What’s a Martinez?
Read other articles by Dan Priseman at bitters&twisted
On the surface of it, the question of ‘what’s a Martinez’ seems pretty self-explanatory.
The chances are you’ll get a lot of sweet vermouth, a little bit of gin, a splash of maraschino and a dash or two of bitters.
Occasionally there might be a bit more gin and a little less vermouth, or you might get Boker’s bitters or orange bitters; you might even get a splash of curacao instead of maraschino, but all in all you’re likely to receive a sweet vermouth and gin cocktail, with a splash of liqueur and a dose of bitters.
Over the years there has been much debate about the intertwined history of the Martinez and the Martini, with speculation about whether the Martinez might be the forefather of the Martini or, if in fact they were once the same drink, known by similar names that got confused over the years.
The truth is we’re never likely to know, but somewhere along the way the two drinks have diverged to become completely different cocktails.
It’s now accepted that the Martini is made with dry vermouth and the Martinez with sweet, the former has no liqueur added but the latter is usually enriched with a barspoon of maraschino, the Martini is heavy on gin, with vermouth playing a supporting role, whereas the Martinez is a vermouth-led cocktail. In other words they are only connected in as much as that they are in the broad family of gin and vermouth based drinks.
So when I recently made a drink using the same ingredients as a modern Martinez, but in vastly different proportions, and posted the recipe on Twitter, I was shocked to hear people calling it a Martinez.
After all, 3 parts gin to 1 part sweet vermouth makes a completely different cocktail, in fact it was closer in profile to a Gin and It. An online discussion quickly ensued about what people consider a Martinez to be, and what the original spec was; it soon became clear that this is a cocktail with a hazy past, and even a somewhat muddled present.
Inspired by my previous blog about the Corpse Reviver, I thought a similar tactic might be employed to unravel the past of this delicious, but misunderstood drink. I immediately posted some questions on Facebook and Twitter, and once again Adam Elmegirab and Craig Harper dived in to assist in putting together a timeline of recipes for the Martinez in the hopes of understanding how we have arrived at the modern version we know today.
Along the way our research expanded into the entire family of gin, vermouth and bitters based cocktails, but that’s a subject for another time. In fact Adam is already well on his way to amassing a broad history of this family of drinks.
Why so much confusion?
It seems clear from the modern viewpoint that the Martinez is two parts sweet vermouth to one part gin, with a splash of maraschino and a dash of bitters. In fact when I asked bartenders what their standard recipe is for this drink, all of them said two to one ratios in favour of sweet vermouth, and almost everyone said maraschino and either Boker’s or orange bitters.
So if there is a reasonably standard modern recipe, then why am I implying that there is some confusion as to the recipe for the Martinez? It comes down to two things: vermouth choice and ratios.
You see if you refer to cocktail books from the 1930s and 40s most of them actually call for dry vermouth instead of sweet, in fact the first time I made myself a Martinez I followed the recipe from the Savoy Cocktail Book, which calls for dry.
So to me this has always been a drink that can be served both ways, sweet and dry. That already leaves the drink open to interpretation depending on where you first read the recipe in the first place. In addition, I’ve seen recipes calling for equal parts gin and vermouth, so even the ratio can be called into question.
This got me wondering about when the recipe changed from sweet to dry, and then back again to sweet? The trouble I soon realised from chatting with Adam and Craig is that there are surprisingly few recipes for the Martinez in any early cocktail books. In fact as Craig pointed out you almost never see the Martinez and the Martini in the same book.
So is it possible they are the same drink? Was the name and the recipe muddled in the early years of its invention, leaving us with two cocktails where originally there was just one?
What’s in a name?
The first recipe I have been able to find for the Martinez is from 1884, with only a handful of further recipes over the following two decades. Likewise the Martini makes an appearance only a couple of years after the Martinez and has it’s own handful of recipes in the late 1800s.
To make it even more confusing there are other drinks from the same era such as the Martine, Marguerite that also combine gin, vermouth and bitters. So is this just a classic case of Chinese whispers, with a drink being created and named, and then being passed on from bar to bar and slowly changing?
There are of course stories about where the name came from; some claiming it for the town of Martinez in California, others saying it was made for a customer who used to travel to the town. Still others claim that the Martini actually came first and that the Martinez was just confusion over the name.
Then again there are stories of a judge from New York whose name was Martine, so some believe this to be an East coast creation and nothing whatsoever to do with the town in California. Truth be told we’re unlikely to ever know the origins of the name.
