Raise a Glass for Martini Day

The martini. It is iconic. It is the stuff of legend.  It creates debate and views on the topic are strongly held.

H. L. Mencken said that the martini was “the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet” and E. B. White called it “the elixir of quietude.”   Noël Coward suggested that the ideal martini should be made by “filling a glass with gin then waving it in the general direction of Italy.” He was a fan of Italian vermouth, as opposed to the French.  Churchill took the other side, stating that the only way to make a martini was with ice-cold gin, and a bow in the direction of France. George Burns defined happiness as “a dry martini and a good woman … or a bad woman.”

James Bond wanted vodka martinis and he wanted them “shaken, not stirred” – and this (the shaking, not the vodka) in and of itself created a sub-debate. Bond (or rather Fleming) was taking the position put forth in Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book, which prescribes shaking for all its martini recipes.  But opinionated martini-lovers both real and fictional have taken the other side. Somerset Maugham is often quoted as saying that “a martini should always be stirred, not shaken, so that the molecules lie sensuously on top of one another”.  The West Wing’s President Bartlet also disagrees with James Bond , as we can see in this snipped from the episode “Stirred”

Pres Bartlet: Can I tell you what’s messed up about James Bond?

Charlie: Nothing.

Pres Bartlet: Shaken, not stirred, will get you cold water with a dash of gin and dry vermouth. The reason you stir it with a special spoon is so not to chip the ice. James is ordering a weak martini and being snooty about it.

007 is not alone in the shaken camp. Nick Charles (yes, as in the Thin Man) shakes his martinis as well. And not only that, he shakes in a particular way. “See, in mixing the important thing is the rhythm.  Always have a rhythm in your shaking.  Now, a Manhattan, you shake to fox-trot time; a Bronx to two-step time.  But a Martini, you always shake to waltz time.” Luckily for Nick, wife Nora is a big martini fan as well. They are, as you can see from this clip, a well matched pair.

Opinions are, of course, all well and good. But The Martini has also received, as my good friend J.B. puts it, the solemn respect of standardization. In 1966, the Sectional Committee K100 on Liquids Management of The American Standards Association published a detailed standard for the martini entitled American Standard K100.1 1966: Safety Code and Requirements for Dry Martinis. It is, even for the non-martini drinker, a thing to behold and admire. This quick excerpt from the definitions section gives you a good idea of the thorough and remarkably serious (while at the same time hilarious) tone they’ve taken:

  • Martini: A broad term that can frequently lead to differences of opinion but which will invariably lead to a state of inebriation. Originally the first name of a firm of wine merchants, it can mean anything from a glass of sweet vermouth (in the British Isles and on the Continent), to a martini cocktail, or an American Standard dry martini.
  • Dry Martini: A cocktail made with English or American dry gin of at least 86 proof and dry vermouth, preferably French in origin, in accordance with requirements of this American Standard.
  • Extra Dry Martini: A meaningless expression used loosely by waiters and bartenders. It is frequently the excuse for a supplementary charge and is often characterized by the inclusion of excessive melted ice or an abundance of water-white vermouth.
  • Gin: An infusion of juniper berries and other extracts in grain alcohol. While the drink is generally credited to be Dutch in origin, the variety that evolved in England during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is the basic type employed in all American Standard dry martinis. Currently, a barely acceptable product is distilled in the United States, but it seldom aspires to more than minimal requirements.
  • London Dry Gin: A term encountered on the labels of imitation English gins. Many of these specimens are moderately palatable and approach the minimal levels of the American Standard.
  • French Vermouth: A term generally applied to dry varieties of vermouth whether they are actually produced in France or in some other country. The true French product is an infusion of herbal extracts in a undistinguished white wine of the Midi region.
  • Italian Vermouth: The sweet aperitif wine that was originally combined with gin to produce the martini cocktail. It is an ingredient in many drinks, but is never employed in the preparation of dry martinis.
  • Vodka: A distilled alcoholic beverage made originally from potatoes, but now encountered in grain alcohol versions. It may be clean, palatable, and nonlethal, and when encountered in this form, is a fitting accompaniment for fresh caviar. It is never employed in a dry martini.
  • Olive: The fruit of a Spanish tree, the olive is encountered in its green state, pitted and unstuffed, in the classic dry martini. While olives are normally considered superior if their size is great, when included in a dry martini, the small, or cocktail variety, is mandatory. A list of maximum displacements for olives in American Standard dry martinis is shown in Table I. The absence of an olive is not critical provided there is no diminution of the total volume of the drink.
  • Rocks: the solid state of H2O on which an American Standard dry martini is never served.

pouring

Luckily for those of us who like to enter into things fully informed and who also believe you must know the rules before you break them, I provide a copy of the 1970s revision and update of the 1966 document: K100.1-1974 – American National Standard Safety Code & Requirements for Dry Martinis.  Speaking of breaking the rules – and that’s what rules were made for (or so we are given to understand), what if you don’t want a standard dry martini? What if you want a dirty martini or martini cocktail?

For you rebels, I give you a list of variants and non-variants on the classic martini.

  • A Vodka Martini substitutes gin for vodka, and often uses lemon rind as the garnish. This is the most common variation and the one made famous by James Bond
  • A Dirty Martini has some of the brine (at least a teaspoon) from the olive jar added.
  • A Gibson is a standard dry martini garnished with cocktail onions instead of olives.
  • Although you will find cocktails such as a Manhattan or Cosmopolitan sometimes listed as martini variations, the only thing they have in common with a martini proper is the glass in which they are served. That is – a stemmed glass which has a cone-shaped bowl placed upon a stem above a flat base.

How you chose to celebrate Martini Day is completely up to you – have it dry, add a twist, shake it or stir it. The number one rule (which the Sectional Committee K100 on Liquids Management seems to have overlooked) is that you enjoy it.  My friends – to Martini Day. Salute!

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