If you're into thinkin' and drinkin'

Episode 6: What IS a Martini – The Martini

The Martini is another one of those cocktails that is legendary in the world of classic cocktails. It’s so major that the glass it is served in is a symbolic archetype for cocktail round the world. That’s huge. Many other drinks try to borrow some of that presence through -tini association. The problem is that it’s kind of hard to figure out just what a Martini is.

As Jason unfolded the story of the Martini we tried to figure out what it was that makes the Martini so special and the more we explored the more trouble we had determining a sound definition.

One would think that the recipe would make the drink; that is usually the defining difference for any cocktail, but according to Jay, the Martini appears first in Harry Johnson’s 1888 cocktail book as gin, vermouth and Bokers bitters, a mixture that would be unrecognizable today as a Martini, but then around 1910 the drink shed its bitters, and then its vermouth until it was little more than a glass of cold gin.  That’s not a mixed drink, yet that, as well as all of the variations along the way would be accepted as a Martini.  And then there are the modern derivatives such as the appletini and chocotini that are wildly different and some would classify (though many wouldn’t) as a Martini. So it would seem that the ingredients don’t make the drink in this case…especially since this “cocktail” can be one ingredient.

Maybe it’s the garnish. We usually accept that a Martini is dressed with three green olives, though some today would garnish with a lemon twist, but as Jay discovered, in the early 21st century recipes varied on the garnish. A Martini can have all kinds of things floating in it and still be called a Martini.

So finally, the obvious answer is that it must be served in a Martini-style up-glass. It really seemed that anything served in that familiar v-shaped stemmed glassware could be called a Martini. We were content with that idea, until Michael at the Brixton brought out the classic Martini in unexpected glassware and then explained how the up-glass would not have been an acceptable glass to serve it in originally to any self-respecting man, until the 1950s when Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra made it OK. So then. It’s not even the glass.

So what the hell is a Martini?

Maybe there is a clue in the origins of the drink. There is a theory that the Martini is a version of another cocktail called the Martinez, which is essentially a Manhattan using gin instead of whiskey. Jay details several origin stories for the Martinez, none of which he says make sense given the information provided i.e. the lack of better evidence in each tale is a limitation toward believing it.  So aside from its first appearance in print in 1884 in O.H. Byron’s Modern Bartenders Guide we don’t even have a solid origin for the Martini’s supposed forebear.

Taking it to the bar, our assessment of the classic version was completely mixed. Bethany thought there wasn’t enough vermouth, I thought there was too much and Nicole thought it was perfect. Michael brought us two more versions, one that was just gin and then another with pernod substituting the vermouth.  Honestly, I thought that the original tasted of its time, the one with pernod was deliciously 21st century and the other was just cold gin in a glass.  All in all, Kevin liked the classic version, even with the olives, Rachel enjoyed them but thinks cold gin in a glass called cocktail is cheating (I do to), Nicole learned that olives weren’t so bad either, Bethany was not a fan of the more traditional martinis but anything that tastes like black licorice is good (I agree on that point as well). It’s funny. Not even Martini drinkers can be easily defined.

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Martinis old style and up

Transition music: Cephalopod by Kevin MacLeod
Closing Music: Martinika by Bagda Vermouth

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