The Martini is one of those drinks that conveys a certain gravity upon those who partake of it.
How you prefer your Martini says a great deal about your character: are you the reserved type who takes yours extra dry? The dilettante who prefers a it stirred? A laidback lounger who likes it dirty? We’ve already covered the techniques required to make the perfect Martini. Now, we’ll be delving into the history of the Martini. From its ambiguous origins to its many competing claims of invention, the Martini’s back-story offers today’s sippers something to muse on whilst they indulge.
Called “the elixir of quietude” by author E. B. White, the history of the Martini is murky at best. Today, there are four main theories about how the Martini came to be:
One legend has it that bartender “Professor” Jerry Thomas is the forefather of the modern Martini. During the late 19th century he was renowned around the US for his groundbreaking bartending work, flashy techniques, and man-about-town demeanour. Thomas is especially noteworthy for publishing the first seminal cocktail manual, The Bar-Tenders Guide. The 1887 edition included the Martinez cocktail, which Thomas claimed to have invented at San Francisco’s Occidental Hotel. However, there are a few problems with the story: for one, that edition was published two years after Thomas’ death. For another, the Martinez bears only passing resemblance to the Martini: it features a heavy helping of sweet vermouth, bitters, lemon, and even maraschino liqueur. Status: questionable.
Many who fall in the Martinez camp take the tale even further: they claim that the precursor cocktail was invented in the town of Martinez, California, when a prospector who’d just struck gold walked into a local bar owned by Julio Richelieu and asked for an appropriately celebratory tipple. It’s a charming story, but accurate? Unlikely.
Some argue that the history of the Martini name is simply a matter of branding. Martini & Rossi, an Italian sweet vermouth that was first produced in 1863, seems to be an obvious source – customers ordering a gin and vermouth concoction at a bar would simply ask for a “gin and Martini.” Given how simply drinks were labelled in the 19th centuries, it’s a plausible, but not very romantic, theory.
The final guess hazarded by amateur cocktail historians is that the Martini first appeared on the East Coast instead. New York City’s Knickerbocker Hotel was, in the early 20th century, manned by bartender Martini di Arma di Taggia. The story goes, he served a drink, a favourite of John D. Rockefeller, that blended London dry gin, Noilly Prat Vermouth, and orange bitters. Was this Martini-like concoction named in honour of the barman? Though it may sound plausible, it’s impossible to verify.
As much as we love to guess, we have to admit that we’ll probably never know the true origin story of this beloved cocktail. But we think that’s okay: it’s so much more entertaining to dream up our own stories.