange Bitters

Garnish: Thin-cut lemon peel

Glass: Coupe

PREPARATION:
Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass and fill with cracked ice. Stir well and strain into a chilled coupe glass. Twist a swatch of thin-cut lemon peel over the top. Then smile.

David Wondrich is the author of Punch: The Delights (and Dangers) of the Flowing Bowl and Esquire magazine’s drinks correspondent. He is also a Liquor.com advisor.

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Comments

  1. Tim Brice says

    Nice post David. This is the proportion I prefer as well. Never done the double range butters though.

  2. You call that dry? I use 5 to 1, with an olive stuffed with onion.
    You’ll want water served on the side, if you can’t handle it.

  3. While the picture looks good I gotta tell you that I have been told by many that Olives are best in pairs.

  4. Richard R. Everson, Ph.D. says

    Aside from the Tangeray gin, which outshines them all (Beefeater is a second choice),this recipe is for the birds. The only wine that should ever touch Tangeray is hardly Noilly Prat, but (by a coincidence of nomenclature: ta,tum!),”Martini” & Rossi!!! And if you typically enjoy your martini before dinner, as I have for years, and cannot afford Tangeray, after trying most all of the lesser-priced brands, I have determined the best brand of reasonable price, that most people don’t even appreciate. If properly proportioned, as outlined here, it actually bears some comparison to the great Tangeray martini.

    And these proportions are totally ridiculous. Aside from the unsolved mystery about the “genius” who “invented” the martini, or how it got its name, as an adult-lifetime connoisseur of the martini, I have become totally convinced that there was a sublime “method to his madness.” Surmising that he was hardly the first to have liked gin, but found it too bitter, he indeed was the first to discover how to rectify this problem. In this insight lay his genius! Endless “pretenders” to the art of the martini, ever since, have divined their mistaken proportions as anywhere from “no” vermouth, to a “sniff,” to a “dash,”, to a “capful, up to even the horrid half-and-half, and every other varying tidbit (or gross drowning of the gin)the human mind might surmise.

    Rather, I have become convinced, from the “ole’taste test” itself, that there is a certain “critical” amount of vermouth which renders the true martini sublime. It is so sublime, that endless merchants have corrupted the name of “martini” to append to their endless concoctions of every vile content and stripe bearing not the slightest resemblance to a true martini. But then, again, this in itself is a tribute to the divinity of the martini! This time-tested insight I have determined is my insight. It is difficult to convey, but I have learned to use “the eyeball test,” in a glass of a familiar size, to pour the “critical amount of vermouth” for a divine martini that one and all would expropriate as a name for their own crappy cocktail concoctions.

  5. I think that the origin will remain a mystery. But, to bring things up-to-date, if you travel in Europe, France in particular, exercise caution when you order a Martini. You may get a glass of red or white sweet vermouth instead of a cocktail. Some bars I’ve visited do not even have dry vermouth. They all seem to carry Martini and Rossi sweets, but not Noilly Prat dry — strange for France because that is where it is produced. Moral: be prepared to drink gin or vodka straight-up.

  6. Dry? My most recent dry martini at a restaurant in DC was a glass of Hendricks with the bottle of dry vermouth waved in front of the glass. No water required, just some laid back time slowly sipping the drink.

  7. Mistergee says

    Hey Dave, help me out here…am I the only one who thinks that a “dry” martini has nothing to do with how much (or little) vermouth is added?

    I understood that the “dry” referred to the use of London Dry Gin (as in your recipe), versus the more floral Dutch-type gins.

    What say you?

    • We consulted with the illustrious Mr. Wondrich, and he says the “dry” in Dry Martini definitely refers to the amount of vermouth used. Martinis—dry or otherwise—have always been made with London dry gin.

  8. I concur with the good Dr. Everson on a number of points- first, that the name Martini has been hijacked and bastardized to include all sorts of abominations such as “chocolate Martinis”, and various fruit flavors ad nauseum. I also take great exception to calling any vodka-based drink a “Martini”, although this, unfortunately, seems to be the norm these days. As for the proportion of Vermouth to gin, I find the less the better (and yes, I think that this is also a contributing factor to the Martini’s “dryness”). I found a nifty litte devicde called a “Martin Mister” which will deliver approximately a 1/16 tsp. of vermouth in an atomized spray. Ultimately, however, I guess that the amount of vermouth is a personal choice. I like M&R, but also like Noilly for its dryness.

    As for gin, Tanqueray is OK, but my personal preference is Bombay regular (not Sapphire-too strong!). Have also recently experimented with some others with good results including Hendricks, Martin Miller, and Bluecoat (an artisnal micro-distilled gin made in Philadelphia).

    Have also experienced some horrible “Martinis” in Europe, and have had to set the bartenders straight.

    Then there’s always the “Oliver Twist” dilema (i.e. olive or lemon twist).

    My personal recipe:

    1 and 3/4 oz. Bombay gin
    crushed ice
    1/16 tbsp. Noilly Pratt vermouth (or whatever you like)
    2-4 Queen olives (skewed on toothpick) or twist of lemon zest (depending upon mood)

    Fill shaker with crushed ice
    pour gin into shaker
    add vermouth (or, as some prefer, add it when drink is made)
    stir vigorously (NOT shake) contents with long cocktail spoon
    strain contents into pre-cooled Martini glass
    add olives or lemon twist (with twist, rub around glass rim)

    Cheers!

  9. ooops- a few corrections to my Martini recipe below.

    Make that 1 3/4 oz. of Bombay gin,
    and 1/16 tsp. of vermouth.

    That’s better!

  10. Ok, here’s my version. Not the traditional, genteel martini cocktail of bygone days. First, chill the glasses in the freezer. I use Baccarat Vega martini glasses, which are beautiful crystal and designed like gossamer wings atop a battleship. For the mixing vessel, I use a 500 ml scientific beaker, available from any scientific supply merchant. Now on to the cocktail. First, Plymouth Gin. The one and only. Pour over ice and let it sit for a couple of minutes, so the ice slighely dilultes the gin. Then gently rotate the gin in the beaker 50 times. Next, in the chilled glass, add Dolin vermouth—it’s floral and complex and perfectly tempers the dryness and alcohol-y taste of the gin. Five schpritzes with the aforementioned atomizer. Pour chilled gin into the glass in a circular motion, letting it roll down the inner edges of the glass. Finally, either an olive, a large caper berry, or a lemon twist, depending on one’s preferences.

  11. C.Richardi says

    Make mine a Gibson…

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