Mad about Martinis

While everyone is toasting the birth of a new year with Champagne or Sparkling Wine, I have always gravitated towards the Martini on this occasion. I think I first started drinking Martinis because my Dad did and it was a nod to him. Martinis were everything my adoring daughter eyes saw in him: adventurous, daring, suave and sometimes, a little dangerous. Now that I think of it, I think I STILL like my men like my martinis…anyway… My Dad was in good company though, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Earnest Hemingway, FDR and Churchill were all known Martini-ophiles. Perhaps the legendary company inspired my father, regardless, throughout the years, the Martini has been the sip-to drink on many celebratory occasions.

Much to the dismay of purists, my Martini is vodka and dirty. I like to say “diiiiiiiirty” when I order it, it gives both the bartender and I a small giggle as we consider the subtext.  But ask any Martini drinker about how they like theirs and you are likely to get a soliloquy on what should go into a Martini, and how it should be prepared. How much vermouth should be added is a topic of hot debate and many a marriages have ended over the “shaken, not stirred” controversy. The Martini is a complicated soul, yes she is; an enigma if you will.

So it should come as no surprise that the Martini’s origins are dubious.  What is known is Martini is an American-born drink, created in the 19th century, but that is where the known parentage ends.

The popularized story of Martini’s origins take us back to the gold rush where a newly successful miner stumbles out of San Francisco and into the nearest town, Martinez, to celebrate his new found wealth.  Moseying up to the bar, he asks for Champagne, but since it isn’t available, our miner wisely takes the recommendation of the bartender who suggests a “Martinez Special”. This house drink was prepared with one part very dry Sauterne wine and three parts Gin, stirred with ice and finished with an olive. Martinez, California considers itself the birthplace of the modern day Martini.

However, it has also been suggested that the origins of the Martini came after Martini and Rossi began importing dry vermouth to the United States in 1863 by a creative bartender who mixed it with gin.

Another legend suggests that the name comes from the “kick” of the rifle, Martini and Henry used by Britain in 1871. But it wasn’t until 1888 that a drink called “Martini” appeared in the New and Improved Illustrated Bartending Manual. This version was gin, bitters and gum syrup. Notably, it was stirred and served with a lemon peel.

For me, the VODKA martini drinker, the biggest enigma is when vodka became an acceptable substitute. True to the rest of Martini’s history, it remains unknow. Indisputably, the vodka martini (the Bradford) is a nouveau incarnation.

Might I recommend a Martini to celebrate 2010, I know it will take more than a few for me to erase 2009 from my memory.

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About Tara DeWitt Coomans

An aspiring cook and an accomplished eater, Tara is inspired by the world around her and the food on her plate. "When you can't jump on a plane and take a vacation to an exotic destination, chances are you can whip up a dish or go to a restaurant that will take you there." says Tara. She often eats out at a restaurant after trying to accomplish a given dish at home. None the less, she enjoys food and what it says about the human experience. Tara is a full-time freelance writer and blogger. She specializes in writing about food, cooking and travel. You can find her in the kitchen, on the plane or at her computer.