The original Martini is intimidating enough for a neophyte, without the seemingly endless variations that have been visited upon it by a century of enterprising cocktilians. But rather than an impenetrable wall, think of the Martini as a doorway to a Willy Wonka-like land of pure imagination. Once you understand a few basic ground rules, it’s not hard to master the lexicon of what we call the Martini Variations, navigating tricky vermouth ratios and garnishes, and impressing everyone at the Martini bar with your ordering prowess. Here’s your roadmap to total Martini knowledge.
The first thing to know is that the Martini descended from the Martinez, a cocktail invented in the mid-19th century in California that used Old Tom gin and sweet vermouth. From there it was a short jump to the London Dry gin and dry vermouth of the classic Gin Martini, which could be garnished with citrus twists or olives, made “dirty” with olives plus their juice, or made as a Gibson by garnishing with cocktail onions. The standard Gin Martini (2:1 gin to vermouth) can also be made with varying amounts of dry vermouth, including dry (less vermouth, typically 4:1 gin to vermouth), wet (typically 4:3), 50/50 (equal parts gin and vermouth), reverse (1:2 gin to vermouth), and perfect (2:1:1 gin to both vermouths). If you add OJ to that last one, it’s called a Bronx.
The Vodka Martini simply swapped vodka for gin. It grew popular in the 1950s along with other vodka cocktails, as did the centrist Vesper made with equal parts vodka and gin. It’s theorized that the popularity of the Vodka Martini inspired the French Martini and Cosmopolitan, which add different fruit juices and liqueurs to sweeten things up. These, in their turn, gave birth to the potently flavored -tinis of the ‘90s, such as the Chocolate Martini, the Lemon Drop Martini and Appletini, along with Martinis in practically every color of the rainbow.
When we put it that way, ok, it’s a little confusing. So we’ve created a handy visual guide that will help you as you taste test the entire clan. It may be the one family reunion you’ll actually enjoy attending.