Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | January 3, 2011

Line of the Year

Camper English has what I already think will stand out as the best line about cocktails of 2011:

The Martini is as amorphous a concept as morality.

English has a great history of the Martini, what it used to mean and how it has been corrupted in the LA Times Magazine. It’s a great piece, including recipes from the evolution of the Martini (accompanied with pretty drawings!).

Regular readers know that my preferred Martini is a Fifty-Fifty – equal parts gin and dry vermouth. Depending on what sorts of gin and dry vermouth I use, I will also include orange bitters or spray the cocktail with orange zest or both. This is not a common way of making a Martini outside of aficionados. You’d think it’d be easy to get bartenders at non-cocktail bars to make it. After all, it’s just equal amounts of gin and dry vermouth. But here’s how my order often goes:

ME: I’d like a Martini with equal parts gin and dry vermouth and a twist.

BARTENDER: Wow. are you sure? You know, that’s a lot of vermouth.

ME: Yes, I know. I like it that way. That’s why I ordered it that way.

BARTENDER: Starts making cocktail, pours it at a 5:1 ratio

ME: Hey, can you put more vermouth in there?

BARTENDER: Huh? I already put a lot in. Most people don’t like any vermouth.

ME: Yeah I know most people like a cold glass of vodka. But mine has gin in it and I like vermouth. Trust me, I know what it will taste like and I like it.

BARTENDER: OK, whatever you say. Adds a bit more vermouth, shakes it really hard, strains it into a glass, and adds several olives.

BARTENDER: You said you wanted it with olives, right?

ME: I give up.

Bartending is a service industry and it’s the job of a bartender to serve a customer a drink how they want it to be served. If someone orders a cocktail with no specifications of how they want it, the bartender should make it their preferred way. But if someone takes the time to give specific instructions for how they want a drink, they damned well better get it that way. I don’t mind skepticism about a Fifty-Fifty Martini having too much vermouth in it. I like educating people on a radically different Martini from what they’re used to serving. It’s the part where bartenders ignore the ratio request and let their idea of a heavy pour of vermouth stop their hands from making what I asked for that gets me angry.

As Camper says, the problem stems in large part from how amorphous the Martini has become. The solution is to hearken back to the Dry Martini and to reeducate the American drinking public on the virtues of both gin and dry vermouth. Most people who I know think they like neither gin or vermouth in their Martinis but have greatly enjoyed a low ratio, gin Martini when I’ve offered it to them. The problem can be solved, though it must be done one cocktail and one imbiber at a time.



  1. I once had a bartender who refused to pour that much sweet vermouth into my 2:1 Manhattan. He literally handed me the bottle of vermouth and let me pour it in myself since he couldn’t bring himself to “ruin” the drink (not his words, but it must have been what he was thinking). I think he would have fainted if I said fiddy-fiddy. Most places like that, I now just order a beer so I don’t end up with a cold glass of Bourbon.

  2. Thanks for the props!

  3. I will probably be battling this problem on Saturday night. However, like holiday parties in the past, I SHALL PREVAIL! By constantly asking for more vermouth.

    At least hopefully it should be Dolin.

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