Drinks

The Martini Cocktail – Come on, let’s contend!

Olive or Twist.

My “contentation” about the Martinez and Martini cocktail appeared on Frank Thelen’s blog Olive or Twist. I was allowed to publish the English translation here.

Frank Thelen.
Frank Thelen.

It’s 4 a.m., the cigarette is smoking away in the ashtray, two Martini Cocktails are on the counter in front of us and the heated conversation is in full swing. Time flies and you don’t notice how long you’ve been talking. A good sign. How many topics have we discussed tonight, Armin? Was it one that kept us rambling on and on or was it several that we dissected one by one because we haven’t seen each other in so long? It’s nice to talk to you again and the first evening we saw each other again in Cologne is a beautiful one that I will always remember fondly. There are many more to come with lots of conversations. That’s good, more of that please! For several hours now, I have been welcoming Armin Zimmermann to my bar, a luminary in the field of cocktail history, operator of the blog www.bar-vademecum.de (highly recommended), passionate connoisseur of bar culture and now also author of the well-known magazine Mixology. Not a “normal” guest, a friend whom I appreciate and with whom I can exchange and argue at eye level and with mutual respect. A rarity but all the more valuable in my opinion. The evening was a typical one, a theme is given according to what the cocktail heart desires and then “fire away”, the cocktail parade can start. Armin doesn’t make it easy, but he makes it exciting, because to a “fountain of knowledge” like him, you don’t just want to give something for the palate, but also for the head. One thing is certain: there will be conversation and discussion, because there is hardly a classic that Armin has not already researched. Even his own interesting creations are meticulously documented in his personal cocktail almanac. This was to continue until the end of the evening, when we were finally able to chat together over a drink. But Armin, don’t you want to go on before I have to write all the time here again? After all, today is about you and your expertise on the Martini Cocktail, probably the most discussed drink in this wonderful cosmos called the bar. I, for one, am now sitting back with such a delicious drink and enjoying your following words.

Armin the Stage is yours…

The Bar-Vademecum: Armin Zimmermann.

The first time I met Frank was a few years ago when I visited Le Lion in Hamburg. I remembered him well, and so it saddened me greatly to learn on one of my subsequent visits that he was no longer there. But as you know, you always meet at least twice in life, and so it happened that we met again some time later. In Cologne. At the Shepheard. An inspiring time began.We were happy to have found each other again, and I was looking forward to enjoying his hospitality on my regular trips to Cologne. Something special quickly developed between us, between him as an eloquent bartender and me as a guest hungry for knowledge. I will always remember our conversations. Of course, it was also, but not only, about bar culture, about topics such as the Milk Punch, the Daiquiri and certainly also the Martini. Apart from bar culture, there were also interesting discussions, for example about The Lord of the Rings. How had Tolkin created the characters in it? Is good always good and evil always exclusively evil? Didn’t Sauron, as the embodiment of evil, also have a good core? How did he become who he was? Which of his characters are right? What do we learn from this and how does it all fit in with our personal experience?

These short lines should suffice to describe the circumstances of the friendship that developed between us. Our discussions were also controversial, but always respectful, with mutual interest and understanding. It is fun to question one’s own opinion and reasoning on a path that we have taken together, in order to arrive at a changed insight. Michel de Montaigne, whom I also esteem, wrote more than 400 years ago: “Friendship lives from the unhindered exchange of ideas.” It is the same with us.

When Frank told me about his project “OliveOr-Twist”, I was immediately ready to contribute to it. We quickly found the topic and the title in our conversation: The Martini Cocktail – Come on, let’s contend!

Against the background of our hours spent together, this subtitle becomes understandable. All too often, contending has a negative connotation, but we should focus on its positive aspects, as something that can unite us and bring us closer together, something that also allows us to understand the world, in a competition for knowledge and for the better arguments, because – as Michel de Montaigne also wrote – “In our conversations, any subject is fine with me, … . Everything here is characterised by a mature and constant power of judgement, which is always accompanied by openness and cheerfulness, goodwill and friendly affection.” It is important to find out about oneself and to try to see the world with different eyes, with the willingness to change oneself and one’s view if necessary, because “If you always stay in the same rut and never get out of it, that means being, but not living”. I can only recommend that you do the same. For once, simply refrain from immediately looking up something on Google or Wikipedia when something is unclear, and instead try to illuminate a topic from different sides in a joint discussion. It’s worth it.

OLIVE OR TWIST?

