The origins of the Martini are clouded in mystery. Who invented the Martini? Where was it first drunk? How did it become so popular? There is much controversy to add to the attraction of a drink that combines style and good times. Read on to learn about the fascinating history of the Martini.
The History of the Martini
It’s a simple drink with only two essential ingredients. Gin and vermouth. Yet there’s so much dispute. From the proportions of each ingredient to the method of combining them, right down to the garnishes added to it.
It could have been created in many places and at many times. Here are a few of the most common accounts.
Putting Martini in the Martini
One of the ingredients, vermouth, is a wonderful drink on its own. It’s a fortified wine flavoured by a variety of botanicals. Originating in Italy, vermouth is now produced all around the world. Martini just happens to be the name of one of the category leaders.
With the duplication, it could be fair to presume that if you ask for Martini at a bar, you may receive a glass of vermouth. A bartender might argue that if you want a drink to contain gin you should order a martini cocktail. But could Martini, the vermouth brand, actually be a clue to the name of the cocktail?
At the turn of the 19th to 20th Century, Martini Rossi was running a campaign in the United States, including full page newspaper ads, with the tagline “It’s not a Martini unless you use Martini”.
Martinez, ‘Father of the Martini’
The Occidental Hotel in San Francisco, California must have hosted some debaucherous, impromptu parties in its time. Catering to wealthy travellers in the late 1800s, the luxury hotel was a convenient location for drinks before passengers took the ferry to Martinez.
So how does this place get intertwined with the history of the martini, you ask.
It all began with a cocktail called the Martinez. Invented by a bartender at The Occidental Hotel, the original Martinez was the Martini according to some historians. It was only over time that the two cocktails evolved, with the vermouth heavy Martinez becoming sweet and the martini staying dry with its accent on the gin.
The first known publication of the ‘Fancy Gin Cocktail’ was in Bartender’s Guide by Jerry Thomas in 1862. Later, in 1888, Harry Johnson included the first known recipe named ‘Martini Cocktail’ in his Bartender Manual. From publication to publication, a family of drinks was born, including Martine, Marguerite, Martina and Martineau, to name just a few.
Various versions of the drink continued to emerge from 1882 to 1910, drying out the martini over time. With orange Curaçao and gum syrup, some sound more like the sweet corruptions of the 1980’s than the simple classics of the 1880s. It’s not til 1904 in Daly’s Bartenders Encyclopaedia that a bartender finally drops the liqueurs.
Understanding the Ingredients
The two main ingredients have their own interesting histories. Like the history of the martini, the origins of gin and vermouth are fascinating too.
Gin is a distilled spirit that originated in Europe and like most alcohol, gin was probably first made as a medicine. Its flavour is derived from juniper berries but in recent times the fashion has been to flavour it with a huge variety of alternatives. Fruit, herbs and spices are all used to provide sometimes very exotic versions of this popular drink.
The Dutch invented gin. ‘Dutch Gin’, the national drink of the Netherlands, is a strong spirit known as Jenever. In the early 17th century, its popularity grew in England, becoming less about being good for you and more about having a good time. It’s easy to imagine how the term “Dutch courage” came to be.
Vermouth has its origins in the 15th century. Like many of our modern alcoholic drinks, it was produced as a tincture. It’s a fortified wine with aromatic herbs added to provide flavour, and sometimes sweetened.
Turin in Italy is the home of modern vermouth. In the 18th century, the drink emerged as an aperitif in cafés. Today, dry and sweet versions are widely drunk on their own or in cocktails. Dry vermouth is typically white and sweet vermouth is typically red.
An Australian Martini
The martini may have a wonderful heritage, but it’s a drink that’s very contemporary too.
Try this Martini Cocktail Kit. It combines Four Pillars Olive Leaf Gin with Maidenii Vermouth.
Four Pillars is an international gold medal-winning gin distillery in Healesville, near Melbourne Australia. The brand’s Olive Leaf Gin was made specifically for martini cocktails. It’s savoury with a strong Mediterranean influence.
Maidenii Vermouth is also Australian and the product of a joyful collaboration between a French winemaker and a Melbourne bartender. Maidenii’s dry vermouth is perfect for a classic martini cocktail.
These are well known, modern Australian products that respect the heritage of the martini cocktail.
You should make a martini cocktail your way, adding dry vermouth to your taste, but the accepted proportions for the modern martini are five parts gin to one part vermouth, making it dry. The less vermouth the drier the martini you get.
Bartenders have experimented with many garnishes. An olive works a treat – three for good luck. A twist of lemon is preferred by others. Add a cocktail onion rather than an olive and you have a Gibson.
There is the option of making a wet martini. Simply add more vermouth! Some people use the 50:50 ratio of dry vermouth to gin. The more vermouth, the wetter it is. Or if you want a dirty martini instead, add a good 5-10ml of the juice or brine that the olives come in.
Some more advanced ingredients to try include bitters and sherry, but keep it to a dash.
The Martini in Literature and Movies
The martini is probably most associated in popular culture with the jazz age and the prohibition era. Despite this, there was still much illicit drinking and martini cocktail fuelled fun.
Drinking, jazz, and underground night clubs provide a rich subject for literature and movies. F. Scott Fitzgerald and his book “The Great Gatsby” was especially influential in creating a romantic association with that era and the martini cocktail has a firm place in that period.
James Bond’s fondness for the martini is legendary, but his movie persona’s preference for shaking is heavily criticised, prompting much discussion of the merits of each approach, none so surprising as a research study published in the British Medical Journal. This study concluded that shaken martinis have a more antioxidant effect than stirred martinis and, so they claim, may account for Bond’s lack of cardiovascular disease.
The suggestion that shaking bruises the gin is hard to substantiate, but the English playwright and novelist, W. Somerset Maugham is quite clear. Martini’s must be stirred.
The main reason for stirring your martini is to prevent the ice from disintegrating and over-diluting your cocktail. James Bond is, in fact, watering down and weakening his drink.
Mix, Sip and Enjoy
In years to come, who’ll be in the martini history books? Look no further than the best gin makers. Four Pillars are arguably Australia’s favourite brand and, according to the 2020 International Wine and Spirit Competition, the best in the world.
Whatever the history of the martini, this is a drink for enjoying now. Its heritage is long and fascinating. Its future is bright.
Find out if you’re the kind of person who would like a martini cocktail kit.