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Cocktail History: Martinis

Two people toasting martinis by the sunset

Over the years, simple cocktails have evolved into unique beverages that radiate bursts of color and unique punches of flavor. From the monochrome cocktail and mudslide cocktail all the way to the fireball sangria and the deep blue vodka punch, mixologists never fail to impress us with their out-of-the-box concoctions. While the cosmopolitan world of cocktails has been saturated with exquisite drinks that walk in sync with the fast-paced hustle and bustle of the 21st Century, there are still a myriad of classic drinks that will never ever go out of style. No matter how much time passes by and no matter how many new alcoholic beverages pop up on the scene, there is one particular cocktail that has stood the test of time and remains a popular choice of many; the martini.

What Is a Martini?

The martini is a classic cocktail that has been ordered, mixed, and served all over the globe for decades now. Made from gin and vermouth, and garnished with either an olive or lemon twist, it has propelled to a reputation as one of the most popular mixed alcoholic drinks in the world. Drink it straight or on the rocks, this beverage will always exude elegance and style.

American journalist, H.L. Mencken, even once referred to the martini as “the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet.”

 A martini with a lemon twist by the poolside

The Martini’s Mixed Up Mixologist History

When you think of the history of the martini, what comes to mind? For most people, this cocktail has been strongly associated with James Bond, or the eminent Agent 007. Although the alcoholic beverage was already popular before the Bond franchise took the world by storm, the fictional British secret agent did spark the iconic “shaken, not stirred” phrase, and the rest is history.

Truth be told, there isn’t a single person on the planet who can attest to the true roots of this legendary cocktail. Like most legends, there are multiple sides to the story, and legend has it that the martini was born in the town of Martinez, California. Some theories say that historians and inhabitants of the place claim that the drink was invented during the Gold Rush era of the 1800s. According to this hypothesis, there was a gold miner who had just struck it big. In order to celebrate his good fortune and riches, he went for a drink at a local bar and ordered champagne. Upon learning that it wasn’t available, the bartender, Jerry Thomas, offered to mix a new beverage with the ingredients that he currently had on hand; namely, vermouth, bitters, gin, maraschino liqueur, and a lemon. When the miner agreed, The Martinez Special was invented! Enjoying the cocktail so much, he attempted to order it again in San Francisco. Naturally, they weren’t familiar with the drink, so he needed to give the bartender instructions on its preparation process. Over time, The Martinez Special had been nicknamed the Martini, and was first officially published in The Bartender’s Manual circa 1880.

Another popular account states that an Italian bartender named Martini di Arma di Taggia was the brilliant mind who invented the cocktail. Apparently, he was working at the Knickerbocker Hotel in New York City before the outbreak of World War I. With his recipe of dry vermouth, dry gin, and orange bitters, he mixed what was to become one of the most famous cocktails in the world.

Another legend tells the tale of an 1863 Italian vermouth maker who marketed their products under the brand name of Martini. Named after its director, Alessandro Martini, it has been said that this company was the first to bring this alcoholic beverage into the spotlight.

And last but not least, there is a theory that claims that the drink was named after the Martini & Henry rifle, which was commonly used by the British Army for over two decades between the years 1870 and 1890. Both the cocktail and the rifle have gained quite a strong reputation.

Being published in both the Bartender’s Manual and the Modern Bartender, the drink has been described as a variation of the Manhattan, with the ingredients of old tom gin, orange curacao, sweet vermouth, and gum. Come the 1900s, more drinks with similar names and ingredients emerged until the modern-day martini was born.

A martini with a lemon twist by the poolside

The Martini of Today

While it is the simple and classic martini that has shot to stardom, people have found many ways to add their own twists and flairs to give this staple drink a modern new edge. Staying true to its botanical essence, yet mixing in an air of modernity, there are quite a few contemporary versions of the martini that are definitely worth trying.

The martini is extremely versatile and can be paired with infinite flavors. After all, mixing drinks is a form of art, and art is all about taking chances.

One example of a modern day take on this classic beverage is the Aura In Me, which contains genever, pine honey, pink pepper, elderflower syrup, lemon juice, egg white, and cardamom. With these sweet notes, you will be adding a dash of saccharine flavor to the natural taste of the martini.

If you’re feeling a bit more on the adventurous side, then you should definitely try the cucumber wasabi martini. Made with gin, wasabi, cucumber, simple syrup, and lemon juice, this cocktail will leave you feeling energized as you indulge in the daring spice of wasabi and the cooling freshness of cucumber. The two ingredients are from opposite sides of the spectrum, yet balance each other out perfectly. Definitely one magnificent martini.

The greatest thing about martinis is that they’re versatile; ideal for formal events or for a relaxed afternoon by the pool. Regardless of its slightly muddled history and roots, the martini has evidently preserved its flavor and class over the decades. Its history may be unclear, but with it being loved by many people in every corner of the world, one thing is for sure: It’s present and future are clear as day.

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