Shaken or Stirred?

I’ve been a fan of New York Times wine & spirits columnist Eric Azimov for quite a while, primarily because unlike many other booze writers, he has a healthy respect for beer as well and don’t treat it like a second- or third-rate drink.

My respect for him has gone up a couple more notches today thanks to his article about martinis. Or more accurately, his article about a gin tasting where they decided to taste 20 different gins in the form of martinis.

Here is the specific bit that I really enjoyed…

Before we discuss the findings, though, we need to clear up a little matter. It’s come to my attention that some people believe martinis are made with vodka. I hate to get snobbish about it, but a martini should be made with gin or it’s not a martini. Call it a vodkatini if you must, but not a martini. Gin and vodka have as much in common hierarchically as a president and a vice president. Vodka can fill in for gin from time to time and might even be given certain ceremonial duties of its own, but at important moments you need the real thing. Vodka generally makes a poor substitute for gin in a martini or any other gin cocktail.

In a follow-up post on his blog, he continues…

I’m annoyed at myself for even asking this question, but when’s the last time you had a real martini? Not a chocolate cocktail, or watermelon drink or any of the other spurious hangers-on that threaten the integrity of the word martini, but a real honest-to-goodness gin-and-vermouth martini?

What annoys me is that few people really know or care what a martini is anymore. They’ve just appropriated the appeal of the term to sell other cocktails, drinks that may be fine themselves but are decidedly not martinis.

The funny thing is, I’m actually not a huge martini fan. I’ll have one once in a while, but I tend to prefer my gin mixed with tonic. But this whole trend of sticking “-tini” onto the end of the name of any alcoholic drink that’s served in what people consider to be a “martini glass” (which it’s not, by the way – it’s just a cocktail glass) has always gotten under my skin. Especially when I’ve been handed a “Martini List” at a place that really should know better.

So are Azimov and I both cranky old sticks-in-the-mud who should get over it? Or do we have a valid point here?

3 Responses to Shaken or Stirred?

  1. Before getting into Beer I was into Gin. Not to the point of obsessively trying different brands but I always had a few nice bottles laying around. If I was at a store I would sour the shelves for something new & interesting.

    One of the reasons I love beer is that I *can* try pretty much everything. Trying a new Gin would sometimes require dropping $45 on 375ml of an unknown product. Thats pretty hard to do with beer.

    Anyhow, one night I was out at a ‘Martini bar’ in downtown Buffalo with friends. It was in the trendy bar section of town – not an area I would normally go to but it was someone’s birthday.

    This place had a menu with dozens of Martinis. Apple Martinis. Chocolate Martinis. Fruity Martinis. Martinis named after Pee Wee Herman (probably)

    I walked up to the bar and ordered a martini, bombay, dry.

    The bartender didn’t know how to make it.


    Personally I’m a fan of Churchill’s style of martini.

    6 parts gin
    Bottle of dry vermouth
    Cocktail olive

    Shake gin in a cocktail shaker with cracked ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and look at the bottle of vermouth. Garnish with olive.


  2. English, for better or worse, is a dynamic language. A “martini” hasn’t been a Martini in some time – say 15 years or so. And long before that, what you now defend as a proper Martini would have been viewed as a bastardization of the real thing.

    In truth, your beef is one with the language, and not with the cocktail – after all, you’ll always be able to order a classic gin Martini. You’ll just need to loosen up your ascot, and spill a few more words in doing so.

  3. rudy – I was the same way with whisky for a while before getting into beer. I had a few nice scotches and bourbons. But like you, I found the cost prohibitive, especially when it came to trying new stuff.

    And I’m not quite so hardcore with my Martinis. My method is generally to pour some vermouth into the shaker, swirl it around enough to coat the ice, pour out the remainder, and then pour in and shake the gin. Takes just a bit of the edge off.

    Anonymous – Point taken. Although just for the record, I don’t wear an ascot.