Tag Archives: vermouth

The History of the Martini

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia

 (As with any post or book dealing with Food History, the typical caveats, dealing with regionalism and incomplete records, apply.)

For such a classic cocktail, the history of the Martini is murky, with various stories being thrown about as truths, when in fact most of these are half-truths at best, out and out fabrications at worst.  The most common story out there is that “Professor”  Jerry Thomas invented the drink in San Francisco, and documented it in one of the first book of cocktail recipes called How to Mix Drinks. While the historical aspect of this book should not be undervalued, the fact remains that it has little, if anything to do with the history of the martini.

There is no indication of the martini in the first edition of his book. The closest we get to the recipe is one called Gin Punch. The recipe is as follows:

11. Gin Punch
(From a recipe by Soyer.)
1/2 Pint of old gin.
1 gill of maraschino
The juice of two lemons.
The rind of half of a lemon.
Four ounces of syrup.
1 quart bottle of German Seltzer Water.
Ice Well.

This is the basis of what we know of today as a Tom Collins, but it’s no where close to a Martini.

He does add a recipe called the Martinez in his 1887 edition of The Bar-tender’s Guide or How to mix All Kinds of Plain and Fancy Drinks

Martinez Cocktail.
(Use small bar-glass.)
Take 1 dash of Boker’s bitters.
2 dashes of Maraschino.
1 pony of Old Tom gin.
1 wine-glass of Vermouth.
2 small lumps of ice.

Shake up thoroughly, and strain into a large cocktail
glass. Put a quarter of a slice of lemon in the glass, and serve. If the guest prefers it very sweet, add two dashes of gum syrup.

This is a little closer, but the maraschino makes it a little further away than what I’d like.  But due to the nebulous nature of recipes back then, it is a start. As far as the first documented use of the name “martini,” that comes from Harry Johnson’s The New and Improved Illustrated Bartenders’ Manual; circa 1888.

57 Martini Cocktail

(Use a large bar glass)

Fill the glass up with ice;
2 or 3 dashes of Gum Syrup;
2 or 3 dashes of Bitters; (Boker’s genuine only)
1 dash of Curaçoa;
1/2 wine glassful of Old Tom Gin;
1/2 wine glassful of Vermouth;

stir up well with a psoon, strain it into a fancy cocktail glass, squeeze a piece of lemon peel on top, and serve. (See Illustration, Plate No. 13.)

However, I came across this recipe for a Turf Club Cocktail, from book/pamphlet called How to mix drinks. Bar keepers’ handbook published in 1884. The recipe is straight-forward:

Turf Club Cocktail

Two or three dases of Peruvian Bitters;
One-half wine glass of Tom Gin;
One-half wine glass of Italian Vermouth;
Fill glass three-quarters full of fine ice, stir well with spoon and strain in fancy cocktail glass, then serve.

This recipe is closer to the martini, and was published three years prior to Thomas’ Martinez.

From The Hostess of To-day, by Linda- Hull Larned in 1899


1/2 c Tom gin,

1/2 c Italian Vermouth,

1 tsp orange bitters,

serve with a curled lemon peel in each glass or rub rim of glass with lemon zest then dip in powdered sugar .

A magazine called The Bachelor book, released in September1900, has a similar sweetened recipe for the martini in an article called The Soothing Syrup:

Martini Cocktail

A mixing glass half full of fine ice, three dashes of orange bitters, one half jigger Tom gin, one half jigger Italian vermouth, a piece of lemon peel.  Mix well and strain into a cocktail glass. Many persons add a half teaspoonful of sherry but this is a matter of individual taste

In the May 15, 1903 release The Mixer and Server, Official Journal of the Hotel and Restuarant Employee’s International Alliance and Bartenders’ International League of America, Volume XII No.5, page 64, there was printed this tidbit:

“Golf Cocktail”

Extra Dry

There is always something new under the sun in an up to the minute cafe. New drinks are constantly being launched upon the sea of popularit,y and the palates of the vast army of lovers of well compounded and refreshing beverages do not suffer as a consequence. Jake Didier, author of the “Reminder” has unfolded another drink, which he calls “Golf Cocktail.” A feature of the concoction is that it is “Extra Dry.” People who have delighted in imbibing in extra dry champagne have now turned to the extra dry cocktail. Competent critics declare the cocktail to be one of the best in Jake’s extensive repertoire.

A goblet 2/3 full of cracked ice, 3 dashes of Hostetter’s bitters, 1/3 drink of French Vermouth, 2/3 drink of Gordon gin;  stir well, strain into cocktail glass put in olive, and serve.

That, my friends, is a recipe for a dry martini. it is the missing link between the Sweetened Martini recipes of the nineteenth century and the dry recipe of today.

