Sunday, May 18, 2008

THE PERFECT MARTINI

Bourbon and Scotch are great drinks for the winter months, but the seasons are changing and it's eighty degrees outside and I'm drinking a martini. It's perfect. I love a good vodka martini, don't get me wrong, but this is classic gin and it couldn't be better. Despite huge ad campaigns, vodkas tend to be similar, since they're basically pure distilled alcohol, whereas gins vary widely because they're made with juniper berries and a variety of botanicals. Take this Bombay Sapphire. The flavoring comes from ten different ingredients: almond, lemon peel, licorice, juniper berries, orris root, angelica, coriander, cassia, cubeb, and grains of paradise.

Gin was invented by Franciscus Sylvius, a doctor in the Netherlands in the 17th century. It was originally sold to treat medical problems such as gout, gallstones, and lumbago. Jenever, Genever, or Dutch Gin, was different than what we drink today. It was made in a single pot, and tasted much stronger. When William of Orange ascended the British throne, he brought along a love of gin. Soon there was six times as much gin as beer in London. London Dry gin, made from a single column still, gained a wide popularity, especially with the poor, since it was cheap to produce. Soon there would be gin blossoms, gin rummy, and bathtub gin.

London Dry gin bottle, 1800s

As you know, the Brits drank gin and tonics to stave off malaria in their far-flung empire, hence the allusion to Bombay in this drink I'm sipping, though the Bombay Sapphire brand was actually launched in 1987. Even so, it's crisp, cold, and aromatic. I'm not complaining.

As for the martini, t
he New York Times says it was invented in 1912 by Signor Martini di Arma di Taggia, bartender at New York's Knickerbocker Hotel. Some say there are earlier published reports of the drink.

According to Wikipedia, real martini drinkers drank it dry. The drier the better. The classic drink calls for a five-to-one ratio of gin to dry vermouth, but for some that wasn't dry enough. Winston Churchill chose to skip the vermouth completely, saying that the perfect martini involved pouring a glass full of cold gin and looking at a bottle of vermouth. General George Patton suggested pointing the gin bottle in the general direction of Italy. Alfred Hitchcock called for five parts gin and "a quick glance at a bottle of vermouth." Hemingway liked to order a "Montgomery", which was a martini mixed at a 15:1 gin-to-vermouth ratio (these supposedly being the odds Field Marshall Montgomery wanted to have before going into battle). That's dry.

With the advent of lounge culture nostalgia, martinis are big again. Maybe it's the cool glass. Maybe it's Shagg. In the 1990s, vodka martinis surpassed gin martinis in popularity. Nowadays you can order martinis -- or concoctions masquerading as martinis -- made with everything from chocolate to apples to bananas. Tini Bigs, a martini bar in Seattle, serves a "Smore," which is a chocolate martini with crushed graham cracker on the rim. I kid you not. That's no longer a martini. That is something vile and pernicious.

Anyway, for a cool summer drink when you're tired of beer and gin and tonics, try a martini. Or a Montgomery! Salute!

''I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they've always worked for me.'' - Hunter S. Thompson.


2 comments:

expatbrian said...

Nice post. I am a martini man myself. There is something in the Sapphire that is just a little strong tasting for me. I prefer Tanqueray. As far at the vermouth, just glancing at the bottle is not quite enough for me. I generally go as far as whispering the word 'vermouth' across the top of the glass.
Btw, didn't know you were an Oregonian. What part? I went to school up there in Eugene for a while and visited a few other towns. I used to take the train down from Eugene to San Francisco on school holidays. I think it cost $24 in 1967/68.

Bob Rini said...

Tanqueray is also good gin, but I like the taste of Bombay Sapphire. Ice cold, and very dry!
I grew up in Oregon -- southwest of Portland, where the suburbs turned into the country beyond Beaverton and toward Hillsboro -- when it was Scotch Broom and white oak trees and filbert orchards. Now there's been a slow creep of McMansions and tract homes and shopping malls, so it's barely recognizable. There are still nice places there, but "progress" has changed it a lot.