We hail the king of cocktails.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

We hail the king of cocktails.

For a drink that has only two ingredients – gin and vermouth – the dry martini’s enduring legacy is impressive indeed. It all began around the mid-1800s, when bartenders first noticed the potential of vermouth as a cocktail component. They started mixing it with everything, from whisky (creating the Manhattan) to brandy (for the lesser-known Metropole), but it was its pairing with gin that would eventually rule over all. And in the hands of the famous, both fictional and otherwise, it looked the epitome of elegance.

The martini’s simplicity is its greatest strength. From a bartender’s point of view, it’s a true test of skill. “Most of the time, there are only two ingredients. You don’t have anything to hide behind,” says Giovanni Graziadei, principal bartender of Jigger & Pony. “The temperature, the dilution, the quality and ratio of the ingredients – you can taste all of that in one sip.” For the person ordering one, it shows discernment, as preference is mirrored through the choice of gin (Old Tom or London Dry?) and vermouth (fruit-forward or herbal?) and how much of each to include. To order a martini is to announce that your palate has long since graduated from cloying dessert-like drinks and that it knows better than the barman what it wants.

Beyond that, the martini is endlessly customisable, though sometimes to its detriment. There are far too many cocktails with the “-tini” suffix that have little relation to the original, aside from the glass it’s served in. “No matter how you play with a classic martini, it should still be a dry drink with flavours that are clean and subtle, and the new flavours should never overpower the two basic ingredients,” advises Graziadei.


Five well-known variations.


The “true” martini as we know it today gained popularity in the late 1880s, when there was an overwhelming inclination for anything that was dry, from champagne to gin. One of the most popular recipes for the classic martini comes from American bartender Charlie Mahoney in 1897, which calls for half gin, half dry vermouth and a dash of orange bitters.


The Martinez is widely regarded as the precursor to the modern martini, but the Martinez itself was an evolution of the Manhattan. Sweet vermouth proved a heavenly match with whisky (the base of a Manhattan) and so bartenders were in a frenzy of experimentation. The gin variation resulted in the Martinez, which typically features maraschino liqueur and orange bitters, as well.


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The salty martini’s history began in 1901, when a martini made with muddled olives was served at the Waldorf Astoria in New York, but this was far from the norm. A recipe featuring brine didn’t appear until 1930, when G.H. Steele featured a drink in his My New Cocktail Book that consisted of equal parts gin and vodka, with vermouth, three types of bitters and one teaspoon of olive brine.


A martini garnished with a pickled onion. No one knows how or when this practice originated, so urban legends abound. Stockbroker Walter Campbell Gibson claimed he invented it at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, while others believe it was the US State Department’s Hugh Simons Gibson who used the onion to mark his alcohol-free glass at parties. Regardless, it is said to impart an umami taste to the drink.


James Bond’s martini wasn’t just shaken instead of stirred, it was also made with three measures of Gordon’s Gin, one of vodka and half of Kina Lillet (now Lillet Blanc), and garnished with a large slice of lemon peel. Ian Fleming invented this concoction for his famous spy in Casino Royale back in 1953. To remain even more faithful to the novel, serve it in a “deep champagne goblet”.