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When's a Martini not a Martini

Words by Simon Difford

Neo-Martinis, Altern'atinis and Millennium Martinis are all terms that emerged in the 1990s as the cocktail renaissance started to take hold and any cocktail served straight-up in a V-shaped glass, more often than not based on vodka, was termed a 'martini'. These imposter-tinis may not bona fide "Martinis" but despite protestations from the bartending Cognoscente they have endured and thrived.

Strictly speaking, a "Martini" is predominantly gin (or vodka) and vermouth with any other ingredient, such as bitters, only being used to add a hint of flavour. However, few of these imposter martinis contain vermouth, and even in the few that do, their flavour profile does not centre around the spirit and vermouth. They are not members of the Martini family, they just carry the family name, a name that comes with a certain cachet.

Neo-Martinis, such as the Sour Apple Martini, emerged and became popular in America (particularly New York) and England (particularly London) during the 1990s and early noughties when cocktails were recovering from a reputation of being naff – not helped by 1980s' names such as Sex on the Beach, Screaming Orgasm and Slippery Nipple [more 1980s cocktails]. An "Espresso Cocktail" just doesn't have the same ring to it as an "Espresso Martini" and it was the Martini in the name of these cocktails that allowed a generation of new cocktail drinkers to proudly and loudly order a drink that sounded like a spirituous drink James Bond would call for but was actually a slightly sweet fruity cocktail.

There no martini police or martini laws and indeed some of the world's most famous bartenders have named fruity cocktails "Martinis". I'd argue, that without the "Martini" cachet added to sugar-charged crowd-pleasing cocktails such as the French Martini, Breakfast Martini and of course the Espresso Martini, there would not have been a cocktail renaissance at all. At least, not during the 1990s.

As the 1990s ticked past the millennium into the noughties, proper Martinis reclaimed their family name and folk like me quietly changed the name of drinks such as a "Pineapple Martini" to a "Pineapple Cocktail" to avoid derision by our peers (not to mention the wrath of Jonathan Downey). However, thanks to the enduring popularity of the Espresso Martini and the Porn Star Martini, neo-martinis are firmly back in vogue and I've felt the need to reinstal the Martini moniker on drinks that are actually mere Cocktails.

Top 5 Neo-Martinis

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No.1 Espressso Martini - the contemporary classic by Dick Bradsell with vodka, espresso coffee, coffee liqueur and sugar syrup.
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No.2 Porn Star Martini - a crowd-pleasing vodka-laced pairing of vanilla and passion fruit created in 2002 by Douglas Ankrah.
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No.3 French Martini - dating from the late 1980s this contemporary classic is made with vodka, raspberry liqueur and pineapple juice.
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No.4 Breakfast Martini - Created in 1996 by Salvatore Calabrese with gin, orange marmalade, triple sec and lemon juice.
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No.5 Sour Apple Martini - it cannot be overstated how popular this cocktail was in America during the 1990s. Follow the name link to our deluxe version with fresh lime juice, but in many bars this drink was simply 1½ vodka, 1½ sour apple liqueur and ¼ lime cordial shaken with ice.

More Neo-Martinis

Almond Martini A noughties cocktail with vodka, dry vermouth and amaretto.

Bikini Martini - Created in 1999 by Dick Bradsell with gin, peach schnapps, blue curaçao and lemon juice.

English Martini - gin, fresh rosemary and elderflower liqueur.

Polish Martini - created by Dick Bradsell this combines equal parts vodka, bison vodka, Polish honey liqueur and apple juice.

Wasabi Martini - vodka, wasabi paste, lemon juice and sugar.

Z Martini - tawny port replaces vermouth in this noughties cocktail from Boston, USA.