Many claim that the Martinez was created in the 1860s and that the Martini came into being in the 1870s, but this is still hard to prove, so for me it seems sensible to start with recipes that have been recorded in cocktail books.
But if all we have are a handful of recipes scattered through a few publications over the years, then what’s the truth about this drink? Has it always been the sweet vermouth based drink we know today? Well let’s see if we can make some sense of it simply by tracking it through the years.
The early days of the Martinez
As I mentioned earlier, the first recipe for the Martinez that I’ve found (and I’d love to hear from anyone who knows of an earlier one, or a version I’ve missed from the timeline below) is from O H Byron in 1884. Unfortunately all he has to say on the subject is this:
“ Same as Manhattan, only you substitute gin for whisky.”
Now this wouldn’t be a problem if he had been considerate enough to list only one recipe for the Manhattan. There were unfortunately two Manhattan recipes listed directly above the entry for the Martinez, one with sweet vermouth one with dry (for full recipes see the timeline further down the page).
So maybe, as with many vermouth and spirit cocktails the Martinez was originally a drink that could be ordered sweet or dry? The problem with this theory is that we never see the Martinez listed in books with the two styles offered as we do with the Martini and the Manhattan.
Often these drinks are offered, for example, as the Dry Martini or the Sweet Martini with distinct recipes. Nowhere have I found the same for the Martinez. Still it’s a thought…
The next recipe that we find in print is from the 1887 revised edition of Jerry Thomas’ Bon Vivants Companion, which was published two years after his death. The recipe calls for one part Old Tom Gin to two parts ‘vermouth’.
Now we know from records that most vermouth in the US at this time was Italian (sweet) vermouth, and it’s taken for granted that unless French vermouth is specified, then Italian should be used. So it seems likely that this recipe is the one responsible for our current understanding of the Martinez as being a sweet vermouth cocktail.
Over the years as cocktails have gone in and out of fashion, at every resurgence bartenders have tended to turn to Jerry Thomas as their first point of reference.
Next up we have the Martinez recipe listed in Stuart’s Fancy Drinks from 1896, but unfortunately it seems that he has plagiarised O H Byron, as his entry is identical to the 1884 entry in that book (word for word, down to the order of the drinks). So other than being a second time that we see both a sweet and dry version, it doesn’t actually help us to understand how this drink might originally have been served.
Fast forward almost a decade to 1905 and we find a recipe for the Martinez in the romantically named Consolidated Library of Modern Cooking and Household Recipes, volume 5 by Christine Terhune Herrick and M. Harland, which is instantly recognisable as the first written record of the Martinez as we know it today.
The recipe calls for two parts vermouth (sweet?) to one part gin with two dashes of maraschino and a dash of Boker’s Bitters. Gum syrup may be added if desired. The parting shot is to point out that this recipe is exactly the same as the one before, which as you might have guessed, is for the Manhattan.
What can be made of these early recipes? Well keeping in mind some good advice I received recently from Dave Wondrich when he said, “I always try to be careful to distinguish between “it happened once or twice” and “it’s in common use.” The latter is much more important for writing history; firsts are in my mind highly overrated. People will do any damn thing once or twice.” It’s hard to draw any firm conclusions from so few recipes.
But it’s certainly interesting to note that three out of the four mentions of this drink compare it directly to the Manhattan cocktail.
We know that the Manhattan was by this time a popular and widely consumed drink, and we often see it served with either dry or sweet vermouth (or on occasion calling for both), so with this in mind, it is at least possible that the Martinez may have been served either way. I’m not for one moment stating this as fact, but instead offer it as food for thought, especially when viewing the next era in the history of the Martinez.
The Prohibition era Martinez
There’s a significant gap in the timeline of the Martinez as far as I’ve been able to tell (but hopefully readers will find some recipes to fill in the gaps) between 1905 and 1922, when we see a recipe appear in Cocktails How To Mix Them by Robert.
In this early prohibition era recipe he calls for equal parts Old Tom Gin and French vermouth, combined with either curacao or maraschino and orange bitters. This is just the start of a trend towards a drier style of drink.
Robert also states that in England the Martinez generally contains Plymouth gin and French vermouth, with orange syrup and Angostura bitters; once again pointing at a dry style of drink.
In 1930 the Martinez pops up in the Savoy Cocktail Book with an almost identical recipe to the Martinez listed in Robert’s book, only not specifying Old Tom and simply listing gin instead. So yet again we have a dry style of Martinez appearing in print.
This is also true of the recipe in 1700 Cocktails for the Man Behind the Bar, in 1924, where the recipe is for several servings.
