There are hundreds of different combinations of ingredients served in bars around the world, but no cocktail bespeaks sophistication and elegance quite so much as the martini. Of course, there are almost that many opinions about what constitutes a proper martini.
James Bond, for instance, famously insisted that his martinis be “shaken, not stirred.” Those who favor the opposite — stirred — claim that shaking the mixture “bruises” the gin, which seems to mean that the gin tastes more bitter.
The “shaken” people retort that their preferred method gets the drink colder; “stirred” people begrudgingly agree, but claim that shaking a martini makes it look cloudier in the glass, due to air and ice fragments.
Martini enthusiasts on both sides of the shaken/stirred debate would agree that what James Bond drank was not a martini, because he ordered his with (shudder) vodka. Purists are adamant that a true martini is made only with gin — well, and some dry vermouth, garnished with an olive or two, or with a twist of lemon peel.
Who invented the drink, and when, is also the subject of controversy, but it’s safe to say that eloquent toasts have been made with raised martinis since the early 20th century. They gained popularity in the U.S. during Prohibition (1920-1933) partly because bathtub gin was in more plentiful supply than other kinds of booze.
The recipe for a martini in its introductory phase called for — brace yourselves, drinkers; this might trigger your gag reflex — one part gin to one part vermouth. By the 1950s, the gin-to-vermouth ratio was commonly 3 to 1. That’s how it would be served in a bar unless the customer specified otherwise.
“A very dry martini” is a way to let the bartender know to go easy on the vermouth; others, who like the proportions to be more like 50 to 1, will order “an extremely dry martini.”
According to the book “Vintage Cocktails” by Susan Waggoner and Robert Markel, Sir Winston Churchill made his favorite drink by pouring gin “and glancing briefly at a bottle of vermouth.”
A variation on that recipe, according to authors William and Mary Morris, was the one favored by Alfred Hitchcock. He supposedly combined a well-chilled glass, five jiggers of gin stirred with ice, and a bottle of extra-dry vermouth, which he tapped lightly against the cocktail shaker three times.
If you’re not into vermouth — and clearly, almost no one is — it’s a fortified wine (additional alcohol added) that is flavored wtih herbs and roots and shrubs and whatnot. In the context of vermouth, dry is an antonym for sweet, not wet. There is such a thing as sweet vermouth, incidentally; it’s used in Manhattans, another popular cocktail.
The leading international brand of vermouth is Martini & Rossi, which may have contributed to the misunderstanding in Florence, Italy, when my wife ordered a martini. The waiter came back with an old-fashioned glass… yeah, you’re way ahead of me, aren’t you? It was filled with Martini & Rossi vermouth. Although she managed to drink it, it sort of left Sally feeling shaken, not stirred.