Against this background, the question of “olive or twist”, olive or lemon zest, is the starting point for a consideration of the Martini Cocktail. A decision one has to make when ordering a Martini. But not the only one. Which gin should it be? Which vermouth? Should a liqueur be added? With or without bitters? Should the cocktail even be served with a spoon? Everyone has their own opinion, everyone thinks they can justify it, and everyone is right. Which, of course, means that everyone is also wrong. So what could be better than exchanging different views in a friendly dispute to enrich one’s own view of the world – or in this case of the Martini Cocktail. After all, there is not only black and white, there are also many colourful shades in between. So let’s argue with each other! So let’s ask ourselves a few of the questions that come with ordering a Martini Cocktail.

MARTINI OR MARTINEZ?

Let’s get it straight from the start: A Martini is a Martinez. A Martinez is a Martini. It is definitely not the case, as is often claimed, that the Martinez is the grandfather of the Martini. How do I prove this? Quite simply, I have looked at the recipes that have been handed down. The statistics show that both could be prepared in a rich variety of ways, and that both can be regarded as identical. What exactly the recipes are, I will come to that. But let’s also be clear: It is all right to order a Martinez in a bar today if you want it sweeter, and a Martini if you want to stay more on the dry side. That way, it’s immediately clear in which direction it should go. Nevertheless, many questions remain unanswered, which should be clarified. It should be understood, however, that in the historical context there was no difference. This only developed later. I do not want to go into the different myths of origin for the “older” Martinez and the “younger” Martini here, but rather into how they can be prepared.

WHICH GIN?

The opinion is often expressed that a true-to-the-original Martinez must necessarily be prepared with an Old Tom gin or a genever. There are weighty arguments in favour of this. David Wondrich is not the only one to argue that unsweetened gin was not available at all in America before the 1890s. Instead, people would have used mostly genever or, to a lesser extent, Old Tom gin. This is supported by import lists of American port cities, which only list genever and Old Tom, but not dry gin. Dry gin was imported later and it was not until 1899 that more dry gin than genever entered the country for the first time. It is also said that sweet Italian vermouth was used initially. It is said that a dry vermouth, as used in the preparation of a Dry Martini, only harmonises with a Dry Gin, not with a genever. From this, the conclusion is drawn that in all old books, whenever gin is written, either an Old Tom gin or a genever was meant. An impressive logic. But I disagree. It is not that sweeping. “Gin” was already being produced in numerous places in the United States in the 1800s. In 1851, for example, there were six distilleries in Brooklyn alone, a borough in what is now New York, producing some 11 million litres of grain spirit, most of which was made into gin. One might argue that this was not a dry gin, as it came into being relatively late. However, this argument forgets that “unsweetened gin for mixing” was already being advertised in England in 1843. Moreover, by 1870 at the latest, the first distillery for dry gin opened in the USA, founded by Charles and Maximilian Fleischmann, in Cincinnati in Ohio. There is no reason why there should not have been other producers of dry gin in the USA, even before that. In my view, this is also the reason why no dry gin appears in the import lists – they produced it themselves, it was not worth importing. The argument that “gin” in the books does not mean “dry gin” is, in my view, simply wrong. If you look at the bar books of the 1880s, for example, you will often find the words gin, Holland gin or Old Tom gin in different recipes in one and the same book. So if gin was written in such a book, they didn’t mean Old Tom or Genever, because then they would have written it that way according to the other recipes in the book. Only a dry gin could have been meant.

THE FIRST RECIPE

The Martinez first appeared in 1884 in “The Modern Bartenders’ Guide” by O. H. Byron. He writes that a Martinez is the same as a Manhattan, except that you should use gin instead of whiskey. He lists two different Manhattan variants, hence two different Martinez variants. One of them uses French vermouth, which – so they say – is not supposed to go with a genever. So an additional indication in the first recipe to use a dry gin? So a French vermouth was used from the beginning.

THE VERMOUTH

This leads me to another aspect that I would like to discuss: the dryness of Martinis and other mixed drinks with vermouth. A lot of untrue things are said here: The Martini became drier because there was no vermouth during Prohibition and then even more so because during the Second World War not even Winston Churchill got enough vermouth for his Martinis. Then people got a taste for it and basically added very little vermouth. Legends upon legends. What was it really like? Let’s take a closer look at the history of vermouth in the USA: there is evidence that Cora exported its Vermouth di Torino to the USA as early as 1838. From 1844, the French Noilly Prat was also available. Around 1900, vermouth began to be produced in the USA, but the imported product was preferred. During Prohibition, Martini & Rossi vermouth was legally available for purchase, albeit as a non-alcoholic version. Traditional vermouth, on the other hand, was certainly hard to come by. The quality of domestic vermouth was poor after Prohibition, but due to tax breaks, American vermouth was the fastest growing product in the American wine trade in 1941. It is true that French and Italian vermouth was also exported to the USA during the Second World War. However, people there were patriotic and did not buy it. Instead, they used local vermouth. Finally, in the mid-1960s, the quality of vermouth worldwide became worse and worse. If we look at the ratio of gin to vermouth, the history of vermouth is reflected in the recipes that have been handed down. The average ratio is 1 until 1899; 1:2 from 1900 until the start of Prohibition; 1:4 during Prohibition. This is a steady but moderate increase. After Prohibition, from 1934- 1941, the ratio is nicely higher, at 2:1; we recall the sharp increase in sales of American vermouth from 1941 onwards, so it is not surprising that the average ratio between 1942 and 1959 is already 3:2. The general decline in the quality of vermouth is then reflected in the average value between 1960 and 1999, which is 5:2, with individual ratios of up to 24:1. No wonder, because you can ruin any Martini with a bad vermouth.

