Aside from the word ‘cocktail,’ no other word from traditional American mixology has been so mis-appropriated as ‘Martini.’ Here, I will evaluate the history of the Martini Cocktail (a specific tom gin cocktail made fancy by way of vermouth wine), the drinks related to it, and the drinks devolved from it. I will deal only with drinks and their recipes that can be reliably shown to have had some currency under their own, unique names before the onset of prohibition in 1920. I will also give a little bit of historical information and engage in a little hypothesis about the naming of some of the drinks – hopefully without resorting to too much wanton speculation.
Part One: The Martinez Cocktail (or the Old Martini Cocktail) of the 1880’s
Assuming that Byron considered that the Martinez Cocktail could be made along the lines of either his drier or sweeter Manhattan Cocktail, there are four recipes for the Martinez Cocktail presented above. Two of the four specify tom gin (named after the old tom-cat associated with this type of gin – the ‘t’ need not be capitalized). Byron’s simple reference just to ‘gin’ may very well have meant tom gin, since dry gin had not quite yet become common in 1884, and would at first always be specifically indicated as “dry gin” in recipes even as it did become common. One of Byron’s recipes and that of Dick and Fitzgerald present a drink in which the gin fortifies the vermouth, while the other two clearly have the gin as the base.
All four recipes use proprietary aromatic bitters instead of orange bitters or some other type. The earliest two of them indicate Angostura aromatic bitters and the latter two indicate Boker’s bitters. Boker’s became defunct. A “Boker’s Bitters” is commercially available at the present time – but it is made according to an old imitation of the lost proprietary formula and there is no way to evaluate how similar it would be to the original, extinct product.
Three of the four recipes are made with sweet (Italian, rosso or rouge) vermouth wine and contain an accent of liqueur. In two of them, the liqueur accent is Curaçao liqueur. In one of them, the liqueur accent is maraschino liqueur.
One of the recipes above contains no added sugar or sugar syrup. One makes the addition of sugar syrup optional, and the other two indicate sugar syrup as a normal part of the recipe. There is plenty of sweetness from other ingredients here, and modern tastes would tend to favor the two recipes that do not contain added sugar or syrup as a matter of course.
All four recipes are frappéed (chilled and diluted with ice) and then strained. The frappé method for three of the four is to stir with the ice. The other recipe’s frappé method is to shake with the ice.
All four are strained into glass cocktail goblets. Two of the drink recipes are garnished with pared lemon zest. The other two recipes mention no garniture at all. Pared lemon zest was (and still is) the default garniture for true cocktails, and in 1884 such garniture may have been assumed for any cocktail where none is mentioned. One of the drink recipes is already called the Martini Cocktail. The shift from the name Martinez to Martini may have been propelled by confusion between the name of the drink and the brand name of Martini and Rossi vermouth wine that may have been in it.
Considering all of this, I would consider the mainstream, pre-prohibition Martinez Cocktail to be based on tom gin, modified with traditional rosso or rouge vermouth wine, accented with Curaçao liqueur, bittered with Angostura aromatic bitters, frappéed by stirring though ice, strained into a cocktail goblet and garnished with pared lemon zest.
Part Two: The Martini Cocktail from 1890 through 1920
There are eight recipes above. There are other sources for the Martini Cocktail in this period, but they are mostly lay sources that give recipes for the older Martinez Cocktail, even if they call it the Martini Cocktail.
Five of the eight sources above only give one Martini Cocktail. Boothby, Straub and Ensslin each also present recipes for the ‘Dry Martini Cocktail.’ Boothby’s and Ensslin’s ‘Dry Martini Cocktail’ recipes will be dealt with later as the different and separate cocktails they are. Straub’s dry recipe’ omits the bitters. Straub’s so-called ‘Dry Martini Cocktail’ is actually identical to an earlier drink with a previously established name and will also be dealt with later.
Five of the eight recipes above specify tom gin. All eight specify sweet (Italian, rosso or rouge) vermouth wine. Six of the eight recipes above divide the jigger (2 fl-oz., a.k.a. one wineglass) equal parts of gin and vermouth wine, or ‘one-to-one.’ Two of the eight use the more modern proportions of ‘two-to-one’ – that is ⅔ jigger (1⅓ fl-oz.) of gin and ⅓ jigger (⅔ fl-oz.) of vermouth wine.
