The martini is the classic cocktail. H. L. Mencken once called the Martini "the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet."
A modern martini is made with two and one half ounces of gin and a half ounce of dry vermouth, stirred with crushed ice and then strained into a chilled cocktail glass, and served "straight up" (without ice), though other recipes may be used. The drink is usually garnished with an olive, or sometimes with lemon rind (a twist), and less often with cocktail onions or capers. Note that, to a cocktail purist, a "martini" with onions instead of olives is a gibson, and each other change in garnish likewise requires a distinct name.
The benefit of the olive is to add salt, as bar olives are usually preserved in brine.
A "dry" martini is one made with less vermouth; a "very dry" martini is basically a cold glass of gin (though the ice will contribute some water to the final drink as well). Standard witticisms include to observe that "there was vermouth in the house once," or to wave the cap of the vermouth bottle over the glass. General Patton suggested pointing the gin bottle in the general direction of Italy. In a classic bit of stage business in the 1955 play Auntie Mame sophisticated pre-adolescent Patrick Dennis offers a martini, which he prepares by swilling a drop of vermouth in the glass, then tossing it out before filling the glass with gin. Similarly, in the 1958 movie Teacher's Pet, Clark Gable mixes a martini by turning the bottle of vermouth upside-down before running the moistened cork around the rim of the glass and filling it with gin. Also, atomizers similar to those used for perfume are sometimes used to dispense a token amount of vermouth.
Cocktail lore has it that the Martini is a descendant of the older Martinez, which consists of two ounces of sweet vermouth, one ounce gin, two dashes maraschino cherry liquid, and one dash bitters, shaken with ice, strained, and served with a twist of lemon. Martini recipes of the 1800s are similar to the modern recipe except that they also add a dash of bitters.
William Grimes, restaurant critic for the New York Times avers (in Straight Up or On the Rocks: the story of the American cocktail 2001) that the dry Martini was invented by the bartender, sig. Martini di Arma di Taggia, at the Knickerbocker Hotel, New York, in 1912. However, Lowell Edmunds (Martini Straight Up, 2003) tracked the cocktail to California in the 1870s.
Western culture has created almost a mythology around the Martini. The classic Martini was stirred, "so as not to bruise the gin." It was James Bond from the Ian Fleming novels who ordered his "shaken, not stirred," and other devotees of the drink have similar preferences for the technique of making the drink. In the novel Casino Royale, Bond's recipe is specified in more detail as made with three measures of gin (Gordon's was Bond's preference, although that brand has been cheapened; any good London Dry will do), one measure of vodka (Russian or Polish is preferred), and half a measure of Kina Lillet aperitif, shaken until ice-cold, and with a large, thin slice of lemon peel for garnish (properly called a "Vesper" after his love interest in the book). By the second Bond novel, Live and Let Die, Bond was drinking vodka "martinis" (properly called kangaroos), a trend that continued when 007 moved to the silver screen in 1962).
The concept of "bruising the gin" as a result of shaking a martini is an oft-debated topic. A shaken martini is different from stirred for a few reasons. The shaking action breaks up the ice and adds more water, slightly weakening the drink but rounding the taste. Shaking also adds tiny air bubbles, which can lead to a cloudy drink instead of clear. Also, the vermouth is more evenly distributed by shaking, which can alter the flavor and texture of the beverage as well.
The martini is used as a symbol for cocktails and nightlife in general; American bars often have a picture of a conical martini glass with an olive on their signs.
Many variations exist on the standard martini described above:
- A Vodka Martini (Kangaroo) is made the same way but with vodka instead of gin, and more often uses lemon rind as the garnish. This is the most common variation, and in fact is more popular than the original in some locations.
- An Apple Martini (also Sour Apple Martini) is a vodka martini with an apple flavoring such as apple schnapps, sometimes with apple, lemon or lime juice, and is often garnished with a slice of granny smith apple. Some people call this an Apple Cosmopolitan.
- A Dirty Martini has some of the brine (at least a teaspoon) from the olive jar added.
- A Naked Martini is made without ice, but with the ingredients and glass chilled.
- A Sweet Martini is made with sweet red vermouth, and may be garnished with a maraschino cherry instead of an olive.
- A Sake Martini substitutes a dry, clear sake for the vermouth.
- A Gibson is a standard dry martini that is garnished with a cocktail onion instead of an olive.
- A Tequila Martini substitutes tequila for gin.
- An Akvavit Martini substitutes Akvavit for gin.
- A Gin Salad is made like the ordinary martini but with three olives and two cocktail onions as garnish.
Sometimes the term "martini" is used to refer to other mostly-hard-liquor cocktails such as Manhattans, Cosmopolitan cocktail, and ad-hoc or local concoctions whose only commonality with the drink is the cocktail glass in which they are served. Chefs with a more whimsical bent are even producing dessert "martinis" which are not a drink at all, but are merely served in martini glasses.
See also: List of cocktails