Origin Of The Dry Martini And It’s Earlier Forms.
The oldest printed martini recipe I could find is in the 1888 edition of Harry Johnson’s New and Improved Bartender’s Manual. His original 1882 edition does not provide a recipe for the Martini. The original martini recipe appears between the late 1880s and 1890s and is essentially a pre-prohibition style Manhattan with Old Tom Gin instead of whiskey. Harry Johnson’s recipe is half Old Tom Gin, half sweet vermouth, a dash of orange liqueur, two dashes of Boker’s (cardamom) bitters, and two dashes of gum syrup. If you look at my original pre-prohibition style Manhattan recipe, they are almost the same, save for the Old Tom Gin. But the recipe begins to change over the next decade until it settles on the more generally accepted 2 oz Old Tom, 1 oz sweet vermouth, and a dash of orange bitters with an expressed lemon peel. By 1900 most bartenders are making it this way. Waldorf-Astoria is making it this way (they decide to be edgy and add a Spanish olive to theirs). Even Harry Johnson updated his recipe to this with his updated 1900 edition. In Britain, Harry Johnson’s original 1888 martini recipe lived on as the Martinez, as seen in Farrow & Jacksons’ 1912 Recipes of American Drinks and the 1934 Savoy cocktail book.
Now This is the original martini and the only version of the martini until the 1910s when the dry variation of the martini was invented and became very popular. This original martini becomes known as a sweet martini, and a medium sweet version is also made that combines the two. The dry martini is by far the most popular form of the martini today, and people try to make it as dry/less vermouth as possible. The 1960 official UKBG (United Kingdom Bartenders Guide) even joked about the American trend toward drier and drier martinis. “In America, the trend for the dry martini to become drier has developed almost to a fad, and the quantity of dry gin to dry vermouth varies from 3 to 1 to 6 to 1,” They write this after saying a martini should be 2 to 1.
I use the Waldorf-Astoria recipe for the dry martini because it is the best form of an early dry martini. It was also the first to use a Spanish olive as a garnish, and while there are other dry martinis from around the time they made theirs, this is still the best one. As far as names, I’m using the Savoy Name for this cocktail as I feel Savoy had the most straightforward and understandable names for the three styles of martini.
Should The Martini Be Shaken Or Stirred?
Should you shake or stir a martini? The answer to this question changes depending on the period the martini is from and if they are James Bond fans or not. Since its origin, the martini has been traditionally stirred. All bar books up to the start of prohibition say to go the martini. It was not till the 1920s and 30s that shaking martinis became common. Hugo Ensslin’s 1917 book “Recipes for Mixed Drinks” instructs that the dry and sweet martinis should be stirred. In the Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book, the author notes, “Modern practice prescribes shaking for a dry martini. This, however, weakens the mixture and uses to be discountenanced by barmen who believed in tradition.”. Keep in mind this book was published in 1935, but it was the collection of recipes used by the original Waldorf-Astoria bar from 1897 to 1919 before the start of prohibition. What the author Albert Crockett, who also happened to be the Waldorf-Astoria’s publicist and company historian, is saying is currently in the 1930s, it was customary to shake martinis, but more traditional bartenders will stir. In the Savoy, which was printed in London in 1934, there is no mention of stirring, and they only say to shake the drink. In the 1945 Chicago Bartenders guide, they say to stir too. In the 1954 book “King Cocktail” by Eddie Clark (the man who took over the Savoy after Harry Craddock), he says to stir the martini. Lastly, in the 1967 book “Cocktails and mixed drinks” by Charles Tuck, he oddly gives two recipes for the dry martini printed on different pages, one saying to stir and the other to be shaken. Casino Royale was published in 1953, and it was bond that popularized the idea that martinis should be shaken and not stirred. The first Bond movie Dr. No was released in 1963.
So should it be shaken or stirred? Who the hell knows. From what I can gather, a stirred martini is both more traditional and results in a better cocktail, but shaking martinis started to become the way hunks ordered their martinis beginning in the early 1930s. This is probably why Bond made it a point to tell the bartender he wanted his martini shaken and not stirred. He was aware of both ways to prepare the cocktail, but Bond is a hunk and not some old fuddy-duddy.
