Is The Martini In A Mid-life Crisis Or Getting Its Second Wave?
April 20, 2016
At at least one hundred and fifty years old, the martini is the ultimate mixology classic. No dispute.
The symbol of a hundred thousand cocktail menus and a cultural icon in its own right. But in this modern age, is the classic martini still relevant?
In 1863, an Italian vermouth maker started marketing their product under the brand name of martini, and the brand may be the source of the cocktail’s name.
Perhaps on the other hand it was a clever marketing trick to attach your product to the name of a fashionable drink?
It’s likely we will never know which came first – the chicken or egg.
The Birth Of The Martini
Like most cocktails, the exact origin of the martini cocktail is still unclear.
Numerous cocktails with names and ingredients similar to the modern-day martini were first seen in bartending guides of the late 19th century.
For example, in the 1888 Bartenders’ Manual, there was a recipe for a drink that consisted in part of half a wine glass of Old Tom Gin and a half a wine glass of vermouth.
Another popular theory suggests it evolved from a cocktail called the Martinez – served sometime in the early 1860s at the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco, which people frequented before taking an evening ferry to the nearby town of Martinez.
In the 1970s and 80s, the martini was seen to be old-fashioned and was replaced by more intricate cocktails. But the mid 1990s saw a resurgence in the drink and numerous new versions.
This was the martinis ‘life begins at 40’ moment. The Cosmopolitan ushered in the new age of the martini and the floodgates opened.
The last great cocktail of the 20th century and the first great cocktail of the 21st were both martinis.
The Name’s Bond, James Bond
Now I can’t talk about the martini without mentioning Mr Bond.
“Shaken, not stirred” is the catchphrase of Ian Fleming’s fictional British Secret Service agent and describes his preference for the preparation of his martini cocktails.
The phrase first appears in the novel Diamonds Are Forever (1956), though Bond himself does not actually say it until Dr. No (1958), where his exact words are “shaken and not stirred”.
It is used in numerous Bond films thereafter with the notable exceptions of You Only Live Twice (1967), in which the drink is wrongly offered “stirred, not shaken” inCasino Royale (2006) in which Bond, after losing millions of dollars in a game of poker, is asked if he wants his martini shaken or stirred, snaps, “Do I look like I give a damn?”.
Now all this talk of the middle aged MI5 agent brings me to the point of this discussion.
Is the martini relevant to anyone today?
The classic version of the drink is often ordered by men of a certain age, trying to look sophisticated, trying to ooze an air of refined danger – trying to be Bond.
The martini is a drink of many choices, so as a bartender I instantly know if someone has tried the drink before.
If my customer tells me how they like their martini and asks me what options they have to play with, I know they are a connoisseur. Sadly, more often than not, I get one of two scenarios.
A martini order so ridiculously Bond like makes me know they don’t like the drink, they just like the notoriety. If I ask them if they prefer a twist or an olive and they say ‘both’, I know they are drinking it for the fame factor.
I feel equally bemused if they do the ‘shaken, not stirred’ line and then laugh to their friends.
These actions are usually followed by a slow showy exhibition of look at me. I’m so sophisticated. I’m drinking the same drink as the coolest guy around. That must make me just as cool.
If not the above scenario, then perhaps a sadder one.
For a martini order for someone who does not know the drink, I ask the questions to ascertain what martini they would like to try for their first experience:
Gin or vodka? Which particular brand? Dry or wet? Shaken or stirred? (Please don’t do the Bond line again!) Olive or lemon twist? Gibson? Serving them the fruits of my labour of love, I watch knowingly as they retire to a table and take their first sip.
An almost concealed look of horror sweeps their face as they realise they ordered a drink so dry and strong it’s almost un-drinkable to their pallet.
The sad part? They have to save face and carry on drinking; Bond doesn’t quit right?
Glorious Resurrection Or Embarrassing Return?
Some newer drinks include the word “martini” or the suffix “-tini” in the name (appletini, porn star martini, chocolate martini, espresso martini).
These are named after the martini cocktail glass they use and generally contain vodka, but share little else in common with the drink. They are however, considered to be a family or the descendants of the original recipe.
Another way to think of them is as the martini itself, but having a second wave after its ‘disco nap’.
Like mutton dressed as lamb, you could consider these new versions like that same 40 something, but this time dressed in teenagers clothing, dancing tragically at a nieces wedding to I will survive.
Well overdue to draw its pension, but still out there getting the girls and making itself the centre of attention, it’s the Peter Stringfellow of the cocktail world.
The martini doesn’t seem to want to retire from public life just yet.
Personally, I’m torn between letting this classic grow old gracefully with taking it out and giving it a makeover and some new threads.
Whichever way, like some fading popstar whose career best is behind them, we owe it to the martini to at least give its future a chance. It’s classic work will never be forgotten and its destiny may still hold a few hits yet!
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