So I’m looking for an interesting topic for a tasting seminar and I see someone order a Martini. I do love it when I get struck by inspiration at a bar. (And, yes, it does happen often. Both bars and inspirations.)
Fortunately, shortly after inspiration struck, I called up a friend, the talented and personable Nathan Gerdes, who knows just a little about Martinis, and Gin, and cocktail lore, and loves history too, and talking about his chosen craft.
Not long afterwards, we proposed a seminar to the Society of Wine (and Spirits) Educators for their Annual Conference in Seattle (August 15th). It’s entitled “The Entire Unexpurgated History of the Martini…in Eight Glasses.”
|Unindicted co-conspirator |
This was a labor of love for both of us, of course; it’s fascinating to delve into the often murky and myth-driven history of cocktails, knowing you’ll hear any number of versions of how and by whom and where famous cocktails were developed. Some of them are ridiculous and collapse under the most superficial scrutiny. Some are simply delightful and entirely whimsical stories made up after the fact from nothing but idle speculation and vivid imagination. And some…some are investigative thrillers revealed by exacting research and meticulous reconstruction of scattered written tidbits.
Cocktail lore is primarily oral history, or at the best idle conjecture only occasionally written down in passing, and most of what we “know” is not easily verifiable. Fortunately, there are some who recorded the history, such as “Professor” Jerry Thomas, now considered the “Father of the American Cocktail” because he bothered to write a book back in the 1800s, and indefatigable modern researchers, such as David Wondrich, Esquire magazine columnist and book author, that ferret out the historical details and attempt to separate fact from fabrication.
For us the immediate problem became apparent: how can we adequately represent the broad scope of evolutionary development of such an iconic drink, through so many stages, in only eight glasses? It wasn’t an easy challenge: broad strokes and giant leaps were required. We had to chronicle the leaps without paying nearly enough attention to the slow and gradual evolutionary process.
Challenge bartenders---assuming you are dealing with professional and accomplished bartenders, and why would you wish to deal with any other sort?--- to come up with a list of eight martinis replicating the evolutionary development of the drink, and you’ll get some radically different lists, followed by some surprisingly passionate debate.
|The Rockefeller Martini, or|
You're so rich you can have it both ways!
But Nathan and I seesawed back and forth, with him convincing me of one cocktail and me convincing him of another that just had to be on the list. Name calling, insults, and outright vituperation were held at a respectable professional distance, and we both yielded up righteous indignation and sulky disagreements for our favorites to come up with a list of eight that we could both agree with.
We made a couple of privileged decisions right from the beginning: keep it primarily about gin, only allude to the presumption of a “vodka martini” by talking about the Vesper; and don’t veer off into “flavored martini” country, because there be monsters there.
|The original Vesper.|
Bond. James Bond.
So what did we decide on? Which eight made the cut?
The Martinez 1864
The Manhattan 1872
The Martini 1888
The Dry Martini 1896
The Gibson 1898
The Rockefeller Martini 1911
The Vesper 1953
The Extra-Dry Martini Circa 2014
So go ahead. Nitpick. Opine. Criticize. Snark, even. We can take it. We even welcome it. Which drink shouldn’t be on the list, and which did we leave out that should be on the list?
The seminar is next week, and unfortunately it's already full. Sorry. But we'll give you an after-action report to let you know how it went. Stay tuned.
|So many choices.|