Martini Cocktail and its evolution

Words by Simon Difford

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In its simplest and truest form, a Martini is a mix of gin and vermouth, perhaps with a dash or two of bitters, and garnished with an olive or a twist. However, the Martini name has been applied to a myriad of different cocktails (there are over 200 on this website), many of which are far removed from a “true Martini”. Although most are served straight-up in the iconic V-shaped glass.

Martini origins / history

As so often, no one really knows the Martini's origins, but the widely accepted theory is that it evolved from the Martinez, which in turn evolved from the Manhattan. This linage is complicated by numerous other variations and incarnations emerging between 1882 and 1910, creating a family of related drinks, from the Martini to the Marguerite, Martine, Martigny, Martina, Martineau and the Bradford a la Martini.

The first known written recipe for the Martinez (based on either Dutch genever or old tom gin with the addition of sweet vermouth, curaçao and orange bitters) appears in O.H. Byron's 1884 The Modern Bartender as a variation of the Manhattan. Then in the second edition of his Bartender Manual (1888) Harry Johnson included the first known recipe for a "Martini" listing its ingredients as old tom gin, sweet vermouth, orange curacao, gum, Boker's bitters and a lemon twist. A second similar Martini recipe appears in Henry J. Wehmann's 1891 Bartenders Guide, also based on old tom and additionally calling for gum syrup.

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The Martini Cocktail in Harry Johnson's Bartender's Manual

Some say the Martini is simply a renamed Marguerite, after the brand of vermouth used to make it. The earliest known Marguerite Cocktail recipe appears in Harry Johnson's 1900 Bartenders' Manual. In his 1903 Daly's Bartenders Encyclopedia Tim Daly omits the anisette in his Marguerite recipe (equal parts gin and vermouth with a hint of orange due to the use of orange curaçao, orange bitters and an orange zest twist). The Marguerite, then turns drier and by the 1904 Stuart's Fancy Drinks it becomes 2/3 Plymouth gin [a dry gin] to 1/3 French vermouth.

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Marguerite Cocktail recipe in Harry Johnson's 1900 Bartenders' Manual

And, the Fancy Gin Cocktail from the 1850s can be considered a precursor to both the Martinez and the Marguerite. It also used jenever or old tom gin, combined with orange curacao and gomme, with bitters and lemon peel to balance.

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Fancy Gin Cocktail in Jerry Thomas' 1862 The bar-tenders-guide

The Martini turns progressively drier. Remember, the Martini, like the Martinez and or the Marguerite it morphed from, was initially sweet, hence the need to distinguish its descendant as a 'Dry' Martini', still very heavy on the vermouth by modern standards.

The "Dry Martini" most likely appeared with the emergence of the London Dry gin style and was helped by Martini & Rossi running newspaper advertisements in the U.S. towards the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century for their recently launched Dry Martini vermouth with the strapline "It's not a Martini unless you use Martini."

The first written suggestion of Martini's move to dry in a cocktail book is found in Tim Daly's 1903 Bartenders Encyclopedia where the recipe for a "Bottle of Martini Cocktail," which calls for 2/3 bottle of old tom gin and 1/3 bottle of dry vermouth, also states "This is supposed to be a very dry cocktail."

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A recipe for a bottled Martini Cocktail in the 1903 Daly's Bartenders Encyclopedia

But Daly's 1903 reference was to an ingredient and a mere statement of how the drink should taste. A year later the first known written recipe for a drink actually entitled a "Dry Martini Cocktail" appears in a 1904 French book American-Bar Recettes des Boissons Anglaises et Américaine. Written by Frank P Newman, a bartender at the Ritz in Paris, the recipe broadly translates as "In a mixing glass [illustrated as glass No.1], add a few pieces of ice and 3 drops of angostura or orange bitters. Finish with equal quantities of gin and dry vermouth, stir, strain into the glass No. 5 [illustrated as a 70cl stemmed glass]. Serve with a lemon twist, a cherry or an olive, according to the consumer's preference."

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1904 American-Bar Recettes des Boissons Anglaises et Américaine

Also in 1904 [perhaps even before Newman], in his Applegreen's Bar Book John Applegreen stipulates recipes for both a "Martini Cocktail" based on old tom gin and including "1 dash syrup", and beneath that a "Martini Cocktail, Dry" stipulating "Same as the above except omit the syrup."

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Martini Cocktail in 1904 Applegreen's Bar Book

Interestingly, Applegreen's Bar Book also contains a recipe for a "Crisp Cocktail" which is basically a Fifty-Fifty Dry Martini calling for Plymouth [dry] gin and French [dry] vermouth.

