Let’s Talk About Martinis

Let’s Talk About Martinis

H.L. Mencken said ” The only American invention as perfect as the sonnet” is the martini.

Well said.

Traditionally served before dinner, the martini has its own place in the American lexicon and is as famous as many of the people who loved to drink them.

Much debate about the origin but it is generally accepted that the iconic beverage comes from the Prohibition era and the ease by which “bathtub” gin was made. Since vermouth is considered a fortified wine and therefore not illegal, it was easy to mix the gin and easy-to-come-by vermouth. The Martini was born.

Frank Sinatra

I know when I think of martinis, images of Frank, Dean, Sammy, and the gang come to mind.  These classic gents drinking them in Vegas, New York, and even sunny Southern California. Hollywood and crooner legends with a cigarette or cigar in one hand and a martini in the other looking classy and cool.

Although it is said that Sinatra preferred whiskey, he also made room for Martinis, which he often enjoyed at The Savoy Hotel in London. According to a couple of their legendary bartenders, Sinatra was very particular. One said, “Frank was a regular guest. Whenever he was in London, he’d stay at The Savoy and come for a drink in The American Bar, but he never spoke directly to us. He’d either stand at the bar or take a table in the middle of the room for him and his guests. Where he positioned himself might change, but he was always very particular about his choice of drinks. He’d go for a classic Martini, made of Beefeater gin with a shadow of vermouth, served on the rocks with a twist of lemon. And we had to make sure his glass was filled with ice.”  And the other added, “He liked things to be just-so. He’d have the same room on the fifth floor of the hotel, the same waiter at the bar and the same drinks. I remember his Martini had to be very dry and very, very cold—the temperature of his Martini was very important. So was the amount of liquid in his glass. If one small detail was wrong, everyone would know about it.”

James Bond

We all have heard the famous line “shaken, not stirred” but did you know that it refers to a specific martini? James Bond usually orders a martini with Vodka, shaken and not stirred, as a presumed reference to the now famous cocktail book by Harry Craddock, The Savoy Cocktail Book. This of course goes against traditionalists as a martini served with vodka is actually to be called a “Bradford” whereas the purists swear that a true martini is made with gin.

You probably have heard me reference one of my favorites though, which is also from James Bond (Casino Royale fame) and that is the Vesper Martini which not only has the classic gin, but also vodka and fortified wine like Lilet Blanc.


Classically speaking, the base recipe is usually 2:1 gin and dry vermouth, a dash of bitters, and a lemon peel.

You can also serve it with an olive, with some olive juice (dirty), or with cocktail onions (Gibson).

The Gibson is worth mentioning as folklore suggests that the name comes from an investment banker in the Midwest who coined the term “Three Martini Lunch” where he brought prospective clients to the restaurant or bar, and had instead of the martini, had his glass filled with water and garnished with a cocktail onion while his clients consumed three martinis as he “sold” them on his service. I like that story.

The term “dry” martini simply comes from personal preference. If you don’t want much vermouth, then order it dry. The ratios range from 2:1 to 100:1 (no kidding).

One person said you should order a martini with gin and “waive at Italy” instead of actually having any vermouth.

However you like it, I suppose is up to you. People debate it all the time but when you start adding “tini” to the end of another word (Appletini, Lemontini, etc.), it is generally accepted that you don’t know ANYTHING.

“Classic” Martini

2 or 3 parts London Dry Gin
1 part dry vermouth
1 dash citrus bitters
Lemon peel and/or green olive.

Stir with lots of ice for about 10 seconds and serve in a chilled martini or coupe-style glass.

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