It seems highly appropriate that National Martini Day also falls on Father’s Day; dads of the 50’s and 60’s (now granddads) enjoyed this cocktail in its prime. It was a manly drink, right up there with brandy and whiskey. It was not only the drink of entertainers and people who were hip, it was the drink of powerful and influential men as well. You could see many of the members of the Rat Pack (most notably Dean Martin) sipping on them as well as two of the heads of the Allied forces, FDR and Winston Churchill. Churchill was very particular about his martinis; it was chilled gin in a cocktail glass, while giving a nod to a bottle of vermouth in the corner of the room. The phrase “a three martini lunch” even comes from this era, when executives would go out and drink fairly heavily at lunch, then come back and do a solid(ish) afternoons work. Vodka helped with that particular lunch choice, since you could come back from it without smelling of juniper. It was when men were real men, women were real women, and cocktails were real cocktails. It wasn’t too long after this era that the cocktail went into semi-obscurity.
Interestingly enough, it was a group of four women that brought the martini craze back in full force, and started a debate among bar tenders and mixologists about what a martini is. The ladies in Sex and the City, Carrie Bradshaw especially, brought into the limelight a martini that was created in the 1970’s, the Cosmopolitan. It was the opposite of the “manly” drink of the 50’s; sweet, fruity, and pink. Instead of being consumed by the powerful and influential men of the day, it was being consumed by the women other women wanted to be like and could relate to. This brought out an entire group of cocktails chilled and served in the iconic cocktail glass (Therapy Café has a pretty impressive list of them), and a debate about what a martini actually is.
The debate rages on in various articles and conversations about what a martini actually is. Purists will say that a martini is a combination of two ounces of gin, a half ounce of dry vermouth, well chilled and served in a cocktail glass. They may also grudgingly admit to vodka being substituted for the gin. But, they will balk at even the inference that a Cosmopolitan or an Apple Martini are true martinis. They are cocktails served in a fancy glass. The other camp understands the flexibility (and occasional laziness) of the English language. Martini has come to represent a category of cocktails, served in a chilled cocktail glass, with typically a hefty amount of spirits and a scant amount of mixer. This definition allows for the wide variety of flavors and color we can currently find on cocktail menus across the Miami Valley. I was in the former camp, but have come around to the latter camp. A martini is a fixture of the bar scene, and has done the leg work to transcend the original definition of the drink.
The origins of the martini are shrouded in a little mystery. Some say it was created in Italy, some say it was created in New York. The most common details state that our tale begins back in the 1860’s, near the town of Martinez, on the outskirts of San Francisco. The drink was (possibly) made for the local miners (or someone traveling to the local mines) at the Occidental Hotel. It was composed of two ounces of sweet vermouth, one ounce of gin, a little maraschino juice, and a dash of bitters. This original recipe was made with Martini and Rossi vermouth, which may be where they pulled the eventual name from (it was originally requested as a Martinez). It may have also been created by the famous Jerry Thomas, who was the greatest bar tender of his day, and one of the reasons we have so many recipes from the era. By the beginning of the 20th century, it had simplified to equal parts gin and dry vermouth, with a little bit of orange bitters thrown in for good measure. We would now call that a wet martini. As the century progressed, and we decided alcohol was bad, the martini became drier and drier, eventually settling on a recipe of about a 5:1 ratio of gin to vermouth. Some people (like Churchill) have removed the vermouth entirely, choosing to just have a well chilled glass of gin in a fancy glass, also known as a dry martini. It wasn’t too long after World War Two that vodka hit the scene, and any cocktail that had gin in it quickly developed a vodka counterpart, including the martini.
Before Carrie Bradshaw thrust the Cosmo into national prominence, James Bond was popularizing little known vodka based martinis. Ian Fleming created his own special martini in his first James Bond book (Casino Royale), called the Vesper. As we all know, the man likes his martinis “shaken, not stirred”. Why does it matter how the ingredients get mixed? It comes back to the fact that, at the heart of it, liquors are chemicals. And, what you are doing when you are shaking versus stirring is affecting the flavor of the drink through temperature and altering density. Shaking is a violent action, and it chills the liquors inside the tin at a much quicker rate. It also breaks up the vermouth a little more, helping it to blend better into the vodka or gin (like shaking dressing after it settled). It adds more oxygen and water to the drink, making the drink feel a little lighter as it goes over your tongue. If you want a colder, lighter drink, shake it. If you are looking for a drink where the flavor is richer, and there is much less dilution, then stirring is the way to go. You will also end up with less ice in the drink, as shaking will break off little shards of ice that the strainer will not catch. The ice and chilling is very important to the modern martini. It adds just enough water to take away some of the bite of the gin and the vermouth.
Of course, you discerning readers would like to know where in the Dayton area you can find a good one. Let’s start on Wednesday, where you can go to the aforementioned Therapy Café and enjoy their Martini Wednesday, where you can enjoy low cost martinis all night. You can then move to the Belmont area with Martini Thursdays at Tempest Lounge, where they will be offering more inexpensive martinis for you to test out. Of course, when you think martini, you think Germany. Boulevard Haus in the Oregon District also has a nice list of flavorful martinis. If you are looking for a classic martini, always get a good vodka (Buckeye is a good and local one), or a good gin (find Watershed Gin if you want to stay in Ohio, or my personal favorite, Hendricks), Chill it well, and sip slowly. And in the immortal words of James Thurber: “One martini is all right. Two are too many, and three are not enough.” Happy Father’s Day!
Recipes for you to try at home:
The Martinez (The Original)
2 oz. Sweet Vermouth
1 oz. Plymouth Gin (any fine gin will do)
1 dash of Agnostura Bitters
2 dashes Maraschino
Combine all of the ingredients into a tall mixing glass. Stir for thirty seconds to properly chill, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
The Martini (Modern Version)
1.5 oz. Gin (or Vodka, your choice)
.5 oz Dry Vermouth (Noilly Pratt and Martini and Rossi are both good brands)
Combine all of the ingredients into a tall mixing glass. Stir for thirty seconds to properly chill, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Typical garnishes include Spanish olives, cocktail onions (a Gibson), or a twist of lemon. Adding and ounce of olive juice (or olive juice to taste) will make it dirty.
The Cosmopolitan (Modern Classic)
1.25 oz. Vodka (Buckeye is good, Absolut Citron will enhance the citrus flavor)
.5 oz. Rose’s Lime Juice
.5 oz. Orange Liqueur
1 oz. Cranberry juice
1 Wedge of lemon (garnish)
Combine all of the ingredients into a tall mixing glass. Stir for thirty seconds to properly chill, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Run the wedge of lemon around the rim of the glass, and then cut the meat of the lemon out of the center. Twist over the cocktail so it looks like a pig’s tail, drop it in.