The Martini, Now Less Rigid, Never Belonged to James Bond

Demystifying the esoteric classic in 2018.

By: Eric Kim

Photo by: iStock

iStock

“A dry martini. One. In a deep champagne goblet. 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?”

With these words, Ian Fleming, in his 1953 debut Bond novel Casino Royale, introduced to the world the Vesper martini.

The thing is, drinks experts in today’s industry agree that, though 007 was an adequate Secret Service agent, his mixed drink of choice was imbalanced. Bond was a terrible mixologist. Everyone makes a fuss about his “shaken, not stirred” bit because shaking, apparently, bruises the gentle botanicals (or whatever) of gin.

So why mess with a classic?

The lasting lure of the martini — the normal one, that is, the one with gin (not vodka, thank-you-very-much), vermouth and lots and lots of ice — lies in its simplicity. It’s balanced, it’s cold, it’s perfect.

As H. L. Mencken once said, “Martinis are the only American invention as perfect as a sonnet.”

And for some, it’s very important not to call it a cocktail. The martini is, specifically, a “mixed drink,” made up solely of spirits sans embellishments like fruit juice and sugar.

With that said, in this post-Bondian age, I really think it’s important that we dismantle all these rules around the classics — not just the ingredients that go into them (because everything in life should be to one’s own idiosyncratic tastes, duh), but also the antiquated laws that decide who gets to drink what and why.

That’s the problem with these classic drinks: Modern imbibers are afraid of them. They’re old, dusty and inaccessible.

“I’m not fancy enough to order one at a bar,” my cousin admitted to me when I asked her the first thing that came to mind when she heard the word martini.

The rest of my team chipped in, too. To give you a sense of the plight of the martini as a symbol of inaccessibility in 2018, these are the associations that came to mind for a bunch of New York City food editors:

  • Stuffy
  • Highbrow
  • Sexy
  • Sophisticated
  • Classy
  • Classic
  • Old-school
  • Old
  • Fancy
  • Swanky
  • Bond
  • Boring ("I'd rather have a Negroni")
  • Imbalanced
  • Chilled liquor

But one editor said, simply, “Stoli-straight-up-with-a-twist (one word).”

Purists will scoff at the martini with vodka, fruit juice or even cocktail onions (because everyone-knows-that’s-a-Gibson-don’t-you-dare-equate-the-two).

But the thing is, life is too short not to drink what you want to drink, what tastes good to you. So who cares what it’s called?

Even Julia Child took her martini exactly how she wanted it: reversed. Mostly vermouth (especially Noilly Prat), topped with a little gin. Queen Elizabeth II, like Bond, took it with Gordon’s gin — but with three slices of lemon, no vodka. I like mine with Hendrick’s, 5 to 1 vermouth, very dirty with capers instead of olives (because I never have olives but always have capers). I don’t care if it’s the “wrong” martini. It’s my martini.

I’ve always felt that if something is delicious, everyone deserves a taste of it.

Bond’s Vesper may be harsh-tasting, but if that’s your thing, if you love the way the three punches of alcohol mingle together, especially the bitter, now discontinued Kina Lillet (which you may attempt to replace with the less-bitter, albeit similar, Lillet Blanc), then just do it.

And if you think you don’t like martinis, try telling your bartender what kinds of tastes you do like. Sweet? Dry? Bitter? Balanced? Smooth? And ask them to mix you a version specific to your imprint. Find your martini.

Maybe it has coffee in it?

Espresso Martini

1 part cream liqueur, like Amarula
2 parts espresso
3 teaspoons sugar
1/2 part straight vodka
Chocolate, for shaving

Place liqueur, espresso, sugar and vodka together in a shaker with cubed ice and shake. Strain into a martini glass tumbler and garnish with chocolate shavings.

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