Here we have three glasses of Plymouth gin and three of French vermouth combined with a dessertspoon of orange bitters and two dessertspoons of curacao or maraschino. In the same year Patrick Gavin Duffy included an identical recipe (again for six people) in his book the Official Mixer’s Manual.
In 1935’s Old Mr. Boston we find the first recipe specifying dry gin, as by this time Old Tom had fallen out of fashion and London Dry was the go-to style of gin for cocktails. Once again equal parts of dry gin and French vermouth are combined with orange bitters and curacao.
So it seems that in the 1920s and 30s dry vermouth was the standard ingredient for the Martinez, and the ratio had changed from being vermouth heavy to equal parts vermouth and gin. The drier style of drink is not surprising as this was very much the taste of that era, in fact this is the period where we start seeing the Martini grow more and more dry, so perhaps this is nothing more than the fashion of the era?
In fact the trend towards dry vermouth is still there in 1946 when Trader Vic includes a Martinez in his Bartender’s Guide, made of equal parts gin and French vermouth, with ½ a teaspoon each of orange bitters and curacao.
It’s interesting that in the ten recipes above only two specify sweet vermouth, two offer it both dry and sweet and the remaining six all call for dry vermouth. While this is still not such a weighty catalogue of evidence as to be able to state that the Martinez should rightly be made using dry vermouth, it is enough to say that it has been made that way in the past, possibly from the time it was first conceived of.
I also can’t help but notice that curacao was called for more often than maraschino, and while we’re usually only talking about a couple of dashes this is enough to change the profile of the drink.
To me this makes some sense when you think about the other ingredients involved; Old Tom Gin was sweeter than the modern style and more full bodied, liqueur is being added to this contributing yet more sweetness, so wouldn’t it make sense to use dry vermouth to balance the drink?
We’ll probably never know how the drink was intended to be, but it’s at least interesting to open ones mind to the possibility that the Martinez may once have been intended as a dry vermouth drink and not the sweet one we know today.
The modern Martinez
So how have we arrived at the modern Martinez? After all, when you look at the history above almost all of the drinks call for dry vermouth and not sweet, many are equal parts gin and vermouth, and a lot of them call for curacao and orange bitters. These differences from the modern understanding of the Martinez are significant enough to make them worth thinking about.
The key to me, as I mentioned earlier, is the importance placed on Jerry Thomas’ book, The Bon Vivant’s Companion, or How to Mix Drinks. The first edition in 1862 is also the first cocktail book in existence, and as such is often the starting place for bartenders to gain insight into the classic cocktails of the 1800s.
But although I agree it’s an important book, but it’s by no means infallible. The fact that the Martinez doesn’t appear in the first edition and wasn’t added until two years after Thomas’ death, means that we don’t even know the real source of this recipe.
Who was it that edited this book and added the Martinez? Where did he or she get their recipe? It seems to me unlikely that a drink that was in the process of establishing itself in the repertoire of bartenders of that era had a standard spec, so why does this interpretation carry so much weight?
I suspect it’s no coincidence that our modern version of the Martinez contains maraschino, and that this is one of the few recipes to call for it, and not at least give the option of curacao. In fact, looking at the recipe it is remarkably similar to the modern standard that so many bartenders take for granted.
I’m not saying that the industry is wrong, or that bartenders have their facts mixed up, but if you look through the recipes I’ve found so far, it seems that the jerry Thomas recipe has been held up as the correct one, without much thought being given to other recipes of the time.
So, is there any such thing as a Martinez?
What conclusion can be drawn from all of the above? We can see that in our current cocktail culture the Martinez is a well-known drink that is widely accepted as being made with sweet vermouth and gin (Old Tom), some maraschino and bitters.
It’s clear from looking at the timeline below that it has not always been made this way though and for at least some of its life was a dry vermouth and gin based drink.
Also worth thinking about is the fact that for a drink that is so well established in the repertoire of modern bartenders there are surprisingly few references to it in cocktail books over the years.
It seems likely to me that if it had not been included in two of the most important and well respected cocktails books of all time, this drink might very well have faded into oblivion, despite the fact that it is a damned tasty cocktail.
The fact that the two recipes are so very different can at least partly be put down to the availability of ingredients in different countries and different eras, and also to the fashion for sweeter drinks in the 1880s and dry drinks in the 1920s. None the less there is enough difference between recipes from across the decades that it calls into question what the Martinez really was.
In fact, given the intertwined history of the Martini, Martinez, Martine and even the Turf Club, it’s almost impossible to know if they were all the same drink, but known by different names or if they were designed to be different from the outset.