Dry Martini Variations.
- 50×50 Martini: This is equal parts dry vermouth and gin martini.
- Gibson: A standard dry martini with a pickled pearl onion instead of a Spanish olive.
- Reverse Martini: 2 oz dry vermouth and 1 oz gin.
- Dirty Martini: A martini with a bit of olive juice added.
- Churchill: A martini made without vermouth and chilled by keeping the gin in the freezer, so it’s not watered down. Simply cold gin with an olive.
Should A Martini Be Garnished With A Lemon Peel or a Spanish Olive?
So the answer is… drumroll, please… both! Depending on who you read. The earliest Martini, what we now call the sweet martini, actually had a maraschino cherry. Eventually, by the 1900s, around the time George Kappeler wrote Modern American Drinks, it was common to express a lemon peel over the top and can optionally garnish with a cherry. That was still the sweet martini, though. The Waldorf-Astoria recipe I am using here is for expressing a lemon peel over the top, discarding it, and then garnishing it with a Spanish olive. The Waldorf-Astoria recipe is the oldest use of a Spanish olive I could find. Then from that point on, most books seem to bounce around from saying to use just an expressed lemon peel, just an olive, both, or none. There isn’t any absolute consistency on the matter or one way that is more common than the other. So do whichever you prefer and accept that one answer is not more right than another. Since I am using the Waldorf recipe, I am using both.
How Cold Should A Martini Be?
The most important part of making a dry martini is controlling the coldness of the drink and how diluted it gets when mixing it, which can be controlled by the gin you use. I’m writing this in an ideal situation where there are no variations of how much or how little vermouth people like or if they want it dirty or not, shaken and not stirred, etc. This is just 2 oz dry gin, 1 oz dry vermouth, express lemon peel over the top, and garnish with an olive.
Start with a higher proof gin and mix and chill to a colder temperature. Dry gin will range from 40% ABV to 57% ABV (read my rum 151 description for the history of ABV vs. ABW and how 57% became the British Navy “Proof”). 57% is way too high for a martini, but 50% isn’t. I feel the sweet spot for martinis are ones made with gin between 45 – 50%. I will add that the lower ABV of 45% – 40% are becoming much more popular in the last decade as they are a bit easier to drink. For reference, in the United States, Tangueray is 47%, Beefeater is 44% (it used to be 47%, but their 44% was winning some awards and did very well with studies, so they are currently trying 44%). Aviation is 42%, Botanist is 46%, Hendricks is 41%, Nolet’s is 47%, and Bombay is 47%, and the list goes on and on, but these are some popular ones. What I mean by higher proof gins can be chilled and thus diluted more is as you stir, or shake, the drink with ice, more water will melt as the temperature of the drink decreases. This is a good thing. Alcohol extracts oils and flavors from herbs, and watering it down lets our tongues taste better without being overwhelmed by alcohol. You want to dilute the drink some, but there is a point where you can add too much water, and it becomes lame and flat watery gin. If you are already starting at 40% or 42% ABV, there is only so much diluting and subsequently chilling you can do before the ABV drops low enough to taste watery. But if you are starting at 47% or 50%, you can stir the drink longer, cooling it more and diluting it more before you cross that watery threshold.
To wrap up this long-winded rant. Perhaps you like the flavor of Hendricks and want to make a martini with it. You would probably want to stir it a little less and leave it warmer than you would Botanist or Tangueray. A fun way to experiment with this and taste my point is if you have two different ABV gins, mix a few small samples with varying amounts of water and taste them. The Higher ABVs taste better with more water than the lower ones. I’ll be honest with you I find the dry martini a difficult drink to make right. Not because it is complicated but because it is so subtle and unforgiving.
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[…] request the drink to be shaken and not stirred. I have a much more in-depth write up on the origins of shaking drinks that were traditionally stirred in my dry martini article. Essentially during the 1920s – late 1930s shaking became a way to soften the harsher gins of […]