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What is a Martini?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 16, 2024
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A martini is a cocktail featuring a chilled blend of gin or vodka and a hint of either sweet red or dry white vermouth. Original recipes called for a 2:1 ratio of gin to vermouth, but that proved to be too unpopular with drinkers who preferred the astringent and sharp taste of gin to the sweetness or dryness of a wine-based product like Italian vermouth. Refinements to the recipe led to at least a 5:1 ratio, all the way to a 15:1 ratio for some enthusiasts.

There are several different accounts of the true origin of the cocktail. Some claim the drink was named after an earlier concoction called a Martinez, while others suggest the drink was named after a bartender named Martinez who popularized the cocktail during the late 19th century. It is also possible the drink got its name from one half of the popular Italian vermouth producers, Martini and Rossi.

A traditional gin martini is either stirred with a splash of vermouth or shaken with vermouth and ice in a special beverage shaker. The bartender strains out the ice and pours the chilled gin and vermouth into a distinctively conical glass. At this point, an olive or twist of lemon peel may be added for additional flavor.

Some drinkers find the taste of gin to be too astringent or dry for their personal taste. The essential flavor of gin is the berry of a evergreen plant called juniper. A small amount of sweet red or dry white vermouth is added to a traditional gin martini in order to counteract this inherent tartness, but sometimes the sweetness or "wetness" of the vermouth can prevent some of the more subtle flavors of gin to come out. This is why some drinkers ask for a very "dry" martini, meaning a minimal amount of vermouth should be added.

Because straight gin can be a bit harsh for new drinkers to handle, vodka is often used as a substitute for popular flavored cocktails, such as apple or chocolate. The use of vermouth has also diminished to the point where a bartender may literally pour a drop of vermouth into a glass, swirl it around to coat the sides, and then pour it out completely before adding the actual gin or vodka blend.

Because of this preference for a straighter gin or vodka martini without the vermouth, some mixologists are concerned that the traditional drink has largely fallen out of popularity. The flavored gin or vodka-based cocktails may be popular with a younger clientele, but there is still a substantial demand for the classic cocktail which that defines the concept of a properly mixed drink.

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Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to DelightedCooking, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By ddljohn — On Aug 21, 2012

@MikeMason-- I think the new variations of martinis generally cater to women. I like a dry martini too but when I take my girlfriend out, there is no way I'm going to get her to have a dry martini. So it actually works out in my benefit to have all these new sweet martini options for her to enjoy while we're out.

Like the article said, gin can be hard to handle, especially if you're not used to having it. A dry martini is not a girly drink. So I completely understand why these bars and restaurants are coming up with milder, sweeter versions.

By ZipLine — On Aug 21, 2012

@MikeMason-- You know what, I was actually looking for a dirty martini recipe and you just described it for me! I haven't had a dirty martini yet but my roommate likes this kind of martini a lot. And I'm thinking of making it for him on his birthday.

I have had blue martinis many times though and I like it. I like seeing different variations of blue martinis when I go to restaurants and bars. It's fun to try the different tropical fruit flavors. It's definitely a good happy hour drink.

By stoneMason — On Aug 21, 2012

Restaurants these days don't really offer martinis. A martini is supposed to be a chilled vodka or gin plus vermouth depending on how dry you want your martini. But these days, they add all sorts of fruit punches and other ingredients into martinis.

Does anyone even drink real martinis these days?

I don't enjoy these new versions. I prefer an original chilled or shaken martini. My favorite martini is dirty martini made with top shelf gin and a green olive stuffed with blue cheese. It's amazing. I dislike sweet martinis, like I don't enjoy a blue martini at all.

By pleonasm — On Aug 20, 2012

@browncoat - What I like about the martini is that it's so versatile. I never found them to be all that bad to drink either, although I didn't try one until I was in my mid-20s and already used to drinking. My favorite martini recipe is a chocolate martini, although an apple martini is also delicious.

I prefer to get them in flavors like that because, as you say, they kind of make a statement about you when you're out and, while I like the touch of class that a martini can bring, I'm not such a serious person and sticking to one kind of drink would be boring.

By browncoat — On Aug 19, 2012

@irontoenail - It's too bad they didn't persist, as I consider the dirty martini to be my favorite cocktail. It's elegant, it's well known and it makes a statement about who you consider yourself to be. Once you've had a few of them, you really start to appreciate the flavor as well, just the same as any other kind of drink.

Although, I suppose if they realized they preferred beer, that's definitely going to help their wallets in the long term.

By irontoenail — On Aug 18, 2012

When I was in my first year of university, a bunch of the guys on my floor in the dorm were fascinated by James Bond and decided to go and get what they needed to make martinis. I think they fancied themselves as ladies men and wanted to walk around saying "shaken, not stirred".

Well, one thing that I have found to be true about almost all alcoholic beverages is that they are an acquired taste and these guys weren't all that used to drinking. So, I think they were unpleasantly surprised when they realized that a martini is actually pretty bitter and not all that pleasant to drink compared with, for example, a beer.

The martini shaker that they had bought went unused for the rest of the year, although they did manage to go through all the olives.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to DelightedCooking, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide...
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