Food & Drink

Everything You Know About the Martini Is Wrong

And Other Life Lessons from The Martini Cocktail, a New Book by Robert Simonson

By Kevin Gray ·
Lizzie Munro © 2019

Few drink orders bring with them as much baggage, expectation and general commotion as the Martini.

Request one at a proper cocktail bar, and you're likely to receive a barrage of questions: gin or vodka? Wet or dry or very dry? Twist or olive? Dash of bitters? Up or down?  

Order one at TGI Friday's, and you're likely to get an unbalanced, watery mess that's a far cry from the ideal example of what the cocktail can be.

It's a surprisingly complicated drink for one with so few ingredients. So, then, it's no surprise that the Martini is an oft-explored subject among thirsty writers, inspiring many a book over the decades.

Here's one more. The Martini Cocktail: A Meditation on the World's Greatest Drink, with Recipes by Robert Simonson dives into the classic cocktail with an easy-reading gusto. It covers all the bases you want it to, including origin stories, recipes and the Martini's place in popular culture. Give it a read, and you just might learn a thing or two. Things like... 

Lizzie Munro © 2019

Everything You Know About the Martini Is Wrong

According to Simonson, if you think you know who invented the Martini, where it comes from and how, exactly, it should be served... you're wrong. Then again, you're also right. See, even those with an inordinate amount of knowledge about the Martini don't always agree on the particulars. So, some of those know-it-alls must be wrong, which means that everyone must be wrong. In which case, everyone is also right. Got all that?

It Was (Relatively) Late to the Game

First appearing in print in 1888, the Martini is often considered the most classic of drinks. But plenty of other notable cocktails predate it, including some with real staying power, like the Mint Julep, Sherry Cobbler and Manhattan.

The Martini Wasn't Always Dry. Or Clear.

The first Martinis were likely made with Old Tom gin, a sweeter style of the spirit. And French dry vermouth didn't hit the Martini scene until after the cocktail had already risen to prominence. So, the first Martinis would have included Italian sweet vermouth, giving them a different flavor and appearance than what we're accustomed to today. 

The Glass Itself Is a Mystery

The long-stemmed, V-shaped glass that we all associate with Martinis was not actually invented to house Martinis. It was just a glass. Where it came from and why people deemed it necessary for Martini drinking is unclear. Although, according to Simsonson, it was not the universally accepted standard until perhaps as late as the 1960s. By the time the '90s "tini" trend rolled around, it would have been treasonous to serve a Martini in any other glass. Today, however, some of the better cocktail bars have traded in the larger-than-necessary, unwieldy receptacles for other glassware like coupes and Nick and Nora glasses. 

James Bond Got It Wrong

Okay, sure there's no wrong way to drink a Martini. But James Bond's order of a vodka Martini "shaken, not stirred" is enough to make a Martini purist red with anger. Typically, a cocktail made with all spirits is stirred, a method that maintains its delicate nature and clarity. Drinks that include juice or cream or eggs are shaken. Simonson concedes that Martinis should be consumed however the hell you want. But he continues: "Bond’s famous call for a 'shaken, not stirred' vodka Martini does not result in the best Martini ever made. And his order’s fame has caused many an unquestioning drinker to make a similar error, if only to sound smart and confident in front of the bartender. (It doesn’t work. Trust me.)"

Reprinted with permission from The Martini Cocktail: A Meditation on the World’s Greatest Drink, with Recipes by Robert Simonson, copyright © 2019. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

Kevin Gray

Kevin Gray lives in Texas. He likes whiskey, weekends and hammocks, often at the same time.

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