Naperville has a love affair with vigorously-shaken supercold-neutrally-flavored vodka martinis served with olives. It’s the cocktail of choice at wedding receptions, galas and many fine bars.
The modern martini served in the suburbs now includes versions with fruit juices and sweet things from pomegranate to vanilla and chocolate. And many candycane and peppermint versions can be found this time of the year.
But, martinis were originally made with gin and sweet vermouth. Ian Fleming’s “Casino Royale,” James Bond, and a marketing campaign by Smirnoff changed America’s definition of a martini. Everyone knows that line “shaken not stirred.” It’s cliche.
The Martinez cocktail is the most likely origin of the vodka martini. It was a mixture of equal parts gin and sweet vermouth with a few dashes of orange bitters and Maraschino Liqueur. It was stirred and chilled with hand cut ice and strained into a cocktail glass.
Martinez today is an actual town outside San Francisco. It was a pop-up gold rush settlement during the 1850’s. The legend states the Martinez cocktail was created for a gentleman who traveled to Martinez by Jerry Thomas, who authored one of the first Bar-tender’s guides in the 1860’s. “Professor” Thomas, as he was often referred, traveled the United States, and was head barman at the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco at the creation of the Martinez Cocktail.
The original recipe called for two parts sweet vermouth to one part gin. The gin back then wasn’t always of best quality, so they had to sweeten everything to make drinks palatable.
The best modernized Martinez recipe I like to use calls for two parts Old Tom Gin to one part sweet vermouth with an equal dashing of Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur and orange bitters. I chill it and serve it up using Old Tom Gin from Ransom Distillery in Oregon (available at Binny’s) and garnishing it with a lemon twist.
This particular gin would be similar to one that would be found in America in the 19th century. This style is often brown in color from malted grains and would be stored in oak barrels for transport.
Cocktails are always an interesting evolution, considering vodka was scarce in America before WWII.