By 1913, we see advertisements in various magazines differentiating between a martini and a dry martini. Somewhere in the previous ten years, the golf cocktail takes off, but is defined as a drier derivation of the more traditional sweet martini. But up until prohibition, the traditional martini used Tom Gin, rather than a London dry. The proliferation of faux “London Dry” gins during prohibition sounded the death knell for the sweetened martini, and its popularity waned. The dry version become the defacto defintion of “martini”.

So, the history of the martini in a nutshell? It started off as a sweetened cocktail in the late 1800′s, roughly around 1880, give or take. A dry version was introduced around 1900, and took off in popularity. Prohibition saw the end of production of Tom Gin, but the bathtub gins led to the popularity of the dry version of the drink, so much so, that when America came out of Prohibition, the martini was thought of as first, foremost, and only as a dry cocktail.

What is Vermouth?

A classic Martini is two ingredient – gin and vermouth.  Gin I’ve talked about for quite a bit (and still have quite a ways to go), but I have yet to bring up just what in the hell is vermouth?

The short answer is that it is a wine. A slightly longer answer is that it’s a fortified wine, flavored with anything from wormwood to sugar, and nearly any herb and/or spice you may think of.  In fact, the name “vermouth” is an anglicized derivation of the German word “wermut”, which translates into wormwood. From this, we can hypothesize that wormwood had at least a small chapter in vermouth’s history.

Way back in 2005, I wrote up a brief history of Vermouth, and I proclaimed:

 Vermouth is an aromatized wine, created at some point in the 1700′s. “Aromatised” means that various additives, such as herbs, flowers and other botanicals, are macerated into the wine to add to the flavor.

I was wrong. Oh was I wrong.  Or, more to the point,  the history of Vermouth is not the same as the history of aromatised wine.  People have been putting various additives into wine since probably the beginning of wine’s history, and the idea of adding wormwood would not have been that novel of an idea in the 1700′s.

As with the history of anything alcohol-related, the first place one should look as to why something came into being is its perceived physical benefits.  Vermouth is no different, and the addition of items such as wormwood would have been seen as a quick and easy way to get some medicinal benefit out of the fortified wine.  We see this across the entire history of bitters, cordials, apertifs, and liqueurs, so much so, that a fair number of the older liqueurs out there can trace their heritage to apothecaries rather than distillers.  Vermouth is no different.

So how was Vermouth made? Interestingly enough, one can get some insight into the process in the Congressional Record of 1889-1890 of all places. In there,  where they report on the Universal Exposition of 1889 held in Paris, they document:

Various quantities of absinthe, germander, hyssop, sage, centaury, saffron, enule, galauguen, aromatic cane, gentian, benzoin, calisaya, quassia, cinnamon, zedorcia, cloves, coriander, aniseed, mushroom, and orange peel are put into a linen bag and hung in a white wine which is kept at a temperature of about 150 F. for four or five days; The bag is then squeezed into the wine and replaced, and the steeping continued for a month, the bag being squeezed at intervals of five or six days. The vermouth is then filtered and put into casks or bottles for shipment. The various bitters of trade are made much in the same way.

So, to put it bluntly, Vermouth is flavored wine.

Today, it has changed a bit from how it was created and sold in the late 1800′s. There are, generally speaking, two types of vermouth recognized: White and dry, or Red and Sweet, with different herbs and spices meant to support whatever outlook one has for their vermouth.  Each producer of vermouth will have a different recipe for their product, and no two vermouths should be considered to have the same flavor profile (and neither should good gins, I’m finding out, but that’s a different post).

Over the next few months, I’m going to revisit various types of vermouth. I had done a bit of this in 2005, but this taste testing eventually faded away into the background. With my goal of finding the best Martini, my hope is that I will be more driven to complete this task.



Request for Suggestions: Your Favorite Gins and Vermouths

I have an idea for reader participation, but first I need your help. I need suggestions for your favorite gins and/or vermouths.  I will take the top ten recomendations of both, and then …

…and then,well, you’ll see.

But I’d love to hear what you folks enjoy when it comes to gin and vermouth.

New Topic: The Martini

After completing the Whiskey book oh so many years ago, I found myself, quite frankly, burnt out on whiskey. I wouldn’t admit it to anyone at the time…after all, I had a book to promote. But in my heart, the aged spirit did nothing to lift my own. In an act more of rebellion than that of sophistication, I turned to the simple martini. And, with great intent, I went about learning absolutely nothing about the drink, other than to despise those who order Vodka martini’s.