Seven of the eight use orange bitters. Boothby, who indicated Angostura aromatic bitters in 1891, switched to orange bitters by 1908.
Only one of the eight recipes indicates sugar syrup, and none indicate any liqueur.
All of the sources indicate that the drink should be frappéed and it seems that they all agree the specific method should be stirring.
Seven of the eight strain the drink into what must be assumed to have been the cocktail goblet. Again, Boothby in 1891 is the outlier by indicating that the drink should be strained into a “small bar glass.” He joined majority opinion on this, too, by 1908.
Pared lemon zest was the default garniture for true cocktails in the pre-prohibition period, and three of the Martini Cocktail recipes above explicitly indicate it. Of these three recipes with pared lemon zest, one also indicates a cherry and another mentions a cherry as an optional addition to the lemon zest. One of the above recipes indicates the garniture as an olive. Four of the recipes mention no garniture at all, but lemon zest may be assumed to have been acceptable.
With all of this in mind, I would consider the mainstream, pre-prohibition Martini Cocktail to be based on tom gin, modified with rosso or rouge vermouth wine, bittered with orange bitters, frappéed by stirring though ice, strained into a cocktail goblet and garnished with pared lemon zest.
Part Three: The Dry Siblings of the Martini Cocktail
References to a “dry Martini” cocktail are found as far back as from 1890 – but without recipes. Here is the earliest source I could find that gives a full view of the nature of drink with an explanation of what made it dry – the absence of gum, or simple, syrup:
Note that the drink described above would have contained rosso or rouge vermouth wine. That is beacause that most-traditional type of vermouth wine is what would be assumed in 1899 by any reference to ‘vermouth’ that did not specify it be of the dry ‘French’ variety.
The earliest full recipe for a drink called a “dry Martini” cocktail that I can find in any major, American drink book in which all of the ingredients are of the ‘dry’ variety is from 1908.
The Dry Martini Cocktail became famous in a way that the Dry Manhattan Cocktail (Byron’s Manhattan Cocktail, No. 1 from 1884) never did. That is evident by the fact that the Dry Manhattan Cocktail never seemed to have been given another name. On the contrary, the drinks resulting from just about every possible single ingredient alteration away from the Martini Cocktail, including only changing the garniture or the bitters, is documented in print before prohibition as having a different name – a traditional practice that I agree with.
Note that the un-named cocktail in paragraph seven of the New Things in Tipples article from 1897 is the same as the Marguerite Cocktail in paragraph sixteen. It is not called ‘Martini’ in the source. So, instead of forcing a name on the source material that simply insn’t there, I choose to let the name reamin ‘Marguerite,’ since it is used previously in that ource for what amounts to exactly the same drink. It should be noted that the exact same drink as found in 1897 in the New York Herald called there the Marguerite Cocktail is found elsewhere under another name in the same period. In 1898 newsprint and Richard Taylor’s book (undoubtedly from the same year, but not published until 1931 in Old Waldorf Days by Albert Crockett) the recipe shows up as the Dewey Cocktail. The combination suited the tastes of the time and the drink was surely ‘invented’ many times by bar-tenders unaware it had already been made and named by someone else.
But, what about the variant garnished with an olive? In the same Taylor/Crocket source mentioned above, is found the Good Times Cocktail.
The Good Times Cocktail is fully ‘dry’ and is garnished with an olive. Crockett indicates that the Good Times Cocktail was named for the horse-drawn ‘Good Times’ coach. The Good Times coach began making regular runs between the Waldorf Hotel and the Woodmansten Inn in April of 1898. The men who helped pay the costs of maintaining the coach and horses and paying the drivers were referred to as ‘cushion subscribers.’ Each of them had use of the Good Times Coach to go from the Waldorf Hotel’s bar to other exclusive drinking locales and back. Since the Good Times Cocktail recipe is found in a Waldorf-related source, the drink may have had currency there as early as 1898.
In the book, Driving, by Francis Ware, published in 1903, the ‘Good Times’ coach is mentioned:
Alternatively, the drink may have been named at the Waldorf Hotel in honor of the Good Times coach having won first place for road teams at the annual horse show of the National Horse Show Association held at Madison Square Garden in November of 1900.
So, whether it was from 1898, 1900, or even as late as 1902, the Good Times Cocktail seems to be the oldest unique name for a cocktail based on dry gin, modified with dry vermouth, frappéed, strained, and garnished with an olive.
Part Four: The Dry, De-cocktailed Cousin of the Martini Cocktail
It is old news that the earliest definition of the traditional American cocktail also mentions that it is called a ‘bittered sling.’ So, what do you get if you don’t put any bitters in a drink that would otherwise be a cocktail? The result would just be a sling, of course, or a toddy if it were garnished with citrus zest. When slings are garnished, it is with nutmeg or other spices. There are spices in pickling brine, and so if one wanted to get really elemental about pickled green olives, they would have to be thought of as also bearing some amount of spice. Why do I digress to the spices in the pickling brine of olives? It is because the Gibson (sling) can have an olive in it.
In 1908, Boothby published the first-ever recipe for the Gibson. He called it a cocktail, even though deficient in bitters. In fact, Boothby was explicit about it not containing them. Looking at Boothby’s recipe, it becomes clear that what distinguishes the Gibson from a Good Times Cocktail (or Dry Martini Cocktail, if you must) is the lack of bitters – not the garniture.
Here are some other early Gibsons:
Ensslin doesn’t mention any garniture, so it may be nothing, or pared lemon zest. The Waldorf Hotel bar served its Gibsons as toddies, being citrus-zested.
Crockett inserted his own explanation of the name ‘Gibson’ into Taylor’s material, as can be seen above. The career of boxing promoter, William J. Gibson, flourished after 1910, which makes Crockett’s assignment of namesake simply incorrect.
Whatever the namesake may have been, no source that I have seen ever indicates bitters in the Gibson, and no pre-prohibition source indicates an onion. When someone today calls themself a Martini ‘purist,’ the drink that they are often thinking of is really the pre-prohibition Gibson – but in modern, drier proportions. So, what of the idea that “the Gibson is a Martini with an onion” as I was taught when first tending bar? It was called the Hanford Cocktail before it was ever called a Gibson.
Part Five: Thoroughbred Dry Gin Frappéd and Garnished with an Olive
So, what of the so-called ‘Martini’ of gin frappéed with ice and served in a cocktail goblet with an olive in it? As it turns out, that drink can be found in the pre-prohibition Waldorf material, too.
This is just thoroughbred dry gin frappéed (the recipe as we have it doesn’t indicate whether stirring or shaking was preferred) and served cold with an olive in it and a small glass of carbonated water to back it up. This isn’t even a sling. Slings require some dilution and at least a little sweetening in addition to usually being aromatized. The Bunyan contains no sweetening and is just gin with the water added during chilling (when it was frappéed) and seemingly served ‘straight-up’ with an olive in it.
It was astounding to me that the seemingly-modern, so-called “extra-dry Martini” existed before 1920. There do not seem to have been any famous personages with that name buzzing around the old Waldorf bar in the pre-prohibition period. What did happen in that time, though, was that James MacGillivray published the first ever stories about Paul Bunyan in 1906. If the Paul Bunyan stories are the source, the name Paul Bunyan is apt for this drink. The fictional character Paul Bunyan was a big man. The Paul Bunyan drink is favored by many big men – even if they are not big in stature, but in some other measure (perhaps only in their own fiction). Beyond the fiction, Winston Churchill was a big man though he stood only five feet and six inches tall. And even though he called it a ‘Martini,’ Winston Churchill was a Paul Bunyan drinker. So was Richard Nixon, and some equally charming others.
So, there it is – the trail from the Martinez Cocktail to the Paul Bunyan, with stops at the Martini Cocktail, the Marguerite Cocktail, the Good Times Cocktail, the Gibson Sling and the Paul Bunyan. Have we taken enough baby steps out from under the shadow of prohibition that they need not all be called Martinis anymore? I hope so.