The Dry Martini, best stirred

Author: Marco Negro

The world’s best-known cocktails have a precise place and date of birth. Through a journey of cultural insights and historical notes, we are recounting the best-known recipes, the spirits used and the techniques of ‘mixed drinking’.

A glass of Dry Martini cocktail on a table.

The story of the ‘Dry Martini’ starts with a mental image, the iconic glass that anyone with a pencil can sketch: an upside-down triangle, with a stem and an olive inside. Why is it called Martini? Some claim it is an evolution of the Martinez. Others attribute the preparation to a barman from Arma di Taggia, who in 1912 prepared it at the bar of the Knickerbocker Hotel in New York.

Recipe 192 from 'The bartenders' guide' by O. H. Byron

What is certain is that in 1884 the bartender O. H. Byron noted in his ‘The bartenders’ guide’ a recipe involving equal parts gin and vermouth. In 1904, Frank Newman, in his ‘American Bar’ guide, codified the ‘Martini Cocktail’ at recipe no. 192: ‘gin et vermouth Turin, quantités égales’, recommending that it be finished with a lemon peel, a cherry or an olive, depending on the patron’s taste. The Italian vermouth company ‘Martini and Rossi’ was at that time in the midst of a European advertising campaign to support the opening of foreign branches. There is no doubt that the homonymy between the cocktail and the brand name was an important vehicle of diffusion for the Chieri-based company. The Dry Martini entered literature with Francis Scott Fitzgerald. The novel’s main character, Jay, ‘the Great Gatsby’, had hundreds of them prepared at the luxurious parties held in his Long Island mansion, demonstrating how this cocktail was an undisputed icon of the ‘roaring twenties’, despite Prohibition. The list of admirers includes many of the charismatic drinkers of the 20th century, from Winston Churchill to Franklin Roosevelt and the journalist and writer Ernest Hemingway. This blend also crossed the ‘Iron Curtain’, counting Soviet statesman Nikita Chruščëv among its admirers.

Scene from the film The Great Gatsby

The preparation of the Dry Martini starts with cooling with ice both the glass (the inverted triangle cup) and the mixing glass, the glass used by barmen to cool and mix. This is followed by the ‘Stir & Strain’ technique, which involves mixing the alcoholic ingredients inside the chilled mixing glass. Stirring by swirling is the way the ingredients mix, lowering their temperature. The well-cold glass prevents the ice from melting, watering down gin and vermouth. The ice is then removed from the glass and the well-cold contents are poured out, strained with the strainer. The most commonly used garnishes are the well-known olive or lemon peel, which adds significant aroma due to its essential oils.

Stir and Strain
Inside a cylindrical glass the ingredients are mixed with the long-handled spoon (stirrer) and then strained into the glass with the strainer. It is the technique that preserves the aromatic delicacy of the botanicals in gin and vermouth.

An apparently easy cocktail to prepare: two ingredients. Yet for the bartender, there are many pitfalls, starting with the order, when less knowledgeable customers might get confused by the homonymy between the iconic cocktail and the well-known brand. Other traps for the bartender, who may be distracted by counter talk: not cooling the cup enough, or stirring too long. In short, a timeless classic, but far from trivial! The theatrical request ‘shaken, not stirred’ that the character James Bond makes in ‘Casino Royale’ is part of the character created by Ian Fleming. A sophisticated secret agent 007, a charming man who is immovable in his claim to satisfy the details of his singular habits, including substituting gin for vodka in his martini and, indeed, asking for it to be shaken in the shaker.

Daniel Greig playing James Bond drinking a Martini cocktail.

The most alcoholic part of the recipe comes from the gin, which is made by distilling a fermented grain, in which juniper pamper and various other botanicals are macerated. The Dry Martini is the cocktail that is most successful in enhancing botanicals in the world of mixology. Not only the scent and aftertaste of juniper, a wild European conifer, but also the various medicinal plants, flowers, seeds, berries, citrus fruits and spices macerated in the still.

Botanical species are macerated prior to the distillation of a gin. These include Juniper buds, Coriander seeds, Angelica root, Iris bulb, peels of various citrus fruits and other seeds, herbs, roots and berries that give each gin its own identity.

The other component is the aromatised wine, or vermouth, with different recipes coming from artisanal producers from Piemonte region or France. The basis is an infusion of the two main varieties of Artemisia in a good dry white wine. The producers use many other botanicals, both Alpine and Mediterranean, as well as citrus peels and imported spices. In the Vermouth di Torino IG legislation, recipes with a sugar content of less than 30 grams/litre are called ‘Extra Dry’. These are the preferred vermouths in the Dry Martini, for their contribution of citrus and floral, sometimes slightly spicy notes.

Close-up of a bottle of Vermouth Dry Cocchi Limited

A few centilitres of spirits, produced with quality botanicals and fine distillates, manage to blend history and culture with good taste, bringing back the atmosphere of the last century.

04th April 2023,

Marco Negro

Picture of Marco Negro
Marco Negro
Expert of communication of Italian wine. He has a knack for connecting people.
Picture of Marco Negro
Marco Negro
Expert of communication of Italian wine. He has a knack for connecting people.

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