[The Cocktail Chronicles]

A history of cocktail favorites

By Sam Ujvary

Love Your Enemy

“Alcohol may be man's worst enemy, but the Bible says love your enemy.”
-Frank Sinatra

The martini. It's a status symbol. Edible art. Great men drink it and great debates have been made about it. From its origin and the ratio of ingredients, to the proper way to make it and what garnish it's paired with, there's a martini recipe out there to fit us each individually like a well-tailored suit.

Somewhere near San Francisco in the nineteenth century, Jerry Thomas of the Occidental Hotel had a bartender manual which contained a martini recipe. It's believed travelers heading to the nearby city of Martinez were mainly those consuming the drink. Some sort of 'when in Rome' mentality, I suppose. Meanwhile, the city from which the martini gets its name, disputes its origin, claiming the drink was known as the “Martinez special.” It's one of the world's mysteries for which we may never have an answer.

One of the best-known cocktails in the world, a martini is typically made of gin and vermouth. While the ratio has continued to vary, it's really a personal preference. 4 parts gin to 1 part vermouth was popular in the '30s. As the twentieth century rolled on, ratios rose to 8:1, 20:1, 50:1 and even some still prefer to forgo vermouth altogether. Oddly enough, the less dry vermouth in the recipe, the drier the martini is considered.

How to build a proper martini. There isn't enough paper in the world to make a book that can fully encompass what goes into this. How much alcohol? Vermouth! Shaken. No, stirred....but for only 30 seconds. Using whatever ratio you prefer, pour the ingredients over ice. That, we can agree on. Gin drinkers generally prefer a stirred martini in order to taste the botanicals. For a while, vodka martini drinkers didn't really specify anything other than which spirit they prefer. Then, James Bond threw a wrench in things. “Ordering a martini shaken. Brilliant! Why didn't I think of that? I'm so going to be James Bond next time I go to Happy Hour.” Seemingly, the only difference in a shaken martini versus one that is stirred, is the clarity of the drink. If you're making it correctly, the dilution in a shaken martini is minuscule. For what it's worth, I only notice a slightly sharper taste in a stirred martini, while one that's shaken seems to be more well-rounded.

The comically-brilliant Johnny Carson once said, “Happiness is…finding two olives in your martini when you’re hungry.” With my personal preference being a dirty vodka martini with blue cheese-stuffed olives, I concur with Mr. Carson. What if you worked through lunch and it'll be another 20 minutes before your table is ready? Well, I can tell you (admittedly, from experience) that biting into an onion or a lemon peel will not tide you over until you order appetizers. If you're not so hungry, a lemon zest around the rim of your martini will give it a little something extra in one way, while a cocktail onion—which is typically sweet—gives it something extra in quite a different way. The three traditional garnishes for a martini each provide a hint of something, whether it be salty, zesty, or sweet.

Any way you take your martini, with gin or vodka, shaken or stirred, and with one onion or three olives—take it with elegance, grace and class, just like the men and women who gave it its classic reputation.