“Never in the field of human drinking,” – to paraphrase one of the martini’s greatest advocates – “has so much been debated by so many over so little”. The classic cocktail was first mixed into existence sometime in the late 19th century, and consists of just two humble ingredients, served in a chilled glass.
But, while this blend of gin and vermouth barely even constitutes a cocktail, somehow it has become a religion. Your martini order is an inextricable part of your identity; as telling as the car you drive, the suit you wear — or your chosen insult. And men, from heads of state to famed novelists, have all put their own signature spin on the basic recipe. Here, we shake, stir and serve five of the finest twists on the traditional martini…
Ernest Hemingway drank his from a frozen glass (with onions)
Hemingway’s booze-sodden novels provide us with a few compelling recipes for this cocktail of choice. In Across the River and Into the Trees, Hemingway’s hero marches into the vaunted Harry’s Bar to order two very dry martinis: “Montgomerys: 15 to 1” he demands. This overpowering ratio of gin to vermouth is derived, apparently, from Field Marshall Montgomery’s habit of outnumbering his enemies in similar proportions.
Outside of his writings, Hemingway would inform his friends that the correct way to make a Martini involved freezing the glass beforehand so it stuck to the palm, before sliding in “just enough vermouth to cover the bottom of the glass” and topping up with gin. The garnish, in a nod to the author’s love of the Iberian peninsula, was “Spanish cocktail onions; very crisp and also 15 degrees below zero when they go in”.
How to make Hemingway’s martini:
- Freeze a cocktail glass
- Fill a mixing glass with ice
- Pour in 50ml of gin (Hemingway liked Gordon’s)
- Stir for at least one minute
- Add a teaspoon of vermouth to the glass
- Strain in the gin and garnish with a frozen onion
Winston Churchill poured Plymouth Gin (hold the vermouth)
“I have taken more out of alcohol than it has taken out of me,” Churchill famously said — and his martini order certainly shows no fear of the strong stuff. Our lauded prime minister was a lifelong advocate of Plymouth Gin, despite having little time for its cocktail cabinet bedmate, vermouth.
Once, when asked how much vermouth he wanted in his cocktail, Churchill replied: “I would like to observe the vermouth from across the room while I drink my martini.” The statesman’s version, then, has come to be little more than chilled gin and stoic silence. It is sometimes said to be accompanied by a sly bow in the direction of France, in lieu of any of the nation’s distracting liqueurs.
How to make Churchill’s martini:
- Fill a mixing glass with ice
- Pour in 75ml of Plymouth Gin
- Stir to preferred dilution
- Strain into glass
Ian Fleming created the famed fictional martini, the ‘Vesper’
James Bond’s oft-quoted martini order – vodka: shaken, not stirred – appalls and delights in equal measure (the jiggling process, mixologists will tell you, ‘bruises’ the spirit). But it was not the spy’s original demand. The ‘Vesper’ martini is the first drink James orders in the entire Bond canon, and its curious preparation is said to reflect Fleming’s own esoteric tastes.
Containing ‘Kina Lillet’, which adds quinine and gives the Vesper the essence of a condensed gin and tonic, Bond lets a bartender know the extensive, eccentric list of ingredients in Casino Royale: “A dry martini. One. In a deep Champagne goblet. Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet…”
How to make Ian Fleming’s martini:
- Add cubed ice to a cocktail shaker
- Pour in 60ml Gordon’s gin, and 20ml vodka
- Top up with 10ml ‘Lillet Blanc’
- Shake thoroughly for 15 seconds
- Double-strain into a martini glass
- Garnish with one long strip of lemon zest
Franklin D. Roosevelt threw the kitchen cabinet at his martinis
Franklin D. Roosevelt won a record four presidential elections during his life, directed the United States through the Great Depression and steered the nation into the throes of World War II. And the great statesman was never more resolute or reliable than after a good stiff drink — which probably explains why he carried a bespoke ‘martini kit’ on every local and foreign trip.
FDR’s recipe throws the full kitchen cabinet at the classic cocktail — calling for two parts gin, one part vermouth, a soupçon of olive brine, a lemon twist and an olive. At the Tehran conference in 1943, the President insisted on mixing this precise concoction for Joseph Stalin. Stalin noted that it was “cold on the stomach”, but not unpleasant.
How to make Franklin D. Roosevelt’s martini:
- Add ice to a mixing glass
- Pour in 50ml of gin, 25ml vermouth
- Splash in a dash of olive brine
- Stir for 30 seconds
- Strain into a cocktail glass
- Garnish with an olive and lemon twist
Clark Gable used a cork to apply a hint of vermouth
The man who brought a dashing, rugged masculinity to Hollywood’s ‘Golden Age’ was similarly cavalier when it came to his drinks. And, while the actor loved rye whiskey and ginger ale, he also had a signature take on the classic martini.
Just watch the 1958 film Teacher’s Pet. Co-starring Doris Day, Gable’s hard-nosed newspaper editor character borrowed his favoured martini preparation process from the actor himself. He inverts the vermouth bottle until the fortified wine wets the stopper, before running the cork around the rim of the glass.
How to make Clark Gable’s martini:
- Fill a mixing glass with cubed ice
- Pour in 60ml very dry gin
- Invert your vermouth bottle
- Run the wet cork around the rim of a cocktail glass
- Stir the gin for 30 seconds
- Strain into the glass
Want more famous cocktail serves? Here are 8 style icons and their favourite cocktails…
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