THE VARIETY

What variety can be gleaned from the collection of recipes? Let us briefly consider this aspect as well. It must contain a vermouth, sweet or dry or Italian or French. In addition, there must be either gin or Old Tom gin, both of which are mentioned in the recipes. Classically, a bitter must also be added to make the mixture into a cocktail. In more recent recipes for a Martini, the bitters are also omitted, on the grounds that the vermouth is bitter enough. Even this approach still satisfies the basic definition of a cocktail. The other ingredients are variable. If you like it sweeter, you can add some sugar syrup. Maraschino or curaçao may be used as an additional liqueur. For Martini recipes, it can also be absinthe, just as it is considered optional for a Manhattan Cocktail. Finally, there is again the decision whether it should be an olive or a lemon zest as a garnish? But you can also use a cherry. Louis Muckensturm enlightened us about this in his book published in 1906: “A cherry may be added to practically any cocktail, except when the cocktail is wanted extra dry. In that case olives may be used” But the answer to the question “Olive or Twist” can also be “Olive AND Twist”. This is how Harry Johnson recommends it, for example. The same applies to “Cherry or Twist”. You can also stir the lemon zest in the glass, or even shake it. Yes, a Martini can be stirred or shaken, both are documented. By shaking the zest, its ingredients are released particularly well. This can also be desirable. But one obligatory garnish is still missing: a small spoon! This is not my claim, but that of none other than Harry Johnson: “Handing bar-spoons to customers: In serving mixed drinks it is proper to give a short-handled bar-spoon with them, so that if the
customer desires to take out some of the fruit it contains, such as a slice of orange, a strawberry or a slice of pineapple, he can do so without putting his fingers into the glass. Gentlemen often find it inconvenient to remove their gloves while drinking, therefore a bar-spoon should be given with any mixed drink containing fruit.” The german text is a little bit different and reads, in translation: “Rule for the administration of certain spoons with mixed drinks:  The bartender must not refrain from adding a bar spoon to each mixed drink. For drinks in small glasses, such as whiskey or gin toddy, the short bar spoons are used, while for drinks in larger glasses, such as lemonades, punches, etc., the long coiled spoons are used. Many of the guests use to add water to weaken the strength of the drink. Others want to take certain pieces of fruit out of the mixed drinks, etc., and for all these actions they need a spoon, which must therefore be served with the drink. Pretty dainty bar spoons are highly recommended.” So why don’t we dilute our Martini with a little water afterwards? – But let’s be honest: an olive or cherry on a skewer is always in the way, and if they are in the glass, you can hardly reach them. So why don’t we finally bury the skewers and use a small silver spoon for them? It’s much more stylish and elegant that way.

COME ON, LET’S CONTEND! Now I have thrown a lot of discussion into the room, and I am sure that one or the other inclined reader would like to disagree on one or the other point and has a different view. I would like to reply at this point: Come on, let’s content! I regularly order a Martinez Cocktail to be surprised by how it is interpreted. I leave the choice up to my host, and not just when it comes to the question “Olive or Twist?” In the same way, I like to be surprised by your reasoning. So let’s discuss the different aspects of it over a Martinez, which may be a Martini for you, or a Martini, which may be a Martinez for me. I am already looking forward to it!

Thank you Armin for this fantastic article that looks deep into the history of the Martini. But I have to admit, I didn’t expect anything else from you. Now I’m thirsty again and would love to continue “contenting” with you over the next Martini, or is it a Martinez or a Martini after all…Armin, we really need to talk!

Thanks for reading

Frank Thelen

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About

Hi, I'm Armin and in my spare time I want to promote bar culture as a blogger, freelance journalist and Bildungstrinker (you want to know what the latter is? Then check out "About us"). My focus is on researching the history of mixed drinks. If I have ever left out a source you know of, and you think it should be considered, I look forward to hearing about it from you to learn something new. English is not my first language, but I hope that the translated texts are easy to understand. If there is any incomprehensibility, please let me know so that I can improve it.

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