While the Martini is, we would argue, perfection itself, the cocktail is not just the sum of its ingredients.
The Martini simply wouldn’t be the same without its accompanying, iconic Martini glass. That seductive silhouette – the thin stem, the conical top – is now synonymous with sophistication, style, and a damn good drink.
But how did this essential piece of glassware come about? Surely it wasn’t invented solely to provide James Bond with that bit of extra swagger?
In fact, the Martini glass’s origins predate the drink itself – it was only after the Martini gained broad popularity that the glassware followed suit. The forebear of the Martini glass is simply known as the cocktail glass, and today the two are frequently confused. The difference is subtle: the cocktail glass is slightly smaller and more rounded, with a narrower rim.
The cocktail glass was originally developed not because of aesthetics but because of practicality. Likely dating to the late 19th century, the vessel suits cocktails that are “served up”. The lengthy stem and separated bowl mean that the cocktail isn’t warmed up too much by the drinker’s hands, as there’s no added ice to ensure it stays chilled.
It wasn’t until the early 20th century that the Martini glass came to be distinct from the cocktail glass. The slightly rounded sides of the former transformed into a purely conical shape, with the walls of the glass descending into a single point at the bowl’s base. The Martini glass’s stem also lengthened, and its rim grew wider.
Again, these changes were made not in the service of looks but of convenience. As Martinis must be served frosty cold, the long stem further ensures that the cocktail isn’t warmed up too quickly. The widened brim was also invented to best benefit the gin. The greater exposure to air helps the spirit to open up, and its complex botanicals are more discernible than they would be if it were served in a narrower glass. The steeply sloping sides also prevent the cocktail’s ingredients from separating, and help to support a toothpick or cocktail skewer of olives.
To this day, the exact origins of the Martini glass are hazy, and the vessel comes with its own apocryphal lore. One popular story is that the wide rim of the glass was invented during US Prohibition, the theory being that, in case police raided your speakeasy, you could quickly discard the drink without being caught.
Of course, pouring away a Martini sounds like a travesty to us, and we’re thankful that, these days, the hallowed glass is simply the indication of a classic, beautifully made drink. Next time you’re at a bar, give your Martini glass that extra bit of attention (and brush up on your Martini vocabulary beforehand, mind) – not only is it perfectly sophisticated, but it’s also a token of careful engineering designed to give you the most delicious drink possible.