Few drinks have captured the popular imagination quite like the martini. From James Bond's debonair "shaken not stirred" calling card, to Mae West's sassy, "let's get out of these wet clothes and into a dry martini," the martini has become iconic of high-class style and an old-fashioned sort of sophistication.

From the vineyards of Italy to the board rooms of Wall Street, the martini evokes a certain lifestyle and carries the weight of its own mythos with a hearty laugh and a deft touch. Still, for such a high-profile drink, the origins of the martini are shrouded in a surprising veil of mystery and confusion. Where exactly did this apex of alcoholic endeavor come from?

Let's dive right in:

  1. The History of the Martini
  2. The Martini Is Born
  3. How Classic Martinis Are Made
  4. Wet, Dry, and Dirty Martinis
  5. Other Variations on the Martini
  6. Which Foods Pair Well with Martinis?
  7. Vermouth as Medicine
  8. How to Make the Perfect Vodka Martini
  9. An Unsurpassed Base for Your Martini
  10. Now It’s Your Turn

The History of the Martini

A classic martini is composed of two major elements: gin and vermouth. Thus, to understand the martini better, we need to briefly discuss the parents that gave birth to this prodigy.

Gin, a mixture of grain alcohol and juniper berry oil, was conceived by a Dutch medical professor named Francois de Boe Sylvius in the 17th century. He used gin to treat kidney disorders, stomach aches, gout, and gallstones. No doubt Professor Sylvius became quite popular among his patients for his medicinal recommendations.

Vermouth, on the other hand, has enjoyed a much longer lifespan than its junior counterpart. It is quite possible that Hippocrates, the vaunted "Father of Modern Medicine," also gave birth to the earliest incarnation of vermouth. The "wormwood wine" that Hippocrates would prescribe for his patients was perhaps the precursor to vermouth as we know it today. Like gin, vermouth was recommended as a treatment option for all sorts of ailments, such as jaundice, hemlock poisoning, and even menstrual pains.

The Martini Is Born

So, how did gin and vermouth come together to produce the martini? There are a hundred different stories from a hundred different sources. For example:

  • The British believe that the term "martini" comes from the Martini & Henry rifle used by the English army between 1871 and 1891. What was the correlation? As any hard-drinking soldier could attest, both drink and gun were known to deliver a noticeable "kick."
  • New Yorkers think that the martini originated as a bartender's invention at the Knickerbocker Hotel circa 1911.
  • Others are convinced that the martini came into existence in San Francisco around 1850. The story goes that one Professor Jerry Thomas was challenged by a miner to make "something special" for him to drink. The result was the "Martinez," the first iteration of the martini. Indeed, The Bartenders Guide of 1887 included the Martinez as one of its featured recipes.

Wherever the martini came from, it quickly became the drink of choice for the affluent and sophisticated, such as John D. Rockefeller, Winston Churchill, and Humphrey Bogart, just to name a few.

How Classic Martinis Are Made

A classic martini is a cinch to make. All you need for the perfect classic martini are a few ingredients, a shaker or cocktail mixing glass with a strainer, a bar spoon (or teaspoon) and a chilled glass.

The basic element of the classic martini recipe is a 5:1 ratio of gin to dry vermouth. For the vermouth, accept no alternative; it has to be Noilly Prat Original Dry. If you'd like to make it yourself, follow these simple instructions: 

Equipment

  • A shaker or cocktail mixing glass
  • A bar spoon (or teaspoon)
  • A strainer
  • Cocktail glass

Ingredients

  • 50 ml Gin
  • 10 ml Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth
  • To garnish: Gordal olives or lemon peel
  • Ice

Preparation

  1. Chill your cocktail glass in the freezer or with ice (the easiest way is to fill it with ice).
  2. Add the Ice to your mixing glass or shaker.
  3. Add the Gin & Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth.
  4. Stir the mixture for about 30 seconds to chill and dilute the drink, then strain into the chilled cocktail glass.
  5. If you're using lemon peel (for Olive skip to step 8): Express lemon peel gently over the cocktail, so it’s perfumed with the citric oils. You can also rub it along the rim of the glass.
  6. Garnish the drink with a twist of lemon peel.
    To make the lemon twist, cut a long piece of zest (around 8 to 10 cm), and twist it in a spiral. 
  7. Rest your spiral on the rim of the glass or drop it in and serve.
  8. If you're using olives: Add one or two Gordal olives and serve. (This olive kind has a naturally low oil content, which is perfect for martinis.) 

And that's it! Feel free to feel very fancy as you sip on your sparkling concoction.

Wet, Dry, and Dirty Martinis

At first glance, you might think that a "dry martini" means more dry vermouth, and a "wet martini" means less. Actually, it's exactly the opposite: dry martinis typically contain 6 to 15 parts gin to 1 part vermouth, whereas if you order a wet martini, you're asking for more dry vermouth.

You can order a standard dry martini or an extra dry. An extra dry ratchets up the gin to vermouth ratio to an 11. We're talking 15 parts gin to 1 part vermouth, sometimes even just a drop. Or if you are in the mood to "take a swim," you can order an extra wet martini. How wet is extra wet? Well, some old-school wet martinis contain equal amounts of gin and vermouth. Our preferred Wet Martini contains 2 parts Gin and 1 part dry vermouth.

What about dirty martinis? These are martinis infused with olive juice. This adds an extra kick to the drink, as well as increased acidity and saltiness. Some martini connoisseurs enjoy theirs extra dirty - as in, they like a little gin and vermouth with their olive juice. If the friend you are serving enjoys an especially dirty martini, add an olive or two as a garnish, just in case, there's not enough brine to suit her or his taste.

