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The Martini through History | 3 Recipes Spanning 134 Years!

Hi, Friends of Cocktails and history! Today we’re taking a look at the Martini - probably the most famous cocktail out there. So it shouldn’t be hard to say what exactly makes a Martini, right? In its simplest and purest form, a Martini is a mix of gin or vodka, vermouth, a dash or two of bitters and a standard olive garnish, although a lemon twist or even cherries were mentioned in the early recipes. But it gets a lot more complicated.

A dry style of vermouth is what you’ll mostly find in a Martini nowadays, but sweet vermouth was really popular in older Martinis. We haven’t even gotten to the ratios of Gin & Vermouth. Is 1:1 better than 2:1? How about 5:1 or 15:1? As you can see, Martinis can get really complex. You can find books, blogs or youtube videos telling you how to ‘properly’ order a Martini, but I think it’s like ordering a steak, you have to find what suits you. To do this, you have to try out different versions - just don’t cook the steak well-done, ok?

Today we’ll make 3 versions of the Martini: two historic versions from 1888 and from 1904, and a modern version with a homemade mix of bitters. So if you’re ready, let’s get on to the 1st printed recipe of the Martini. It was written down by Harry Johnson in his 1888 book, titled “The New and Improved Bartender’s Manual”. We’ll follow the recipe, but I’ll tell you what the modern measurements are.

1888 Martini

• 0.5 barspoon gum syrup

• 0.5 barspoon Boker’s Bitters

• 1 dash Curaçao

• 30mL (1oz) Old Tom gin

• 30mL (1oz) sweet vermouth

Fill a large bar glass with ice and then add the ingredients. Now stir well with a barspoon, strain into a fancy cocktail glass, squeeze a piece of lemon peel on top and serve. This version has more sweetness and warm spiciness than you’d expect from a Martini, as the vermouth and the Old Tom gin are both sweeter than what’s in the modern counterparts - but there’s also gum syrup and curacao. It’s certainly an interesting glimpse into the origins of the Martini, but now let’s make the first version to move towards the dryer styles of vermouth and to add an olive, which would dominate the 20th century.

The Applegreen’s Bar Book from 1904 lists the Martini and the “Martini Dry”, but both of these featured sweet vermouth. On the next page however you’ll find the Olivette, made with a French, dry vermouth, and garnished with an olive, which we’ll make.

1904 Martini

• 1 dash orange bitters

• 30mL (1oz) Plymouth gin

• 30mL (1oz) dry vermouth

Add the ingredients into a mixing glass with ice and stir. When it’s properly chilled, strain it into a cocktail glass and put in one olive. This version of the Martini has evolved, or at least the Olivette cocktail knew where the Martini would go. Drier notes on the nose and the palate, with the Peychaud’s bitters adding something interesting as well. It’s still pretty “wet”, since it has a 1:1 ratio of gin and vermouth, but this is definitely a Martini in my book.

Now we have one more to go, a modern recipe with Tanqueray No. 10, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino Dry and a house mix of Lemon, Orange, Grapefruit and Spruce tips Bitters that I’ll call Martini Bitters - but you can of course replace it for just Orange Bitters and have a great drink!

2022 Martini

• 2 drops 20% saline solution

• 2 dashes Martini bitters

• 7.5mL (0.25oz) Cocchi Vermouth di Torino Dry

Start by placing your serving glass in the freezer and chilling the mixing glass with ice. As soon as it’s cold, add the ingredients with some ice and stir to get the proper dilution- you’ll see the amount of liquid in the glass rising. Now, inspired by the technique used at The Connaught bar in London, I’m pouring the cocktail from a considerable height, spraying the liquid with lemon peel essential oils as it falls into the glass. A subtle cocktail that you don’t want to overpower with lemon aroma. Beautiful!

The tasting notes in the modern version is the cleanest version of the three Martinis, highlighting the botanicals of gin and vermouth, with the bitters adding richness and complexity. Seeing as how I’ve made it the way I like, it’s no surprise the 2022 Martini is my favorite of the three, but feel free to try all three and choose the one you like the most!. If you’ve enjoyed this, check out previous Old vs New episodes, like the Manhattan, Clover Club, Daiquiri and more. Cheers!

To make it easier for you to try these recipes you can grab some bottles of gin, vermouth and bitters from CURIADA here - you’ll also find my entire collection of bottles:

By buying through the affiliate links you’re also helping out the Cocktail Time channel with a small commission (at no additional cost to you). Cheers!


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