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Crisp Cocktail in 1904 Applegreen's Bar Book

And below that Applegreen also includes a "Olivette Cocktail", another Martini variation with a recipe calling for the addition of Peychaud's Bitters, and crucially served with an olive.

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Olivette Cocktail in 1904 Applegreen's Bar Book

I'd argue that Applegreen's 1904 "Martini Cocktail, Dry" is the first recipe titled Dry Martini in the English language, but if you want it actually spelled out with the "Dry" in front of the "Martini" this appears two years later in Louis' Mixed Drinks by Louis Muckensturm, a European bartender working in Boston, USA. This Dry Martini Cocktail, like the Martinez, benefited from curaçao and bitters as well as vermouth. Yet, unlike earlier versions, both the gin and the vermouth are stated as being dry. According to drinks historian, Gary 'gaz' Regan, the marketers at Martini & Rosso vermouth were advertising a Dry Martini cocktail heavily at that time.

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1906 Louis' Mixed Drinks

So the late 1800s and the turn of the 20th century saw the Dry Martini emerge from and dominate over its predecessors such as the Martinez and the Marguerite, and the Dry Martini became progressively drier and drier over the decades. Curaçao rapidly left the drink, but orange bitters remained a usual ingredient until the 1940s. Interestingly, these have come back into vogue with bartenders' new found love of bitters and in many bars, once again, orange bitters are now a standard addition to a Dry Martini. [Enter arguments that their overuse is masking the delicate subtleties of the base spirit.]

The Vodka Martini, Vodkatini or Kangaroo

The early decades of the 20th century saw the gradual emergence of vodka in the USA and as gin is often described as being a flavoured vodka, so vodka inevitably found its way into the ever drier Martini.

According to cocktail historian David Wondrich, the first vodka cocktail on record in the U.S. comes from New Hampshire, where in 1905 a bartender mixed up a few cocktails for a visiting Russian delegation. By 1911 the Russian Cocktail comprising three-fifths vodka and two-fifths Ruihinoy (a Russian cherry cordial made of cherry stones), frappe and strained, was on the menu at the St Charles Hotel, New Orleans. Fast forward to 1938 and such was the popularity of vodka in post-Prohibition America that New York's Russian Tea Room created an all-vodka cocktail menu.

The earliest known reference to the Vodka Martini occurs in Ted Saucier's 1951 Bottoms Up But it is Ian Fleming's character James Bond who famously drinks Vodka Martini's "shaken, not stirred", and the rise of vodka during the 1980s and 1990s, that made vodka the spirit of choice for many, if not most, in their Martinis.

Vodkatini / Vodka Dry Martini.
Vesper - a James Bond's "shaken not stirred" Martini with both gin and vodka.
Bearskin Martini - a Vodkatini with a hint of Kümmel.
Dry Ice Martini - a Vodkatini martini with Canadian icewine.
Dutch Martini - a Vodkatini with jenever and orange curaçao.
Kangaroo Dry Martini - the name David Embury gives to a vodka martini in his The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks.
Flame of Love Martini - with vodka, orange peel and fino sherry this cocktail is said to have been a favorite of Dean Martin.
Z Martini Tawny port replaces vodka in this noughties cocktail from Boston, USA.
Voyager Martini - a vodkatini with vermouth, sake and pisco.

Martinis with a flourish

Back in the 1920s and 30s it was common for liqueurs and other types of aromatised wines to be added to otherwise classic gin and vermouth martinis - and it still is. Follows some examples:

