Whether you prefer them shaken, stirred, dirty or dry, raise a glass to National Martini Day on June 19! Martinis are one of the most popular drinks in the United States, and one of the most famous drinks around the world.
The iconic drink, in its instantly recognizable V-shaped glass, has inspired hundreds of variations on the original classic. In its most traditional form, a Martini is made with gin and dry vermouth. It is garnished with a twist of lemon, or an olive.
How exactly the Martini rose to international fame is debatable. In an early tale from the era of the California gold rush, Jerry Thomas—a bartender at San Francisco’s Occidental Hotel—was challenged by a miner to create something special in exchange for a gold nugget. What Thomas created barely resembles what we think of as a Martini today—his version contained maraschino, bitters, vermouth, and sweetened gin. Nonetheless, the miner cottoned to this new creation, and earned it a place on the Occidental’s menu. The miner was on his way back to Martinez, California, so Thomas apparently called this new invention a “Martini” in honor of the miner’s hometown.
The Knickerbocker Hotel in New York City also lays claim to the birth of the Martini. In this version of the legend, an Italian bartender at The Knickerbocker named Martini di Arma di Taggia created a drink recipe that called for dry gin and dry vermouth (in equal parts) with orange bitters.
Or maybe the seminal cocktail was named for the Martini & Henry rifle company. After all, the rifle and the drink both carry a kick!
No matter who made the Martini first, the original recipe has undoubtedly evolved over the intervening years. Over time, vermouth took a backseat to gin. By modern standards, a “wet” martini has one part vermouth and three parts gin. A “dry” martini barely has a whisper of vermouth, at one part vermouth and 25 parts gin. Winston Churchill, who famously preferred his Martinis as dry as they come, said that vermouth needed only to be in the same room as his drink.
Here are a few other things you need to know before making a Martini at home, or ordering one in a bar this National Martini Day:
- A classic Martini is made with gin. If you prefer your Martini made with vodka, that’s up to you—but be sure to specify that you’d like a “Vodka Martini” when ordering.
- Shaken or stirred? We all know that James Bond prefers his Martini shaken… but really, what’s the difference? Chances are, unless you specify how you’d like your Martini prepared, you’ll get a stirred Martini in a bar. It’s easier to control the dilution of the Martini when it’s slowly stirred and observed. If you go the 007 route, you’ll end up with a more aerated cocktail, and one that likely contain ice shards.
- Lemon or olive? That’s up to you. A lemon will give your cocktail a gentle citrus lift, while an olive will impart just a whisper of brine. Neither one should overpower the flavor of the cocktail. If neither of those floats your boat, a Gibson Martini could be a nice compromise—this iteration calls for an onion instead, resulting in a savory (but not overly briny) suggestion.
- How dirty are you? A dirty martini incorporates the brine from a jar of olives into the drink—there are usually equal parts brine and vermouth. If you like your Martini even saltier, go for extra dirty or filthy.
Those are the basics! However, in addition to being one of the most popular drinks of all time, Martinis are also one of the most riffable. If you’re ready to diversify your Martini menu this National Martini Day, the possibilities are endless. Experiment with an Elderflower Martini, Espresso Martini, or even a Breakfast Martini… or create a new concoction of your own!
National Martini Day is typically celebrated