The Martini

The martini went through a few different phases beginning in the 1800s, but the classic martini glass didn't appear until the 1920s.

Amy Johnson

Perhaps one of the most misconstrued of all classic cocktails, the simple, elegant, beautiful Martini has been a shape-shifter since its inception more than 120 years ago. After many facelifts and countless variations, we can only rely on three things common to most pre-Prohibition recipes: gin, vermouth and bitters.

Despite all the recipes I’ve come across for this lovely libation, I prefer the one mentioned in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, first published in 1948, by an anonymous contributor. It calls for gin, dry vermouth, a dash of orange bitters and a lemon peel for garnish.

When it comes to the matter of shaken or stirred, it depends on the drinker. Normally, I stir a Martini. Stirring keeps the integrity of the ingredients and, when poured into a cocktail glass, the Martini is clear and elegant with a silky smooth mouthfeel. According to 1940s cocktail enthusiast David Embury, author of the above book, a shaken Martini is called a Bradford. When shaken, it becomes aerated and lighter, with a cloudy hue. However, over the course of a few minutes, the cloudiness goes away and reveals the clear, pristine drink as if stirred.

The Making (and Makeover) of the Martini

1884. The first printed recipe for anything resembling a Martini was in 1884 in O.H. Byron’s The Modern Bartender’s Guide. In the book, it’s called the Martinez, and the recipe simply states: “Same as Manhattan, only you substitute gin for whiskey.” Equal parts gin to Italian vermouth (sweet vermouth) with two dashes of curaçao and two dashes of bitters.

Late 1880s. Many papers from the late 1880s reported Martinis being served by barmen all over New York City. At the same time, we see dry vermouth coming into play. The American palate was becoming less sweet, and drier products were becoming available in the market. We saw a switch from Old Tom gin (a sweetened gin) to London dry gins and a shift from sweet, dark rums to white and dry rums.

1900. A few cocktails appeared in bar guides around the turn of the 20th century that evolved into the iconic Martini, one being the Marguerite, made with Plymouth (English) gin, French vermouth and orange bitters.

1920s. The V-shaped, conical cocktail glass now synonymous with the Martini was introduced in the early 1920s. (It wasn’t until the 1960s, however, that it became the symbol for bars and cocktails.) And, in 1923, William F. Mulhall wrote “The Golden Age of Booze,” an article about his years pouring Martinis as a bartender at New York City’s famed Hoffman House.

The Martini

Serves | 1 |

  • 2¼ oz Distiller's Gin No. 6
  • ¾ oz Dolin Vermouth de Chambéry Dry
  • 2 dashes Regan's Orange Bitters No. 6
  • ice
  • lemon peel (for garnish)

| Preparation | Combine gin, vermouth and bitters in a mixing glass with ice. Stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with lemon peel.

Matt is a bartender, author and industry historian.