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All Hail the Classic Gin Martini

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Do the words “Martini, shaken, not stirred,” ring a bell? Those immortal words, uttered by the fictional spy James Bond, are all the proof we need to declare the martini a classic cocktail of the highest order.

It’s a time-honored favorite for a few reasons: 1) its clean, refreshing flavor is unmistakable; 2) it inspired an iconic glass shape that’s stood the test of time; 3) its pristine, crystalline appearance just screams sophistication. But there’s more to a classic martini cocktail than meets the eye.

The History of the Martini

Like so many iconic drinks, the martini’s exact origin story is something of a mystery. One theory traces the martini to Gold Rush-era San Francisco, where legendary barman Jerry Thomas was slinging drinks at The Occidental Hotel on Montgomery Street.

“As the story goes, a traveler on his way to the town of Martinez, California, stepped into the bar, threw a gold nugget on the table, and asked Thomas to shake up something special,” shares writer Barnaby Conrad III in his book The Martini: An Illustrated History of an American Classic. “‘Very well, here is a new drink I have invented for your trip,’ said Thomas. ‘We’ll call it the Martinez.’”

In Thomas’s book How To Make Drinks or the Bon Vivant’s Companion, first published in 1887, he describes the Martinez as a concoction of bitters, maraschino liqueur, Old Tom gin, and vermouth. He serves it with a slice of lemon, unless “the guest prefers it very sweet,” in which case, he recommends adding two dashes of gum syrup.

Doesn’t sound quite like a classic martini, does it? That’s because—if you believe this version of the story—the Martinez continued to evolve, eventually transforming into what’s widely recognized today as the classic martini, which marries dry gin and vermouth.

However, another version of the martini origin story involves a famous brand name: Martini & Rossi. Created in the 1800s, this vermouth brand grew so popular that people allegedly began to ask simply for a “martini,” a truncated version of the brand name that became synonymous with a combo of vermouth, gin and bitters.