Wednesday 3 November 2010

Martini gadgets of yesteryear

A Martini Scale
The American golden age of the Three Martini Lunch, with its obsession with making the cocktail with minuscule and carefully controlled quantities of vermouth*, gave rise to a range of inventions designed to take the human error out of producing the perfect drink each time. The "Martini spike" was a large calibrated syringe for injecting vermouth into your drink; others used droppers or atomisers, for breathing a hint of vermouth over your gin; another approach was actually to use a hygrometer to adjust your drink accurately using its specific gravity.**

At a Martini masterclass last week at Graphic, hosted by Martin Miller's gin, Mr Bridgman-Smith brought along a few devices from his collection.*** Pictured here is a Martini Scale. The idea is that you set as a fulcrum one of the pre-cut notches, depending on your desired ratio of gin to vermouth—5:1, 10:1 or 25:1. You fill the large container with gin, then add vermouth to the smaller cup until the arm just balances.

Adam deploys the Martini Scale, using a bar spoon to drip in just enough vermouth for it to balance

It's harder than it looks if you are going to be a stickler for getting it to balance precisely (and if you are not then why use it at all?). I can't help thinking that one could achieve pretty much the same effect by eye… and there would be less washing up to do as well. Moreover, if you're that much of a stickler, what are the chances that your idea of a perfect Martini will happen to fall on one of the three ratios on offer? (I can just imagine obsessives "modding" their Martini Scale by adding extra weights to tweak the balance one way or the other.)

DBS displays his Martini stones in operation
Stranger still were the "Martini stones" that DBS brought along with him. These are precisely that—small stones that you keep immersed in vermouth. To make your drink you simply plonk one or more in your gin. Why is this good? I haven't a clue. Is the idea that you choose your stone carefully by size and porosity (pumice for those who like more vermouth, moving through marble or granite for a drier drink; what's the least porous stone? Something like slate?).

I think the Martini stone owes its existence to a chain of reasoning rather than ground-up thinking. One of the ways of avoiding vermouth overload in the good old days was to soak your olives in vermouth and simply use what clung to them as your dose. But I gather that some perfectionists felt that the olives absorbed a bit too much vermouth—so they used stones instead.

But if you really have so little faith in your chances of mixing the perfect Martini every time, you may want to leave it to the professionals and either go to a bar—or buy your cocktail pre-mixed. DBS also produced a ready-mixed dry Martini cocktail made by Gordon's. It was OK.

A pre-mixed dry Martini
Hosting the Martini class was Jeff Masson, a Miller's ambassador and also the man behind the UK incarnation of Cocktail Kingdom, purveyor of, among other things, reproductions of classic cocktail books. He later sent us the image below of what is the earliest printed recipe for a "dry Martini" of which he is aware, from How to Mix Fancy Drinks, published in 1903.

I bought a couple of Jeff's reissued books, David Embury's classic The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks and The Modern Bartender's Guide from 1884. The latter doesn't feature the Martini, but it does have the Martinez, which the author O. H. Byron (about whom nothing is known—he may have been invented by the publishers) describes simply as, "Same as Manhattan, only you substitute gin for whisky." He offers two Manhattan recipes: one is two parts French vermouth to one part whisky plus Angostura bitters and gum syrup. The other is equal parts whisky and Italian vermouth plus two dashes of Curaçao and two dashes of Angostura bitters.

Martini recipe from 1903
If you make a Martinez based on this latter recipe you end up with something almost identical to the basic 1903 Martini, except for the extra orange bitters and use of Peychaud instead of Angostura.**** Moreover, Harry Johnson's New and Improved Bartender's Manual (1882), contemporary with Byron's book, does have a "Martini" recipe that is more or less the same as Byron's Martinez. Most modern  cocktail books will usually regard the Martinez and the Martini as different cocktails, presumably because by "Martini" we now think of the ascetic modern dry version. But given all the arguments about when, where and by whom the Martini was "invented" it's interesting to note that even this early "dry Martini" has much less in common with those later ones—for which so many techniques, theories and, indeed, gadgets existed to get them exactly "right"—than it does with the 1884 Martinez. It's clear that the one evolved gradually from the other, and Byron's wording also suggests the Martinez was simply a development of the Manhattan.

The cover of the book in which the above recipe was found
A more interesting question might be why a drink that is so difficult to define in terms of what actually goes into it and how it is made should end up inspiring so much love, care, protectiveness, ritual and mythology. What does it tell us about our drinking culture?

* The authors of The Martini Book, put out by the Gilbey gin company, offer the theory that every 30 years Martinis become one part drier.
** I suspect the fad for these contraptions was connected to a post-war affluence and optimism that led to a rise in domestic gadgets in general. I think something similar happened in the UK in the 1970s, a period that seemed to produce all kinds of pointless kitchen appliance, such as the electric carving knife. My parents-in-law recently offloaded a number of these on me, including the "Saucier" automatic sauce maker—an electrically heated pan with a rotating paddle inside—and another device which solves that frustrating conundrum of how to peel, slice and core a pineapple all in one go—Hitler would probably have won if he'd had one of those.
*** For a more in-depth and scholarly look at the history of the Martini, see m'colleague's essay 'The Silver Bullet', originally published in issue 18 of the New Sheridan Club Newsletter but also available online on the NSC website.
**** In fact a Martinez made following the first Manhattan recipe gives you something not dissimilar to the "dry Martini" too, though sans the citrus elements from orange bitters and curaçao and again using Angostura instead of Peychaud.

1 comment:

  1. First class job old boy, I need to update "The Silver Bullet" at some time to add in the new research and do some proper reviews of these Gadgets.