The Stirring History of Martinis
Shaken or stirred, one thing is for certain when it comes to a martini: The concoction of gin, vermouth and a sundry of garnishes has reinvented itself throughout time to mirror the present day generation. “Martinis are the only American invention as perfect as a sonnet,” said H.L. Mencken, a journalist and well-respected critic on American life.
A Medical Heritage
The components of a martini toast a history as rich as the drink itself and, strangely, one of a medical nature. Gin, a blend of juniper berry oil and grain alcohol, was originally known as “genever,” dating back to the 17th century. Dutch medical professor Francois de Boe Sylvius used it as a remedy to treat gout, gallstones and kidney problems.
Vermouth is the protégé of gin in a traditional martini. Presently, vermouth is simply white wine instilled with alcohol, caramel, sugar and spices. But in the 1700s when it made its debut in a cocktail, vermouth was a red dessert beverage made of wormwood flowers, cinnamon, cloves, orange peel, nutmeg, tree bark and brandy that Europeans drank in lieu of polluted water. Interestingly, the term vermouth comes from the German word for wormwood and was an apothecary treatment for jaundice, rheumatism and intestinal worms.
It wasn’t long before patients prescribed gin and vermouth noticed the inexpensive elixirs were tasty and offered a pleasant side effect: a nice buzz. It was then that the liquid blend began its transition from a medical preparation into what would become the iconic cocktail known for its sophistication and panache.
How the Martini Got its Name
The origin of the word “martini” depends on which historian you ask. New Yorkers say bartender Martini di Arma created the cocktail for John D. Rockefeller in 1911 at the Knickerbocker Hotel. But Californians may tell you it was in 1850 in San Francisco that professor Jerry Thomas first made the mélange for a miner en route to Martinez who placed a gold piece on Thomas’ bar and tempted him to blend something extra special. Legend has it that the professor created the martini prototype – a drink he called the Martinez – the recipe for which was initially printed in the 1887 Bartenders Guide.
But ask a resident of Martinez, California, and you’ll likely hear a different variation of this story. They claim the martini was invented right in the city of Martinez in 1870 by bartender Julio Richelieu. Their tale of the martini saga says a miner didn’t like the whiskey Richelieu served him for the cost of a bag of gold, and that the barkeep reciprocated by creating the Martinez, a blend of gin, vermouth, orange and bitters with an olive garnish.
The naming folklore of the martini doesn’t end there. Look up the term in the Oxford English Dictionary and you’ll find credit given to a company called Martini e Sola (today better known as Martini and Rossi). Oxford’s dictionary
definition says that in 1871, Martini e Sola sent nine dozen cases of vermouth to New York. Some historians say this rendition of the account isn’t credible because it was printed a year after the Richelieu story and two decades after the Thomas story.
Fred Astaire in a Glass
No matter which martini origin strikes your fancy, or whether you prefer to garnish one with an olive, lemon twist or cocktail onion, the legendary drink has no doubt fascinated famous comedians, singers, authors and world leaders alike.
George Burns once quipped, “I never go jogging; it makes me spill my martini.” Frank Sinatra was noted for saying, “Let me fix you a Martini that’s pure magic.” In Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway wrote, ‘’I had never tasted anything so cool and clean. They made me feel civilized.’’ President Gerald Ford said, “The three martini lunch is the epitome of American efficiency. Where else can you get an earful, a bellyful and a snootful at the same time?” Winston Churchill made martini history when he announced, “Always remember that I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me.” And Johnny Carson summed it up when he said, “Happiness is finding two olives in your martini when you’re hungry.”
“A man must defend his home, his wife, his children, and his martini.” — Jackie Gleason
Lemon Splash Martini
3 jiggers vodka
1oz triple sec
1oz amaretto almond liqueur
juice of 1 lemon wedge
Mix vodka, amaretto, triple sec and a 1/2 squeeze
of lemon wedge in a shaker with ice. Shake. Squeeze remaining lemon juice into martini glass. Pour mixture into glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Lemon Splash Martini recipe www.drinksmixer.com
1oz Cointreau® orange liqueur
juice of 1/2 lime
2 splash cranberry juice
Pour all ingredients in mixing glass half
filled with ice, shake and strain into
chilled martini glass.
Cosmopolitan Martini recipe www.drinksmixer.com