The Classic Martini

Savored at the Commodore Club on the Queen Mary II or in the hand of Fred Astaire in a toast to his newest venture, the simple, icy cold martini has long been considered the quintessential American cocktail.  It is sleek and elegant and even the conical shape of the martini glass evokes sophistication.

Much has been written about the origin and history of the martini.  Perhaps the most well documented is its first appearance at the old Knickerbocker Hotel in New York in 1910, the creation of its head bartender Martini di Arma de Taggia. Its first imbiber is reported to have been John D. Rockefeller. A British journalist, John Doxat, having made an exhaustive study of martini history, reports that the mix at that time was half gin and half dry vermouth.

The concoction became highly popular and other bartenders began to invent their own versions of the drink.  Its evolution saw drier and drier combinations until today, the popular mix seems to be 5 parts gin to 1 part dry vermouth.  There are those, preferring the “driest” martinis, who are content to whisper the word “martini” across the glass.  Winston Churchill used to simply bow in the direction of France when he made his martini. True aficionados, however, insist upon at least a modicum of dry vermouth.

In addition to Winston Churchill, many famous historical and fictional figures are associated with the martini—Ernest Hemingway, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Cary Grant, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Truman Capote and the list goes on.  Clearly the most famous fictional character to prefer the martini is James Bond, whose martini was not a martini at all, but was made with vodka and “shaken, not stirred,”  in the movies, anyway, although not in Ian Fleming’s books.  Purists would call this a “vodkatini.”

What is the proper way to make a martini?  First of all, chill the martini glass and the mixing glass.  Place ample ice cubes, never crushed ice, in the chilled mixing glass.  Pour in 2 ½ oz. gin and ½ oz.dry vermouth. Stir at least 30 seconds.  Strain into the martini glass and add a high quality green olive or a twist of lemon peel.  This is by no means the definitive classic martini.  As I mentioned, some like it shaken, some stirred; some like it drier or wetter, and then there are the many newer, sometimes neon colored variations sporting fruit juices, liqueurs and aperitifs.

Whatever your plans for New Year’s Eve, remember to drink responsibly and have fun. Bill and I wish you a New Year filled with the very best. Cheers!

Photographer Bill Brady



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