The Sipsmith Blog

The essential guide to Martini history – from prospectors and bootleggers, to Bond

in Mixology May 28, 2024

Martini history is full of legend and when it comes to cocktails, there are few images more classic than a v-shaped Martini glass with a single olive gently resting on the rim. From the Royal Family to Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald to E.B. White, William Churchill to Dorothy Parker, the Martini has earned the favour of many famous names and solidified its place as a cultural icon in history.  

But where did the Martini come from? What makes a “classic” Martini? And why is everyone you know suddenly talking about espresso Martinis? Let’s take a closer look at this iconic cocktail and how it’s shaped the cultural landscape through the decades.

Where was the Martini invented?

Like most classic cocktails, the Martini has murky origins. Martinis first appeared on the scene around 1870, but they were much sweeter than the cocktails we know and love today. In addition to simple syrups being used, the cocktail was normally piled high with fruit garnishes like cherries – a far cry from the briny olive or zesty lemon we would normally use today.  

Some claim it was invented in a bar in Martinez, California when a prospector who had just struck gold walked in demanding a celebratory drink. Others suggest its name can be traced to the Italian vermouth brand Martini and Rossi, when cocktail aficionados requesting a gin and Martini started just shortening it to “Martini”. Still others trace it back to bartenders at hotels in New York or San Francisco. Odds are we’ll never be certain. 

The inventor of the Martini might never be known, but we can thank Harry Craddock for helping to popularise it. Craddock was one of the best-known bartenders of the early 20th century and his work at the Savoy’s American Bar transformed it into the heart of London’s social scene. He set down a recipe for a ‘Dry Martini’ in the famous Savoy Cocktail Book, the essential cocktail bible, in the 1930s…and the rest is history. 

What are classic martinis made of?

Martinis are essentially just gin and vermouth garnished with an olive or lemon peel. However, decades of variations and recipe development have often left cocktail connoisseurs confused about what to look for in the iconic drink. 

When we think of the “classic” Martini, most of us are referring to a dry martini, like the one Craddock set out in his famous Savoy Cocktail Book. Martini’s predecessors were often much sweeter, with a higher percentage of vermouth and the addition of simple syrups and bitters. Through the years the gin to vermouth ratio has increased, with a 6:1 ratio now the standard for a dry Martini. Additions are simple – an olive or lemon peel garnish and possibly a dash of orange bitters.  

Should a Martini be “shaken, not stirred”?

Bond—James Bond—may have enjoyed his Martinis shaken, but the vast majority of bartenders would caution against this manoeuvre. Shaking can lead to over-dilution and small shards of broken ice in the drink.  

For the best Martini experience resist the urge to do your 007 impression and ask for your Martini stirred or thrown. The result will be a velvety, well-blended tipple. 

The must-know lingo when ordering a Martini

No matter how Bond, or anyone else, likes their Martini, the best way to order the cocktail is the way that tastes best to you. Whether you have your cocktail order memorised or you’re looking to try something new, here’s some must know lingo when ordering this cocktail menu classic: 

Dry Martini

Like we mentioned above, a dry Martini has a higher ratio of gin to vermouth, and is the style of Martini popularised across cinema and pop culture since the 1930s.  As standard most bars will serve a 5:1 or 6:1 ratio of gin to vermouth, but you can ask for your Martini “extra dry” to really let the flavours of the gin shine through. 

Wet Martini

Although no longer as popular, a wet Martini most closely resembles what the cocktail would have tasted like when it was first invented, with a 3:1 ratio of gin to vermouth. 

Dirty Martini

Dirty Martinis have the brine from a jar of cocktail olives added into the drink. Bartenders will normally add the same ratio of brine and vermouth, and of course the iconic olive garnish gives this preparation an extra savoury edge.  

With a Twist

When you order your Martini with a twist, your bartender will twist a strip of lemon, orange or lime peel over your cocktail, releasing the aromatic oils over your drink. The twisted citrus can then be used as an attractive garnish.     

Even more ways to enjoy a Martini

We may be biased, but we never tire of a classic Martini made with a juniper-heavy gin and just a hint of vermouth. But, with a tipple as iconic as the Martini, variations are sure to come – from adding a dash of champagne, to recreating everything but the glass. Here’s a quick look at some of the most popular “Martinis” you’re bound to find on cocktail menus.  

Millionaire’s Martini 

Take a trip back in time to the Gilded Age with the Millionaire’s Martini. Once you’ve made your classic Martini, top it off with a splash of champagne and a lemon twist for a truly opulent drink.  

Millionaires martini

The French Martini

Created in the late ‘80s, the french Martini bares little resemblance to a classic, dry Martini except in name and glassware. French Martinis are typically made with vodka, pineapple juice and chambord for a colorful, sweet drink that became an immediate hit in bars and hotels across the world. 

The Apple Martini

Another recipe that is more Martini by name than by nature, the apple Martini, or Appletini, started its resurgence at a cocktail bar in Los Angeles in 1997. This iconic 90’s drink, much loved by the women of Sex and the City, combines sour apple schnapps and vodka for a tart and bright cocktail.  

The Merry Martini

The perfect serve for the festive season, this holiday-ready Martini is finished with a lemon twist and a sprig of rosemary. 

Looking for something more classic?

If you’re keen to try something different in your Martini, but you’re not quite ready to venture too far off the mark, take a look at our unique serving suggestions. From frozen Martinis to infused olives, you’re sure to find something to wow your tastebuds. 

How the espresso Martini became a phenomenon

gin espresso martini

While the French Martini may have dominated the ‘80s and the Appletini took the 90’s and early 00’s by storm, the Espresso Martini has claimed the 2020’s as its time to shine.  

Espresso Martinis may have recently become the go-to drink on cocktail menus around the world, but the recipe has been around since 1993. Espresso Martinis are made with equal parts gin and espresso, then combined with Kahlua Liqueur for an extra creamy touch. The cocktail is then vigorously shaken and strained into a cocktail glass for that classic foamy top.  

For an even richer coffee experience, you can try making a version with our Sipspresso Coffee Gin.  

Try making your own Martinis at home

If all this talk of Martini history and iconography has you watering at the mouth, then it might be time to dust off your cocktail shaker. Despite being a simple cocktail, the technique and bravado of it can sometimes put people off from making their own Martinis at home. Don’t worry, for our classic Martini recipe we keep things simple to ensure you can wow your guests time and time again.  

In an ice-filled cocktail shaker, our juniper-forward Sipsmith London Dry Gin is stirred together with a good quality vermouth. Once the drink is strained into your glass, twist a lemon peel over it to infuse it with oil and bring out the gin’s citrus notes. The most important thing to remember is to keep your glassware chilled, ideally taking it out of the freezer just before serving.  

And that’s it – you’re now a Martini aficionado, ready to wow your guests with a bit of history and trivia while you prepare them their new favourite tipple.  

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