Three Is Too Many
...of all the drinks....
Of all the drinks in all the gin joints in all the world….there is nothing quite like the martini. What the martini is quite good at is getting you day-drink sloshed, but it is not for me to judge you, should you desire such a thing. Perhaps we have earned such liquid debauchery. Perhaps not. Regardless, it is, without a doubt, one of the most misunderstood forms of pure alcoholic content in a pretty glass I have yet conquered on our collective behalf.
That is not a direct Earnest Hemingway quote. Merely my attempt at writing something that
might could be misattributed to him in someone’s cringy Instagram post. I’d be flattered if it were, cringes and all.
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, this month our topic is: The Martini.
First let’s set a baseline: to order a “gin martini” is what we words people like to call “redundant.” Because a martini by definition is made with gin. A martini by the same definition is not made with vodka. Ergo, should you wish to imbibe a cocktail that combines a clear liquor with vermouth and is served in a fancy triangle glass to be made with vodka, you need to order it that way.
And to think I meant to start this month’s booze knowledge column by shaking a finger at all the muddling, bittering, simple syruping, bacon smoking, milk washing, flower essence-ing craft mixologists by reminding them that that “simple is better.”
Now let’s focus on the basics of the martini. And be well reminded that, if you are a martini newbie, this drink is not for amateurs. It is meant to be sipped, not slammed. It is not meant to be served anything much above ice cold. We’ll get into the whole shaken vs. stirred controversy shortly.
First, because I am here first and foremost in an educational role, some history. (Okay so I’m really more on the inspirational side of things but I do like giving you cocktail party tidbits now that we are returned to a cocktail party world.) Digression aside, the straightforward martini has a bit of a muddled history. Some claim it was invented in Martinez, California by a bartender who’d been asked by a jubilant gold miner to make him something to celebrate, in lieu of champagne. So the bartender mixed in a bunch of ingredients he had on hand: gin, vermouth, bitters, maraschino liqueur, and garnished it with a slice of lemon. When said lucky miner tried to order one again while in San Francisco, the bartender required instruction and so some ingredients got left out.
Another school of martini thought holds that the drink was invented in San Francisco after a request by a miner on his way TO Martinez. And still another one claims the whole thing was concocted at the Knickerbocker Hotel in New York. Finally, there is a group of people who believe the drink’s name is a short version of Martini & Rossi, which is a brand of vermouth. So the short answer is: who knows? But really, who cares?
The martini has inspired pop culture references galore, including the concept of the “three martini lunch” back in the day when you could show up to work after lunch drunk as a proverbial skunk. Or you could take a nap after lunch. The famed “shaken not stirred” version favored by a famous spy played by many different actors is another one. It’s inspired plenty of semi-famous quotes and quips as well. My favorite one is attributed to that bastion of class, Homer Simpson, when talking about bartender Moe: “He knows how I like my martini—full of alcohol.” But don’t forget British novelist and some say inventor of the cocktail party Alec Waugh who said, “I am prepared to believe that a dry martini slightly impairs the palate, but think what it does for the soul.” And of course not to be forgotten, Frederic Henry, in Papa Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms who claimed, “I had never tasted anything so cool and clean. They made me feel civilized,” after having a bunch of them while waiting for his lady love at a bar.
Some might even say Hawkeye Pierce from M*A*S*H had the best one (and who am I to argue with them) when he said: “I’d like a dry martini, Mr. Quoc. A very dry martini. A very dry, arid, barren, desiccated, veritable dustbowl of a martini. I want a martini that could be declared a disaster area. Mix me just such a martini.”
The reason for all this popularity might be in the drink’s simplicity. It could also be the fact it’s served in such a classy-looking glass, even in the middle of the Korean War. My take is that it’s a quick way to get hammered, but by booze that doesn’t leave quite as nasty a hangover behind, thanks to the nature of gin (and vodka) versus some of their darker, sweeter, boozy counterparts.
Let’s break it down, shall we?
The original, classic martini was made of 1 part gin, 1 part vermouth, served extremely cold, and garnished with either a single unstuffed green olive or a lemon peel. These days, the gin sometimes edges out the vermouth but the rule of thumb is: if you want a dry martini, go with less vermouth. Not so dry? Keep the ingredients on the vermouth side of equal.
Some purists claim that shaking a martini a la James Bond is an abomination and it should always be stirred. Some claim it can’t be served ice-cold enough unless it’s shaken.
A dirty martini (a.k.a. Yours truly’s second favorite variation) calls for a dash of olive brine that turns the normally clear drink opaque.
A Gibson martini is a classic recipe but with a cocktail onion in place of the olive or lemon.
The vodka martini had a name but you don’t hear it much these days. Mainly because no one knows why it was called “the kangaroo” at one point. Feel free to call it a vodkatini** if you must but risk being burned alive by the vicious stare of your craft mixologist. Calling it a “vodka martini” is just fine, thanks.
And finally, my absolute favorite when I’m in a martini sort of mood is the vesper martini which is a triple whammy of gin, vodka, and Kina Lillet vermouth with a lemon twist. I mean, why discriminate?