Abbey Martini - a 1930s martini that's closely related to the Bronx with gin, sweet vermouth, orange juice and bitters.
Alberto Martini W.J. Tarling's 1937 Café Royal Cocktail Book credits the creation of this fino sherry and triple sec influenced martini to one A.J. Smith.
Alfonso Martini - Adapted from a recipe in Victor Bergeron's 1972 Trader Vic's Bartender's Guide with gin, Grand Marnier, sweet vermouth, dry vermouth and bitters .
Army Martini - Made with gin, sweet vermouth and grenadine.
Arnaud Martini A 1930s martini with gin, dry vermouth and crème de cassis named after the actress Yvonne Arnaud.
Bartender's Martini - with gin, dry vermouth, fino sherry, Dubonnet Red and Grand Marnier.
Chocolate Martini - Vodka, dry vermouth and white crème de cacao.
Elk Martini - from Harry Craddock's 1930The Savoy Cocktail Book with equal parts gin and plum brandy with dry vermouth.
Francophile Martini - a French Martini with gin and dry vermouth.
Fresh Martini - a digestif martini with gin, bianco vermouth, mastiha, white crème de menthe and peppermint bitters.
Gingerbread Martini - vodka, dry martini, amaretto and gingerbread syrup.
Greek Martini - a wet gin martini with mastiha and ouzo.
Jupiter Martini - thought to date from the 1920s, this is a wet gin martini with parfait amour and orange juice.
Left Bank Martini - a gin martini with white wine and elderflower liqueur.
Marsala Martini - created by Tony Conigliaro this martini is made with gin, marsala, dry vermouth and amaretto.
Martini Special - with absinthe, bitters, gin, sweet vermouth and orange flower water this martini features in Harry Craddock's 1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book.
Moonshine Martini - with gin, dry vermouth, maraschino liqueur and absinthe this is another martini from Harry Craddock's 1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book.
Orange Bloom Martini - with gin, triple sec and sweet vermouth, also from Harry Craddock's 1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book.
Peto Martini - a Perfect Martini with orange juice and maraschino liqueur.
Piccadilly Martini - from the The Savoy Cocktail Book with gin, dry vermouth, absinthe and grenadine.
Roselyn Martini - a gin dry martini with grenadine.
Sakura Martini - created in 2015 by Kenta Goto in New York with sake, gin and maraschino.
Sake Martini - a gin dry martini with sake.
So-So Martini - a 1920's Martini with gin, dry vermouth, calvados and grenadine.
Valencia Martini - also known as a Spanish Martini this mixes gin with fino sherry in place of vermouth.

Neo Martinis / Altern'atinis / Millennium Martinis

Martinis, Altern'atinis and Millennium Martinis are terms that describe a cocktail served straight-up in a V-shaped glass, more often than not also based on vodka or gin. Although they carry the name 'Martini', these are not actually martinis as strictly speaking a "Martini" is predominantly gin (or vodka) and vermouth with any other ingredient only being used to add a hint of flavor. Few of these imposter martinis contain vermouth and even those that do, their flavour profile does not centre around the spirit and vermouth.

Popular in both England (particularly London) and America (particularly New York) during the 1990s and early noughties, these cocktails allowed new cocktail drinkers to order a drink that sounded as cool as a James Bond bar call but actually receive an easy fruity cocktail rather than a spirituous drink.

Strictly speaking to be a proper Martini, a cocktail should contain gin and vermouth and most of the following lack either ingredient. That said, there no martini police or martini laws and some of the world's most famous bartenders have named such drinks 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.
Breakfast Martini - Created in 1996 by Salvatore Calabrese with gin, orange marmalade, triple sec and lemon juice.
English Martini - gin, fresh rosemary and elderflower liqueur.
Espressso Martini - the contemporary classic by Dick Bradsell with vodka, espresso coffee, coffee liqueur and sugar syrup.
French Martini - dating from the late 1980s this contemporary classic is made with vodka, raspberry liqueur and pineapple juice.
Polish Martini - created by Dick Bradsell this combines equal parts vodka, bison vodka, Polish honey liqueur and apple juice.
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.
Wasabi Martini - vodka, wasabi paste, lemon juice and sugar.
Z Martini - tawny port replaces vermouth in this noughties cocktail from Boston, USA.

Fresh Fruit Martinis

These fruity Neo Martinis / Altern'atinis emerged and became very popular in London during the 1990s. At their simplest they are vodka based with fresh fruit juice, or indeed vegetable juice and a hint of sugar syrup. With freshly pressed / squeezed / muddled fruit and the right balance of sugar, these can be very tasty crowd pleasing cocktails. It's only the use of the name 'Martini' that now might offend some.

Apple Martini - vodka, applejuice and sugar syrup. Not to be confused with the American Sour Apple Martini above made with apple liqueur rather than fresh juice.
Kee-Wee Martini - vodka, muddled cucumber and sugar syrup.
Melon Martini - vodka, fresh cantaloupe melon and sugar syrup.
Pineapple & Cardamon Martini - Created in 2002 by Henry Besant, as the name suggests this vodka based cocktail does indeed have pineapple and cardamom.
Pornstar Martini - created by Douglas Ankrah at Townhouse in Knightsbridge in 2002, this fruity vodka based cocktail with a side serving of champagne is more popular now than in the noughties when it was created.
Watermelon Martini - vodka, muddled watermelon and sugar syrup.