How the Martinez Became a Martini:
Evolution of a Classic



The Martini is an enduring classic. Though it has evolved since its creation in the late 1800s, it’s more popular than ever.

Despite claims that spark an American coastal rivalry, no one knows for certain the exact origin of the martini. But no matter— the evolution of the martini is an interesting story. Recipes and variations have been influenced by economic factors, gourmet trends and popular culture.

The first vodka distiller in the United States was established in the 1930s. From that point, vodka martinis grew in popularity. The martini had a dark period in the seventies as the American palate leaned more toward lighter, fruitier beverages and wine spritzers.

But by the mid-eighties, the people started to rediscover the martini as the cocktail. With the economic prosperity of the nineties, Americans once again took pleasure in indulgences, like premium spirits. Creativity led to variations on the classic recipe, including sweeter versions featuring flavored vodkas and unconventional mixers.

Here are some important dates in the evolution of this quintessential cocktail:

1887—Jerry Thomas, bartender at the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco, prints a bartending manual with a recipe for a Martinez that calls for one dash of bitters, two dashes of maraschino, one wine glass of vermouth, two lumps of ice and a pony of Old Tom Gin, served with a quarter slice of lemon.

1911—John D. Rockefeller helps popularize the drink served to him by Martini di Arma di Taggia, head barman at the Knickerbocker Hotel in New York. The drink mixes half and half London Gin, Noilly Prat Vermouth and orange bitters chilled on ice and strained into a chilled glass. Knickerbocker regulars ordered variations of the drink and added the olive.

1918-33—Prohibition – Those who wish to imbibe must go underground in the U.S. The Martini gains popularity due to easy access to gin, which does not need to be aged like whisky.

1940s and 50s—Use of bitters in gin martinis falls out of favor, and vermouth becomes less important as an ingredient. Martinis are now typically made with dry, not sweet, vermouth.

1960s— James Bond revives the martini when he utters the famous line “Vodka martini, shaken, not stirred” in the film Goldfinger. The martini becomes widespread enough to be considered conservative and suburban.

1970s—Americans prefer lighter and fruitier beverages. Wine and wine spritzers gain popularity.

1980s—The martini stages a return as Americans experience a major economic boom and rediscover indulgences like red meat, cigars, and super-premium spirits.

1990s—Martini variations grow to include green apple martinis, chocolate martinis and Cosmopolitans popularized by the TV show Sex and the City. Gourmet trends create new garnishes, such as stuffed olives, capers and herbs.

2000—Martinis are more popular than ever and almost 50 percent of cocktails served by bartenders are in a martini glass.

2005—SKYY90, the world’s first 100 percent distillate, is introduced. Designed for the modern martini, its smooth taste imparts a subtle flavor to the drink.


Edited by Patricia D. Sherman


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