The key to enjoying this drink is the temperature at which it is served, which should be extra cold. And as for the whole shaken versus stirred thing, while it is sometimes pleasant to watch a bartender put on a show of shaking one for you, bartenders who know what they’re doing will skip the show. By rule of alcohol mixology, drinks that are 100% alcohol like the martini should always be stirred. I don’t make these rules, I merely report them so you understand them and spout them at parties in an annoying fashion. It could be argued that to make it cold enough to enjoy, it should be shaken. To which those in the other camp will say: “put the glass in the freezer.”
Finally, I will leave you with this, my favorite quote about martinis and one you can take to the bank, in terms of veracity: Martinis are like boobs. One isn’t enough. Three is too many.
**The terms “appletini,” “mochatini,” and “lemon drop martini” should be stricken from your vocabulary. ****
**** This is me being judgmental. Feel free to ignore this, drink whatever you want and call it whatever you like.
This week’s review is a 2-fer. Review 1 is a book: Tempting Fate by Sara Whitney
Tempting Fate is a gratifying second chance romance that proves to this reader once again that while romance novels may be predictable because we want them to be, the journey to the Happily Ever After is where the challenge lies. In this novel, Faith and Leo have Capital-H History from high school. They fell in love (and lust) as teenagers. They were thwarted by her family's misguided but earnest desire for her not to lose sight of her career and life goals by a boy.
They meet again back in their hometown after Leo's been off on Adventures Saving the World post-college. Faith is estranged from her wealthy family because of their machinations that came between her and Leo, plus she's had the nerve not to join the family business and has set up her own non profit to save the world, one at-risk, after-school care needing kid at a time.
Leo now holds the keys to the money box as he's a grant manager for a foundation. Faith desperately needs money to keep her agency afloat and has even moved back home to keep from having to pay rent. It's a clever script flip slash power switch since in high school Faith was the rich "Duchess Fox" and Leo was the poor Puerto Rican boyfriend with a learning disability.
This book does a great job digging into nuts and bolts of non profits and their funding models. As a non profit consultant I appreciated the attention to those details. It also sets Faith and Leo up in conflict, lust and long-term pining for each other in a way that's compelling. The author allow Faith be honest about their mutual sexual lack of experience as teens, and (bonus) lets Leo appreciate her in her current iteration as a grown women who no longer eats a fraction of a hamburger to stay skinny. The sex scenes are lovely, a good balance between showing the action and leaving some to the reader's imagination. I also enjoyed Faith's honest and realistic reconciliation with her family.
It's a solid 4.5 star read for me the only reason it's not a 5 is I got a little lost in the many secondary characters, both the number of them and their implied backstories. That said, I am eager to read William's story next.
Review 2 is for Being the Ricardos, a snapshot of a week in the life of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz from Prime Video.
I was never a huge fan of I Love Lucy, although the few times I did see it, it enjoyed it. I am a gigantic fan of the people who play Lucy and Desi in this movie so I decided to give it a watch.
It’s the week that Lucy is declared a Communist by a Hollywood gossip monger (what you might call an Instagram Influencer prototype) which leads to much fallout as well as consternation on the part of her show’s producers, network, and funding source since she also breaks it to them that week that she’s pregnant.
The show gives us a realistic glimpse into how Lucille Ball the almost-famous movie star became “Lucy with that red hair and laugh” and how she and her Cuban band leading husband became the powerhouses they were in television land. They had their own production company and studio, made 90% of the creative calls on their show (including “allowing” Lucy to “be pregnant” on the show), and proved to be a combined force to be reckoned with for many years.
My take-away was one of frustration for Lucy since it’s clear she was the one asked to be on television in the first place back when TV shows were mostly extensions of successful radio programs. She brought the talent, and when she told CBS she would only do a show if they let her real life husband, Desi (who was, as the white guys around the table reminded her, “not white, maybe even Spanish”) they wanted her badly enough that she got what she wanted.
During the week that frames this movie, Desi puts a ton of effort into convincing the entertainment world and their fans that Lucy “checked the wrong box” on a voter registration once upon a time, which she didn’t do. She checked it because her grandfather convinced her that the only way being “for the working man” at that time was to, indeed, be a Communist. But Desi and the chain smoking Phillip Morris execs who pay for the Lucy show convince her to admit it was a silly mistake in order to get past it. In exchange (this is implied and I’m not 100% this is how it played out) she and Desi would be allowed to portray her pregnancy and even Little Ricky’s birth on television. Despite our collective numbness regarding things like sex and childbirth marching across on our screens on any given day, back then Lucy and Desi had to have twin beds in their bedroom in order not to acknowledge that married people had sex, remember, so this was a Huge Deal.
Lucy, on the other hand, is asked to and does put a lot of effort into making sure Desi is made to feel like a man in charge. This was frustrating to me. Not because it was unrealistic, but because it was…painfully so. Desi had plenty of girlfriends on the side, which she knew about but wasn’t allowed to talk about. And while he was, arguably, an excellent advocate for the I Love Lucy Show, when says to the actors playing Ethel and Fred that the only place Desi really loves her is “here” (meaning on the set) she’s probably right. Although there would be no show without her, she’s forced to play second fiddle to him because He’s a Man. The fact that she divorced him is revealed at the very end, which gave me a touch of satisfaction.
Great acting, cool costumes and cars abound. And both Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem inhabit their roles in a way that sucks you into their story, makes you admire, love, and hate them all at once. 5 stars.
See ya next week!