Tuesday, January 4, 2011


The DeVoto Martini from Claire Thomas on Vimeo.

Martinis seem like the quintessence of high society--a dry, sophisticated drink in an exquisite cocktail glass, elegant as the Chrysler Building, bright and silvery and ice cold. The books are full of clever quotes from dry, sophisticated drinkers, Algonquin table quippers, Mad Men, regatta yacht types and movie stars and the elegantly wasted, so much that the average drinker might experience a wave of class wooziness when confronted with the drink and stick to beer. They'd be missing out. Or they've learned a little about martinis--that dry, for example, is best--but why?

According to food writer Christoph Reilly, "The 'drier equals less' myth was further enhanced by the rich, powerful and famous. For Winston Churchill, a martini consisted of pouring a glass full of cold gin while looking at a vermouth bottle, a drink now called a Churchill martini. Likewise, Alfred Hitchcock's recipe called for five parts gin and 'a quick glance at a Vermouth bottle.' I guess Hitchcock's martini was drier than Churchill's since he didn't look at the Vermouth as long. Drier still was General Patton, who suggested pointing the gin bottle in the general direction of Italy. Hemingway liked to order a 'Montgomery,' a martini mixed with 15 parts gin and only 1 part vermouth. Supposedly, Field Marshal Montgomery needed 15 to 1 odds before going into battle."

This is all part of the Great Martini Myth. A good martini is simple--perfectly so--and mixing one requires more confidence than skill. Yes, the original was gin though vodka variants are now considered valid by everyone but the worst snobs, though no one worth their salt would consider the apple-tinis and chocolate-tinis, the peachtinis and peppertinis, and the rest of those too sweet sorority girl drinks masquerading as martinis that are actually closer to daiquiris. There is nothing wrong with a daiquiri, mind you, but it's not a martini. This New Years Eve, I mixed some drinks for friends and it was amazing how many people loved a good martini (the way I make them) but had no idea how on Earth to mix one. I hate to demystify the mixology of the celebrated drink, but after a couple drinks I'll spill all my secrets. So in the spirit of DIY, this quickie video gives it away. Watch it.

Now everyone knows Robert Benchley (a dry martini of a person, if ever there was one) famously quipped "Why don't you get out of that wet coat and into a dry martini?" Someone else at the round table said that martinis are like breasts: one is not enough and three is too many. We've heard Dorothy Parker say that after two martinis she's under the table, and after three she's under the host. We know that Bond preferred them shaken not stirred, but don't order one like that. Ask the bartender to make a martini--dry, if you prefer--and let him or her mix it however they like. A good bartender should make a good martini. For starters, have a gin martini and three olives. Next, skip the olives and try one with a curl of lemon peel. See what you like.

Oh, and let me remind you that martinis are strong. They are basically all alcohol. Don't gulp them. Don't drink them and operate heavy machinery. Don't drive automobiles after drinking even one. And certainly don't drink them on an empty stomach. Eat something first. To help us with eating, let's turn to martini enthusiast Robert Benchley in a short "educational" film from 1939.

No comments: