gin (Old Tom or London Dry) and vermouth (sweet or dry), and sometimes bitters, absinthe or other additions
The “king of cocktails” began inauspiciously, in the 1880s, with numerous vermouth experiments less successful than the Manhattan, mostly built with the genever that was commonly called “gin” in America; the increasing availability of Old Tom gin and, in the 1890s, London Dry gin, transformed the drink, revealing a new, remarkable synergy between the mysterious vermouths from Italy and France and these English gins. Countless variations ensued under a bewildering number of names, but the underlying idea was here to stay, with the Dry Martini ultimately dominating.
The recipe shown above is from Theodore Proulx’s 1888 bar guide, and it makes more sense if you’ve read his recipe for the Manhattan, and are familiar with the original Cocktail and Vermouth Cocktail. So yes, the Martini cocktail began with sweet Italian vermouth—and yes, it is quite likely the name is borrowed from the vermouth company Martini & Rossi, which was already the top vermouth supplier in the Americas. The Martini Cocktail was not originally the austere, savory icon that it is today: it was a pleasantly sweet drink, like most other mixed drinks. The old sweet Martini (slightly updated, here) is still well worth trying:
Combine in a mixing glass:
- 2 oz Old Tom gin
- 3/4 oz sweet vermouth
- 1 dash aromatic bitters (optional)
Stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.
Garnish with a lemon twist or cherry
Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails, p. 442–5; barware icons courtesy of Haus Alpenz