Ode to the Martini

There’s nothing sexier than a martini. Beloved by James Bond, the clean, spirit-forward cocktail has proven itself impervious to countless trends, from “shaken, not stirred” to the unfortunate appletini. Although traditionally made with gin, I prefer vodka (fewer morning-after headaches. . .). A martini is usually dressed with olives but occasionally with a lemon twist or onion (but that is actually a Gibson, not a martini).  A properly made martini is like drinking a cloud.

History of the Martini

Like many classics cocktails whose origins stretch deep into history, the martini’s story of inception is the stuff of legends. Since the 1950s, the town of Martinez, California has claimed the drink as their own. The story goes that during the Gold Rush around 1849, a prospector who struck gold wanted to celebrate with Champagne, but since the local bar didn’t have any, the bartender instead threw together what he did have—fortified wine and gin—and called it the Martinez special. Over time, the Martinez recipe, which is more similar to a Manhattan, evolved into the martini.

Another theory is that the martini is actually the result of a very successful marketing ploy by Italian vermouth maker Martini & Rossi in 1863, when the brand created a drink in response to customers asking for a tipple of dry vermouth and gin. When cocktail historian David Wondrich published the first edition of Imbibe! in 2007, he floated several martini origin stories. But he suggests the most plausible, although not proven, to be one involving New York judge Randolph B. Martine who supposedly invented the martini at New York City’s The Manhattan Club.

Steps to a Perfect Martini

One: The Vodka. Vodka makes the basis of the martini and is its most important ingredient. Tito’s Handmade Vodka is one of my favorites. I started drinking this a few years ago when it was still a small batch vodka made in Texas. It has since grown to be quite popular (and more expensive). I find it to be very smooth with almost a creamy mouthfeel. Works great in a martini.

Tito's Vodka
Tito’s Vodka

Variations

  • 50/50 Martini: The ultimate wet martini with equal parts gin and vermouth.
  • Gibson Martini: A martini garnished with a pickled onion.
  • Martinez: The precursor to the dry martini, made with sweet vermouth, Old Tom gin, and maraschino liqueur. This cocktail similar to a Manhattan cocktail, but made with gin instead of rye.
  • Vesper : The vodka and gin martini variation created by Ian Fleming in his first James Bondnovel, Casino Royale. It’s three parts (Gordon’s) gin, 1 part Russian vodka and a 1/2 part Kina Lillet (sub Lillet Blanc or Cocchi Americano).
  • Puritan Cocktail: A martini variation from 1900, made with yellow Chartreuse (1 3/4 ounces gin, 1/2 ounce dry vermouth, 1/4 ounce yellow Chartreuse, a dash orange bitters).

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