You can find the recipes for Classic, Dry, Wet, and Dirty Martinis right here in our recipe collection.

Other Variations on the Martini

As with most popular drinks, there are a seemingly limitless number of variations on the martini with which to experiment. Apart from the wet, dry, or dirty versions of the drink, some other variations on the classic recipe include the following options:

  • Gin or vodka. The traditional gin martini contains strong herbal flavors, so if you're not a big fan, you may want to switch over to the vodka-based alternative.
  • Shaken or stirred. While the shaken version of the drink has perhaps become the more popular option (thanks to a certain secret agent), a stirred martini is typically smoother than its flamboyant counterpart. It’s also less likely to contain ice shards.
  • Straight up or on the rocks. The traditional straight-up version comes in a tall, chilled martini glass, whereas the "on the rocks" variation is served in a tumbler over ice. For those who like a more diluted take on the classic martini, the on-the-rocks option may quickly turn into their favorite.
  • Olive or lemon peel. Depending on the garnish that you prefer, you can order a martini with an olive, or "with a twist," in which case you'll receive a small twist of lemon peel to bolster the citrusy vibe of the drink.

You can also order a Gibson or Vesper martini. A Gibson can be gin-based or vodka-based, but traditionally comes with a pearl onion as a garnish. Vesper martinis are made with gin, vodka, and a bitter wine aperitif such as Kina Lillet or Cocchi Americano. Since this variation compounds the drink's alcoholic content by incorporating both gin and vodka, be prepared for the extra punch that the Vesper offers.

Of course, besides these variations on the classic martini, there are a ton of martini types that use the classic recipe as a springboard for all sorts of weird, imaginative, and even outrageous concoctions. For instance, there's the crantini martini, the absinthe-minded martini, the fuzzy martini, the dirty bloody martini, the Great Caesar's martini... the list could go on and on.

Which Foods Pair Well with Martinis?

Three basic factors to keep in mind when it comes to pairing foods with martinis are:

  • Balance
  • Contrast
  • Complement

For instance, salty nuts and sharp cheeses make for an excellent complement to the acidic flavor of a classic martini. On the other hand, mild hummus coupled with pita chips can serve to add a pleasant contrast to the martini's underlying acridity.

Sweet and cool, citrusy martinis work well with spicy dishes, such as chili recipes found in Hispanic cuisine. Then again, a lemon drop martini paired with sushi makes for a nice combo. The bottom line is: a little bit of forethought will go a long way in finding exceptional food-martini pairings.

Vermouth as Medicine

Over the years, the notion that vermouth works as a medicine in its own right has slowly taken hold in some corners of the public consciousness. The truth of the matter is, vermouth is basically an aromatized, fortified wine. It is no miracle elixir.

Nevertheless, research suggests that taking vermouth in moderation can yield some health benefits, such as:

  • Aiding the body's digestive processes
  • Relieving stress
  • Improving appetite
  • Reducing inflammation

Just remember, overindulgence in vermouth will lead to the same side effects as any other type of alcoholic excess. If you want to explore the potential health benefits of vermouth, there's no need to swim in the stuff; after all, they call it "dry" for a reason.

How to Make the Perfect Vodka Martini

For the martini connoisseur that spurns tradition and laughs in the face of conformity, the vodka martini is an excellent alternative to the classic gin-based concoction. How can you make the perfect vodka martini? Simply follow these steps:

Equipment

  • A shaker or cocktail mixing glass
  • A bar spoon (or teaspoon)
  • A strainer
  • Cocktail glass

Ingredients

  • 50 ml Vodka
  • 10 ml Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth
  • To garnish: lemon peel
  • Ice

Preparation

  1. Chill your cocktail glass in the freezer or with ice (the easiest way is to fill it with ice).
  2. Add the Ice to your mixing glass or shaker.
  3. Add the Vodka & Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth.
  4. Stir the mixture for about 30 seconds to chill and dilute the drink, then strain into the chilled cocktail glass.
  5. Express lemon peel gently over the cocktail, so it’s perfumed with the citric oils. You can also rub it along the rim of the glass.
  6. Garnish the drink with a twist of lemon peel.
    To make the lemon twist, cut a long piece of zest (around 8 to 10 cm), and twist it in a spiral.
  7. Rest your spiral on the rim of the glass or drop it in and serve.

Voila! You've just created a balanced, delightful, perfect vodka martini.

An Unsurpassed Base for Your Martini

From ancient Greek physicians to British secret agents, the history of the martini is full of wild stories, vibrant characters, and great recipes. Of course, a great martini usually requires a great base, such as The Alpinist's Swiss Premium Dry Gin. This gin's purity, individuality, and pitch-perfect taste make for an unforgettable experience. It’s an unsurpassed starting point for the perfect martini.

On the other hand, if you are inclined towards vodka as your martini base of choice, The Alpinist's Swiss Premium Vodka provides a smooth taste to the palate, along with a subtle hint of citrus.

Now It’s Your Turn

I hope this guide showed you how to make your own perfect martini and cleared up some of the mysteries around the martini.

Now I’d like to turn it over to you:

What’s the #1 tip from this post that you want to try first? Do you have a tip for us that we need to know about?

Are you going to try a different variation of your favorite martini or a different garnish? What's your favorite food to pair with martinis?

Or maybe you have a question about something you read.

Either way, let me know by leaving a comment below right now.

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