Scholar H. L. Mencken called the martini “the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet.” A touching and competitive argument for the king of cocktails. However despite its status as the indisputable heavy weight of high end mixed drinks, the Martini can still seem diluted in mystery for most of us. As we don’t want you hitting uptown with colleagues, or potential partners, ill-equipped here is a quick rundown on America’s quintessential elixir.
Traditionally, when we are talking martinis we mean pouring gin and dry vermouth into a mixing glass with ice cubes, stirring and then straining the mix into that iconic cocktail glass, topping it off with a garish of lemon or olive.
While at the turn of the 20th century the ratio of gin to vermouth was equal, gin’s role and popularity has steadily over taken dry vermouth, to the point where some bartenders may advocate for completely vermouth free variations. Officially however the International Bartenders Association lists the martini as 12 parts gin and two parts dry vermouth.
While James Bond will no doubt refuse a martini that as been stirred, the shaken variety – more formally know as a Bradford-, ruins the point of the martini for some purists; many whom advocate that gently stirring the cocktail, given its light mix of distilled spirits, is the only way to perfectly dilute it.
Today, due to the popularity of Vodka, the modern martini may simply swap out gin for its Russian cousin. In many downtown bars the trade may still market itself as a straight-up martini but officially the Vodka martini is a much loved, albeit altered, version of the original.
A Dry martini has less vermouth than normal, a wet martini in turn cranks up more than the allotted mix of gin.
Further variations from the straight gin-vermouth-cocktail glass formula also exist. An old-fashion martini constitutes the pouring of the drink into a low-ball glass over ice. A dirty martini ramps up the enhancement of an olive garnish by adding s splash of brine or olive juice to the mix while a “perfect” Martini calls for an equal split between sweet and dry variations of vermouth.
While no one can completely zero in on the origins of the drink, the martini is no doubt dripping with nostalgia and smoothness. Its golden age was during the roaring ’20s, particularly during prohibition where gin was readily available in underground markets. While it lulled in popularity for the latter half of the 20th century it encountered a resurgence in the ’90s. With current pop culture still granting time to it -think Mad Men- it’s undoubtedly here with us to stay.
So drink up and sip slowly, after all when ordering the same cocktail as Fitzgerald, Churchill and Bogart keep in mind you are not in the company of amateurs.