Starting today, I go about seeking to right that wrong. If I’m going to consume this drink on a regular basis, then I should, by rights, know what the hell I’m drinking. Consider today the kickoff of the topic of the simple martini. The list of questions I intend on answering include (but are not limited to):

  • What makes a good martini?
  • What is its history?
  • Does the glass matter?
  • Why do martini connoisseurs chuckle at the folks who drink Vodka martini’s?
  • What the hell is gin?

I’ll admit upfront to another, less interesting goal that I wish to accomplish. With this whole new format of Accidental Hedonist, I want to have a topic that is somewhat less complicated than others, and can be accomplished in a short amount of time. I give this one roughly six months, and the final trip being a night of Taste Testing various martini incarnations at a local watering hole that has yet to be determined.

I also have plans to keep you, the reader involved. These are to be announced sometime relatively soon.

So get out your best martini glass, find your favorite gin, and let us have at it!



Carrots in Vermouth

I was a tad worried about what recipe to provide for the second of three carrot recipes. Part of me wanted to go exotic. Another part of me wanted to do something simple and straightforward.

Alas, it was the part of me who screams “Where’s the booze?!” that won out. Here then, is a fairly simple recipe with booze as a flavor agent. I chose vermouth as I wanted to see how that played out, but really, I could have used bourbon, gin, even maraschino if I were so inclined.

It worked out very well, and it pared quite nicely with the shellfish I had served for dinner.

  • 2 lb Carrots sliced
  • 2 tbl Olive oil
  • 1/4 cup Sweet vermouth
  • 2 tbl Chopped fresh parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Place a 10″ skillet over medium high heat. Add the oil and allow to bring to temperature. Toss in the carrot and saute until they just begin to get soft. Pour in the vermouth and simmer uncovered for 7-10 minutes. Salt and pepper and garnish with parsley.

Serves 4-6

tags technorati : recipes,carrots,vermouth

Tasting Notes: Carpano Punt e Mes Vermouth

We touched about upon red vermouth last week, and so today, I’ve taken the plunge. it can be served straight up, used to make red Martinis, mixed with gin to make classic Italian cocktails like Negronis and Americanos, and it is also excellent when served with fruit juices, sparkling mineral or tonic water. It also has bitters added, which is how it gets its name (Punt e mes = point and a half. Points are the way people tell a bartender how much bitters to add to a drink).

Eyes: Not so much red as it is a tawny brown. It looks a lot like sherry.

Nose: Immediately below the sharp wine aroma is a very medicinal odor. This smell is supposed to be similar to wormwood. But not having ever smelled wormwood, I can’t say for sure.

Taste: It’s starts off syrupy sweet, but comfortably so. It’s almost cola like in the way it initially tastes. Then the bitters hit. Think the bitterness of an orange peel that finishes the taste.

Overall: Very, very good. Where the Cinzano vermouth was light and crisp, this vermouth is full and bold. I like it much more than the Campari, and I loved the Campari.

Tasting Notes: Cinzano Extra Dry Vermouth

vermouthThere’s no doubt that I’ll get to the history of vermouth and its relation to the Piemonte region of Italy. If you look at the year on the Cinzano bottle in the picture, that’s the year in which the Cinzano company has been around, presumbably making vermouth all the while. For those of you who can’t see the date, it reads 1757. They’ve been making vermouth longer than America has been a country.

That, my friends, is what we call having an impact on your local food scene. At least until they were purchased by the Campari company.

There are several types of vermouth, from dry to sweet, both in reds and whites. The reason for this? Vermouths are essentially fortified wines. They used to stand alone as aperitifs. But over the past 100 plus years, they’ve moved into the “mixer’ category. Which is a shame, I believe.

I’ve tasted the Bianco vermouth as per tradition…as an aperitif, prepared neat over ice. Most don’t drink vermouth this way anymore, but there is precedent for it.

Smell: Vermouth has a very fruity and sweet aroma that reminds me of reminds me of the old Fruit ‘n’ Plenty candies (which apparently I’m the only one who remembers as I cannot find a web link to this long gone candy). It has a very Lemony/cherry smell that is very pleasant.

Look: If you glance at white vermouth, it looks like a thin white wine. Which it is. But when I look up close, I can see various oils floating about. Very trippy.

Taste: Even the dry vermouth is pretty sweet. It ends suddenly, no drawn out aftertaste here. But the taste is quite fruity and pleasant. over ice, it ends up being very crisp. I highly recommend drinking this quite chilled.

Overall: It’s likely that many people will tilt their heads and go “Wha…?” when I write this, but this is quite good as an aperitif. There’s undoubtedly better vermouths out there that have better finishes, and I certainly wouldn’t serve this in place of a quality wine. But 4 oz makes a good drink by itself in a pinch. Color me surprised.

Expect the red vermouth in a day or so, as comparison.