Nobody Really Knows Who Invented the Martini

Monday May 14, 2018 Written by Sam Wilson

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Sean Connery as James Bond mixes a Smirnoff vodka martini in Dr. No.

In his 1948 book, The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto, author Bernard DeVoto describes the martini as “the supreme American gift to the world of culture.” While that might be overstating it a fraction, the martini does seem to inspire a special kind of devotion among its fans.

But ask them about the martini’s origins, and chances are they’ll draw a blank. This king of cocktails has a tantalisingly vague history. Most experts (read: amateur booze historians) concur it’s an American invention, but beyond that, the details blur.

Some say its name derives from Martini & Rossi, a brand of sweet vermouth available in the 1860s. Rather than requesting a gin and Martini & Rossi (a trendy pairing at the time), bar-goers would simply order a gin and martini. Eventually, possibly after a few were consumed, this morphed into the gin martini.

So far, so plausible (if rather prosaic).

Another, more endearing theory harks back to the Californian gold rush of 1849. A miner who’d struck it rich wanted to celebrate with some fine Champagne at a bar in Martinez, CA. Being fresh out of bubbles, the bartender suggested a “Martinez Special” instead. This intoxicating blend of vermouth, gin, bitters, maraschino liqueur and a lemon slice went down so well with the miner that he tried to order one upon returning home to San Francisco.

Naturally, the bartender wasn’t familiar with it, so the miner talked him through it. Funnily enough, his memory of its ingredients was sketchy (just how many did he imbibe that fateful night in Martinez?) – and the result was more like the cocktail we know and love today. In fact, the bartender was so impressed, he added it to his repertoire. As merry bar-goers indulged in this exotic new tipple, Martinez slurred into Martini and the barman took credit for it. However, to this day, the City of Martinez claims to be the martini’s birthplace.

Meanwhile, a certain Martini di Arma di Taggia – bartender at New York’s ritzy Knickerbocker Hotel in the early 1900s – was renowned for a drink he used to make with Noilly Prat vermouth, London dry gin, and orange bitters. Sounds suspiciously like a –well, you be the judge.

Fact is, any cocktail beloved by Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker and (of course) James Bond has got to be special, whatever its history. And on that note, may we recommend this martini recipe by the Bond who’d know best, Sir Roger Moore.