Know Your Cocktail’s History - The Martini

You might think that you have the recipe for a drink nailed, but if you don’t take the time to look into the history of the drink, you are probably doing a disservice to yourself, and your customers. While the full history of many drinks may be lost in the mists of time, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a trail to follow which can help you watch a drink as it evolved over time, and this evolution can help you not only see the various forms the drink might have taken over time, but also gives you some fascinating cocktail talk to share.

The Martini is probably one of the most well-known drinks, and yet its true origin is unknown, or at least highly debated. Countless times I’ve seen articles which simply toss out there that the Martini was originally created in Martinez California (or in San Francisco). What they usually fail to tell you is that the drink they are referring to was the “Martinez” and not the “Martini”, and there is no proof at all (aside from name similarity) that the name “Martini” is just a bastardization of “Martinez”. There is in fact (to date) no actual story that tells us how the Martini first came about, or how it got its name. What we do know, is its recipe, and how it appeared in various books through history.

One of the first recipes going by the name “Martini” comes from Harry Johnson’s New and Improved Bartenders Manual from 1888 (See Below)



(Use a large bar glass)

Fill the glass up with ice;

2 or 3 dashes of Gum Syrup

2 or 3 dashes of bitters (Boker’s genuine only);

1 dash of curaçao;

1/2 wine glassful of Old Tom Gin;

1/2 wine glassful of Vermouth.

Stir up well with a spoon, strain it into a fancy cocktail glass, squeeze a piece of lemon peel on top, and serve.


mdoudoroff 11 Nov 2015
9:29 am

I love this episode! A few thoughts:

- I currently feel Occam’s Razor most supports the probability the Martini (drink) received its name (by accident) from the vermouth brand, which was clearly not merely the market leader in the United States, but the market dominator, for pretty much as long as there’s been a vermouth market in the United States; back in the 1870s, the vermouth was the novelty, so ordering a “Martini cocktail” was ordering a drink with that new-fangled “Martini” stuff in it (which wasn’t labeled “sweet vermouth” back then, it was labeled “Martini, Sola & Cie” or “Martini & Rossi” and it was clearly from Italy, and that about all most could say for it. For whatever reason, the name stuck to the gin cocktail but not the whiskey cocktail, perhaps because the “Manhattan” was preemptive?

- If you want to try a *really* old-school Martini, use 50% old tom gin and 50% red vermouth; it’s good, too.

- My favorite recipe descriptions for the Martini and Manhattan are from Theodore Proulx (1884 or 1888, we’re still trying to verify which):

“Manhattan Cocktail
This is made the same way as any other cocktail, except that you will use one-half vermouth and one-half whiskey in place of all whiskey, omitting absinthe

“Martini Cocktail
Is half Old Tom gin and half vermouth made like any other cocktail; no absinthe.

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