Shaken and Stirred: A Spirited History of the Martini Cocktail

3 types of martinis - part of the history of the martini cocktail

As a non-drinker, the idea of a cocktail has always had a certain mystique attached to it. The glamorous images of James Bond sipping a martini while saving the world certainly don’t help my fascination with the drink. The iconic V-shaped martini glass, often associated with elegance and sophistication, only adds to the allure. While I usually order virgin cocktails when out with friends, the martini remains one of the most popular cocktails of all time. So, let’s dive into the history of this iconic drink – whether you prefer it shaken or stirred, with gin or vodka, dry or dirty, the martini has been a staple of cocktail culture for over a century.

A Brief History

The history of the martini is somewhat murky, with many different stories and legends surrounding its creation. Some say that it was first concocted in the late 1800s, while others claim that it didn’t really gain popularity until the 1920s during Prohibition. One thing that most experts agree on is that the martini likely originated in the United States, although there are some who argue that it has roots in Europe. Regardless of its exact origins, it’s clear that the martini quickly became a popular drink among the upper class.

Originally, the martini was made with gin and dry vermouth, garnished with an olive or lemon twist. Over the years, the recipe has evolved to include vodka as a popular alternative to gin. The ratio of gin or vodka to vermouth has also varied, with some recipes calling for a 2:1 ratio of gin or vodka to vermouth, while others prefer a much drier martini with only a hint of vermouth.

One of the earliest known mentions of the martini comes from a book published in 1888 called “The Modern Bartender.” The recipe in the book calls for gin, sweet vermouth, and orange bitters, which is similar to the classic martini we know today. However, over the years, the martini has undergone many changes and variations, with some even calling into question what actually constitutes a “real” martini.

1888-Harry-Johnson-s-new-and-improved-bartender-s-manual-1888-

Harry Johnson’s New and Improved Bartender’s Manual – published in 1888

Martini Cultures

Despite its American roots, the martini has become a beloved cocktail around the world, with different countries and cultures putting their own unique spin on the classic drink. In England, for example, the martini is often made with gin and served very dry, while in Italy, it is common to add a splash of olive brine to create a dirty martini. In France, it is not uncommon to see a martini made with Lillet Blanc, a type of fortified wine.

One of the most famous martini cultures comes from the pages of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. In the book “Casino Royale,” Bond famously orders a Vesper martini, which is made with gin, vodka, and Kina Lillet, a type of French aperitif wine. This unique martini has become a favorite of cocktail enthusiasts around the world and is often considered the pinnacle of martini-making.

Vesper Martini – History

One of the most famous martinis is the Vesper, which was created by James Bond author Ian Fleming in his book “Casino Royale.” The Vesper is made with gin, vodka, and Lillet Blanc, a French aperitif wine. The recipe calls for a 3:1 ratio of gin to vodka and a splash of Lillet Blanc. The drink is then garnished with a twist of lemon.

The Vesper has become synonymous with James Bond and the world of espionage. In Chapter 7 of the book, Bond thinks up the drink on the spot and requests the barman make it for him: “Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?”

Bond names this cocktail after his love interest in Casino Royale, Vesper. By the end of the book, Vesper Lynd has revealed herself to be a double agent working against Bond but overcome by her guilt and genuine feelings for him; she sacrifices herself to save him. Stricken by the sadness of Vesper Lynd’s death, Bond never orders another Vesper again.

Since Kina Lillet is no longer produced, modern bartenders need to modify the recipe to mimic the original taste. A common recipe for a Vesper Martini today is 3 ounces gin, 1 ounce vodka, and 1/2 ounce Lillet Blanc or dry vermouth. It’s garnished with a lemon peel.

Vesper martini recipe

3 ounces gin
1 ounce vodka
1/2 ounce Kina Lillet

The ingredients are shaken together with ice and strained into a chilled martini glass. The Vesper martini is often garnished with a lemon twist, although some prefer it with a green olive.

Another take on the Vesper

Greg B., one of our favourite food & drinks friend from the US shares his twist on the Vesper:

“The original Vesper formula of the 1960’s was 3 parts gin, 1 part vodka and .5 parts Lillet Blanc that is shaken over ice & served in a chilled martini glass with a twist or slice of lemon. Lillet changed the formula for Lillet Blanc from a more bitters formula to a sweeter formula in around 2017/18 to appeal to the trend of people ordering sweeter drinks. Which to me changes the taste of the Vesper. Cocchi Americano, which is made in Italy, still has a formula similar to the original Lillet Blanc formula of the ’60s. I like a Vesper made with either one, but to get the original intent of the cocktail I use Cocchi. Both Cocchi & Lillet are available in Spain via Amazon and back in the US I would find them both in Total Wine.”

Types of Martini

While the classic martini is made with gin or vodka and dry vermouth, there are countless variations on the drink. Some with different ingredients and garnishes that can completely change the flavor of the drink. Some of the most popular types of martini include:

Dry Martini

Made with gin and dry vermouth, the dry martini is a classic cocktail that is often garnished with a lemon twist or olive.

Dirty Martini

Similar to the dry martini, the dirty martini is made with gin or vodka and dry vermouth, but with the addition of olive brine to create a salty, savory flavor.

Gibson Martini

The Gibson is a variation on the classic martini that is garnished with a pickled onion instead of a lemon twist or olive.

Apple Martini

Also known as the Appletini, this sweet and fruity cocktail is made with vodka and apple schnapps, often garnished with a slice of apple.

Espresso Martini

This modern martini is made with vodka, espresso, and coffee liqueur, resulting in a rich, decadent flavor that is perfect for after-dinner drinks.

Other Martini Recipes

Bacon Martini

Yes, you read that right. The Bacon Martini is made with bacon-infused vodka, dry vermouth, and a dash of maple syrup. It’s definitely not for everyone, but it has a devoted following. I am thinking this could be a Canadian invention.

Chocolate Martini

Yes, you read that right. The Bacon Martini is made with bacon-infused vodka, dry vermouth, and a dash of maple syrup. It’s definitely not for everyone, but it has a devoted following. I am thinking this could be a Canadian invention.

Cucumber Martini

The Cucumber Martini is made with gin or vodka, fresh cucumber, and St. Germain elderflower liqueur. It’s a refreshing, summery drink that’s perfect for a warm evening.

Lemon Drop Martini

A Lemon Drop Martini is a classic vodka cocktail that is the perfect balance of sweet and sour. To make lemon drops extra special, add a simple lemon sugar rim to the glasses.

Watermelon Martini

A Watermelon Martini is a refreshing cocktail that’s perfect for summer. It’s made with fresh watermelon juice, vodka, and other ingredients to create a sweet and fruity drink.

NOTE: Please remember to always drink responsibly. Know your limits and never drink and drive. Alcohol should only be consumed by individuals who are of legal drinking age. If you are pregnant or taking medication, it is important to consult with your doctor before consuming alcohol. Enjoy responsibly!

The martini is a classic cocktail that has stood the test of time, with countless variations and unique cultures around the world. Whether you prefer it shaken or stirred, with gin or vodka, dry or dirty, there is a martini out there for everyone. So why not try mixing up your own martini at home? You never know, you might just discover your new favorite cocktail.

Postcards from the Road