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The History of the Martini

Updated: Jul 31, 2020

Was there ever a classier cocktail? There is something so sophisticated (and so Mad Men or James Bond-y) about sitting at a bar sipping an ice cold martini.

If there is a one common theme throughout the history of the worlds most iconic cocktails, it's that no one is quite certain how they came to be (but we're all very glad that they did!).

The Martini is no different. The first two stories are somewhat similar in that they both involve Martinez, California during the Gold Rush in the mid-1800s. The first goes that a miner who had recently struck it rich, went to a bar and ordered champagne, which they didn't have. The bartender instead mixed up another drink with the ingredients he had in stock - gin, vermouth, bitters, maraschino liqueur and a lemon. The drink became quite popular and was named the "The Martinez Special". It was also published in the Bartender's Manual in the 1800's.

The second story says that the drink was actually invented in San Francisco at the Occidental Hotel, and was made as a pick me up for miners who were heading to Martinez. This theory is published in Barnaby Conrad III's book about the origins of the famed drink.

Of course, over on the East Coast, there are also claims that it originated in New York City at the Knickerboker Hotel.

It's also said to have been named after the vermouth brand, Martini & Rossi that came to the scene around the same time. The Martini & Rossi story goes that at some point someone splashed vermouth into their gin and when asked for the name of the drink, they looked at the bottle and said "It's a Martini!"

Regardless of it's origins, it's clear that it took quite some time for the drink to evolve from it's questionably sweet origins to the drink we know today, which seems to have happened around the early 20th century.

Prohibition sparked the popularity of gin, as it didn't need to be aged. "Bathtub Gin" was more or less moonshine that was flavored with juniper berries. Some say it was basically poison. To make it more tolerable, drinkers in the 1920s would add vermouth to it, and the martinis at this time became heavy on the vermouth (to get rid of the taste of the gin).

As prohibition ended, and gin production improved, the ratios started to switch and the martini became more gin heavy and much drier.

The "dry Martini" gained popularity with people like Hemingway. His ratio was 15 parts gin to one part vermouth. Alfred Hitchcock also liked a dry martini. His ratios were five parts gin and a "quick glance at a bottle of vermouth".

The popularity of the Martini continued to grow and in the 1950s and 60s the "three Martini lunch" became the thing to do. Hello, Mad Men. Over the last 50 years, it seems the Martini has become more of an evening drink than a lunchtime staple, but we can't say it's lost much of it's popularity. You'll be hard pressed to find a cocktail menu that doesn't have a martini.

Here's to drinking like James Bond.


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