“Never in the field of human drinking” – to paraphrase one the cocktail’s greatest advocates – “ has so much been debated by so many over so little.” Just two humble ingredients, served in a chilled glass. The Martini is barely a cocktail – and yet somehow it has become a religion. Here are five of its most famous apostles, and the rituals, commandments and ceremonies they observe.
Hemingway’s booze-sodden novels provide us with a few compelling recipes for the big man’s cocktail of choice. In Across the River and Into the Trees, Hemingway’s hero marches into the vaunted Harry’s Bar in Venice 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. It is certainly a preparation to go to battle on.
Elsewhere, Papa Hemingway – who in his twilight years had begun to approach cocktail-making with an alchemical precision – informed 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, meanwhile, in a nod to the author’s love for the Iberian peninsula, was recommended as “Spanish cocktail onions, very crisp and also 15 degrees below zero when they go into the glass.”
“I have taken more out of alcohol than it has taken out of me”, Churchill famously said. His Martini order certainly shows no fear of the strong stuff. Churchill was a lifelong advocate of Plymouth Gin, but had little time for its bedmate vermouth.
Once, when asked how much he wanted in his cocktail, he replied: “I would like to observe the vermouth from across the room while I drink my martini.” The Churchill 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.
Franklin D Roosevelt
The great statesman was at his best after a stiff drink, which probably explains why he carried a bespoke “martini kit” on every local and foreign trip. FDR’s recipe called for two parts gin, one part vermouth, a soupcon 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.
The man who brought a dashing, rugged masculinity to Hollywood’s Golden Age was similarly cavalier when it came to his drinks. Gable’s character in the 1958 movie Teacher’s Pet borrows his favoured martini preparation directly from the actor hiself. Taking the bottle of vermouth and inverting it roughly until it wet the stopper, Gable would then run the damp cork around the lip of the Martini glass, top the rest up with ice-cold gin, and let the liquor do its worst.
James Bond’s oft-quoted martini order – vodka: shaken, not stirred – appalls and delights in equal measure (the jiggling process, mixologists/bores 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 (the Vesper uses both gin and vodka, and a sprinkling of aromatic Lillet) is said to reflect Fleming’s own esoteric tastes. The “Kina” here in the vermouth represents quinine, lending the Vesper the essence of a condensed gin and tonic. As for the precise preparation, we’ll leave that to 007 himself:
“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. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?”