Seeing as we have arrived at a time and place where we do indeed have two individual drinks, it probably doesn’t matter what the original intention behind them was, they have grown apart, and now stand on their own merits as individual cocktails.
So here is a timeline of recipes, for a drink that may or may not ever have been intended to be different from the martini, and may or may not have originally been made with dry vermouth:
1884 – OH Byron – ‘same as Manhattan but with gin replacing whisky’
- 1 pony French vermouth, ½ pony gin, 3 or 4 dashes Angostura bitters, 3 dashes gum syrup
- 2 dashes curacao, 2 dashes Angostura bitters, ½ wineglass gin, ½ wineglass Italian vermouth
1887 – Jerry Thomas – revised edition 2 years after his death
Martinez – 1
- dash Boker’s bitters, 2 dashes maraschino, 1 pony Old Tom gin, 1 wineglass vermouth.
1896 – Stuart’s Fancy Drinks and how to mix them
- Identical recipe to OH Byron 1884 and once again compared to the Manhattan, served both dry and sweet
1905 – Consolidated Library of Modern Cooking and Household Recipes, volume 5
- Martinez – shake up well and strain into a large cocktail glass 1 dash of bitters, 2 dashes of maraschino, 1 pony of Old Tom gin, 1 wineglassful of vermouth, 2 small lumps of ice. Add a slice of lemon, and gum syrup if desired, as in last recipe (Manhattan)
1922 – Cocktails and How to Mix Them by Robert
- Martinez cocktail – 2 dashes orange bitters, 3 dashes curacao or maraschino, ¼ gill Old Tom Gin, ¼ gill French vermouth
- Martinez in England – 2 dashes orange syrup, 2 dashes Angostura bitters, ¼ gill Plymouth gin, ¼ gill French Vermouth
1930 – Savoy Cocktail Book
- Martinez cocktail (6 people) – Pour into the shaker 3 glasses of gin, 3 of French vermouth, add a dessertspoonful of orange bitters and 2 of curacao or maraschino. Shake and serve with a cherry and a piece of lemon rind
1934 – 1700 Cocktails for the Man Behind the Bar
- Martinez – 3 glasses Plymouth gin, 3 glasses French Vermouth, 1 dessertspoonful orange bitters, 2 dessertspoonful curacao or maraschino, serve with a cherry and a lemon rind
1934 – Official Mixer’s Manual, Patrick Gavin Duffy
- Same recipe as 1700 Cocktails for the Man Behind the Bar
1935 – Old Mr. Boston
- Martinez cocktail – ½ dry gin, ½ French vermouth, 1 dash orange bitters, 1 dash curacao
1946 – Trader Vic – Bartender’s Guide
- ¾ oz gin, ¾ oz French vermouth, ½ tsp orange bitters, ½ tsp curacao
The gin, we can accept, changes through the ages as Old Tom becomes less popular and gives way to London Dry and in some cases even Plymouth. Most of the recipes offer your choice of either maraschino or curacao, and many call for orange bitters too.
And so we have a modern drink that doesn’t sit perfectly against its forefathers, but does sit comfortably with the version included by an anonymous editor of Jerry Thomas’ work, who added his recipe two years after the professors’ death.
I love a good Martinez and will gladly accept the current version of this drink whenever someone wishes to stir one up for me. That being said I can’t wait to try all of the recipes above to see how they differ, but that’s a blog for another day.
I hope to get many of those who contributed their research to this blog together, so that we can try these recipes alongside each other to get a real feel for how the drink evolved. In the meantime I’ll make do with my own version of this drink… after all, as long as you combine roughly the right ingredients, you seem to be able to call anything a Martinez!
The Compromised Martinez
- 45ml Hammer & Son Old English Gin
- 45ml Noilly Ambre vermouth
- 1 Dash curaçao
- 1 Dash maraschino
- 1 Dash orange bitters
- 1 Dash Boker’s bitters
Stir or shake (after all both methods have been used over the years), then strain into a chilled coupe and garnish with your choice from the following: a cherry, a lemon twist, a slice of lemon, or all three, it’s entirely up to you!
Please if you have more information or recipes for the Martinez, we’d love to hear from you and add it into the timeline of this ever evolving cocktail.
Further reading – in reply to the question posed in the title of this article Adam Elmegirab has posted his thoughts and research regarding the intertwined nature of the Manhattan, Martinez and Martini here. an excellent read and definitely states the case for the camp who believe that the Martinez was a sweet vermouth drink from the outset!
also see this great chart based on the timeline above as created by Tristan Stephenson of Purl and Whistling Shop fame: