January 2011

Martini

by CAMPER ENGLISH / photograph by NIGEL COX / illustrations by ROSS MACDONALD

martini

“It is certainly more of a broad concept than a specific recipe,” writes Jason Wilson of the martini in Boozehound: On the Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits, “but the one constant must be gin and vermouth.”

Rather than one drink, the martini is now a set of variables and constants. Is it a vehicle for a preparation ritual akin to a tea ceremony or a simple two-ingredient cocktail? A boozy wallop of liquor or an elegant fashion accessory? For Wilson, vodka and martini are mutually exclusive terms; for others, the ingredients are just a part of its “broad concept.”

At the international 42 Below Cocktail World Cup in New Zealand last March, judges asked bartenders to create a “modern martini”—a twist on the traditional drink, made with the sponsor vodka. The French team reinterpreted the process, stirring the ingredients separately before shaking them together. The Italians lowered the cocktail’s proof to modernize its nature as an aperitif, while the Americans focused on the garnish, stuffing the olive with orange flesh. The Kiwis challenged its iconic V-shaped glass by serving it as a fizzing powder and a shot.

The judges—who believed the libation’s essence is found in its simplicity—selected the winning martini of the Irish, who merely added a dash of bitters and a spritz of flavored vodka on top.

Variations are nothing new: The martini has always been a moving target. It morphed from the sweet Martinez in the late 1800s into the martini made with dry vermouth at the turn of the 20th century. It lost most of its vermouth going into the ’50s and, moving toward the ’70s, then became an all-vodka drink as that spirit overtook sales of gin.

At the turn of the millennium, a martini was any neon-colored sugary liquid served in a “martini glass” the size of a terrarium. And as if to defy the laws of physics, in the current classic-cocktail revival, all of these exist simultaneously—at least for bartenders challenged to make them for customers whose tastes lie in one era or another.

Today the martini is a specific drink to individuals but an abstract idea. As Wilson wrote, “It is both universal and highly personal.” He had moved on to defining the Manhattan by that point in the book, but he could have been writing about the martini...or fashion sense, religion or love.

MARTINEZ

1887

• 1 3/4 ounces London dry gin
• 2 ounces sweet vermouth
• 1/4 ounce Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
• 1 dash orange bitters


Combine ingredients in mixing glass. Add ice cubes and stir. Strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon twist.

DRY MARTINI

1910

• 2 ounces gin
• 1 ounce French dry vermouth
• 1 dash orange bitters


Stir ingredients over ice and strain into a stemmed cocktail glass. Garnish with lemon twist.

GIN MARTINI

1955

• 3 ounces gin
• 1 splash French dry vermouth


Rinse martini glass with vermouth, then pour out. In mixing glass, stir gin and ice and strain into martini glass. Garnish with olive.

VODKATINI

1990

• 4 ounces vodka
• 1 splash French dry vermouth


Pour vermouth into ice-filled shaker. Swirl, add vodka and shake. Pour into 8-ounce martini glass. Garnish with several olives.

APPLETINI

2000

• 4 ounces vodka
• 2 ounces sour-apple schnapps
• 2 ounces apple juice


Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into 10- or 12-ounce martini glass. Garnish with slice of green apple.