No one seems to know for sure how or when the Martini was created. It had to be sometime between the years 1862 and 1876. The exact ingredients have varied over the years. There is no idea when the olive came to be in a Martini. The first item in a Martini was a cherry.
By one widely accepted account, the martini is a descendant of the Martinez, an older, sweeter, but similar cocktail, which consists of (approximately) two ounces of sweet vermouth, one ounce gin (specifically, Old Tom gin, a sweetened variant), two dashes maraschino cherry liquid, and one dash bitters, shaken with ice, strained, and served with a twist of lemon. The Martinez purportedly originated in California in the 1870's, probably either in San Francisco or in the town of Martinez. Some versions of this account are more specific, crediting the Martinez to Jerry Thomas, a famous and influential bartender working the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco in the late 1850s or 1860s.
In the book, The World's Drinks and How to Mix Them, copyright 1907, written by William T. Boothby, the recipe for Dry Martini Cocktail instructs, "into a mixing glass place some cracked ice, two dashes of Orange bitters, half a jigger of (dry) French vermouth, and half a jigger of dry Englishgin. Stir well until thoroughly chilled, strain into a stem cocktail-glass, squeeze a piece of lemon peel over the top and serve with an olive." Other than the bitters and the ratio of vermouth to gin, this is remarkably similar to a modern martini cocktail. The reference to California is consistent, but other early martini history cites SanFrancisco rather than Los Angeles.
The martini was an established American cocktail at the beginning of the 20th Century, but did not attain its pre-eminent status as the classic cocktail until later in the century. Perhaps paradoxically, Prohibition did a great deal to elevate the martini's stature. Americans' preferred tipple at that time -- whiskey -- requires skillful blendingand long aging, whereas cheap but (marginally) drinkable "bathtub gin" is relatively easy to produce, so martinis were more readily available in the era of the speakeasy.
The Prohibition-era martini was quite "wet" by today's standards. With the repeal of Prohibition, and the ready availability of quality gin, the drink became progressively dryer. (A "dry" martini is one with relatively little vermouth. One might say that a "very dry" martini is essentially a glass of cold gin, though the ice will contribute some water to the final drink.) This trend toward dryness eventually reached fetishistic extremes, and became the source of a considerable body of martini anecdotes, wit, and lore. One might prepare a martini by waving the cap of a vermouth bottle over the glass, or observing that "there was vermouth in the house once."
The classic martini of yore was stirred, "so as not to bruise the gin. "W Somerset Maugham declared that "Martinis should always be stirred, not shaken, so that the molecules lie sensuously one on top of the other," while James Bond from the Ian Fleming novels ordered his "shaken, not stirred", a drink properly called a Bradford.
In the novel Casino Royale, Bond's recipe is specified in more detail as made with three measures of gin (Gordon's was Bond's preference), one measure of vodka (Russian or Polish is preferred), and half a measure of Kina Lillet aperitif, shaken until ice-cold, and with a large, thin slice of lemon peel for garnish (properly called a "Vesper" after his love interest in the book). By the second Bond novel, Love and Let Die, Bond was drinking vodka martinis, a trend that continued when 007 moved to the screen in 1962.
The concept of "bruising the gin" as a result of shaking a martini is an oft-debated topic. A shaken martini is different from stirred for a few reasons. The shaking action breaks up the ice and adds more water, slightly weakening the drink but also altering the taste. Some would say the shaken martini has a "more rounded" taste. Others, usually citing hard-to-track-down scientific studies, say that shaking causes more of a certain class of molecules (aldehydes) to bond with oxygen, resulting in a "sharper" taste. Shaking also adds tiny air bubbles, which can lead to a cloudy drink instead of clear. Some martini devotees believe the vermouth is more evenly distributed by shaking, which can alter the flavor and texture of the beverage as well. In some places, a shaken martini is referred to as a "Martini James Bond".
The martini has become a symbol for cocktails and nightlife in
general; American bars often have a picture of a conical martini glass with an olive on their signs. In Martini, Straight Up: The Classic American Cocktail, Lowell Edmunds, a classics professor and doyen of martini lore, analyzes the cocktail's symbolic potency in considerable depth.
Although the original Russian Vodka Martini is still popular, colorful, flavored vodka martinis are rapidly becoming the trend of new drinkers, as well as the vodka veterans. Unlike gin, vodka has a neutral flavor which allows it to easily mix with other flavors to make a wide variety of flavored martinis.
New specialty martinis are being made everyday, using many
different combinations of fresh fruit and vegetable juices, splashes of cream, and brightly colored liqueurs.
Instead of the typical cocktail olive, cocktail onion, or lemon twist, unique garnishes are being used in the new flavored martinis. Some of these garnishes are marinated capers, fresh herbs, or olives stuffed with blue cheese, anchovies, or sun-dried tomatoes.