Shaken, Not Stirred

by Jeanne


I love to drink Martinis,
Two at the very most
After three I’m under the table,
After four I’m under my host.

Dorothy Parker

Two thousand and six marks the 200th anniversary of the cocktail—or at least the first recorded mention of the word. And while the tradition of the American cocktail is long, and varied you can seek out Mr. Boston for details. There’s really only one clear choice and it is quintessentially Americanthe Martini. (Yes that’s an intentional capital.)

The elixir of choice for M.F.K. Fisher, E.B. White, Kingsley Amis and H. L. Mencken who deemed it "the only American invention as perfect as a sonnet." As Lowell Edmunds discusses in his scholarly deconstruction of the cocktail, Martini, Straight Up: The Classic American Cocktail, the word "Martini" evokes not only a cocktail, but also an image and an idea. The symbolic potency of the Martini depends first on its uniquely inverted triangular cocktail glass in which it is traditionally, and secondly on its ingredients. This is where the quality of the gin or the vodka matters most. And to many purists it also rides on the name: if someone identifies a given drink as a Martini, then, for symbolic purposes, it is a Martini. Purists when calling for a martini are expecting the gin-based mix. 

There is no other cocktail that is more sophisticated, urban, adult and American than the Martini. It’s symbolic of a nostalgic past–of three-martini lunches, the Brat pack, James Bond and 1950s black and white films.

As with most food lore and history the most cited origin is that Jerry Thomas, a famous and influential 19th century bartender, invented the drink at the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco, sometime in the late 1850’s or 1860’s. A prospector, about to set out on a journey to Martinez, California, put a gold nugget on the bar and asked Thomas to mix him up something special. There are many other versions but what I know is that while history is valuable what we need to know is how to properly order one.

First things first, gin or vodka? At the risk of igniting a firestorm a bit more history. A traditional martini is made with gin, dry vermouth and either an olive or a lemon peel.  The migration to vodka began in the early 1950s. The glass was no longer stemmed but an Old Fashioned glass. To order the earlier version of the cocktail–chilled, in a stemmed glass, whether with gin or with vodka–one would state "straight-up Martini" or Martini "straight up." The expression was also shortened to "Martini up." James Bond was ever the diplomat and drank a hybrid version.

Like all things in the Land of Plenty you have many choices these days, Mexican Martinis, Chocolate-tinis, and others.  Just order it whatever way you prefer. And I prefer mine similar to Winston Churchill’s,(he’s a gin man, however}–straight up, extra dry and shaken. And just turn toward the direction of France and bow before straining into a shallow glass and garnish.

The James Bond Martini

From Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

Three ounces of Gordon’s Gin

One ounce vodka

Half a measure of Kina Lillet

Pour ingredients over ice. Shake it to chill and for texture.

Serve in a deep champagne goblet.