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Notes on a Vintage Vodka Martini Recipe From 1960

The Classic Martini in all its glory

The Classic Martini in all its glory

How to Make the Perfect 1960s Vodka Martini

Here's the recipe for the perfect vodka martini as I learned to make it back in the day. I haven't drunk one of these things in many years, but I used to love them in the days when I was young, when both my head and stomach were strong, and when I still knew how to rustle up a batch for friends on a moment's notice. Here's how it's done.

The ingredients are vodka and vermouth. The amounts are for one serving. Obviously, double them for two, triple for three servings, and so forth. The ratio is 5 vodka to 1 vermouth. You can change this if you like. 4 to 1 makes for a sweeter, less rough drink and lets the vermouth come through more. You can vary the proportions to suit personal taste. 3 to 1 is the classic proportion, but in my opinion, 5 to 1 is the perfect ratio for a really dry vodka martini.

Ingredients

  • Vodka
  • Dry white vermouth
  • Ice cubes
  • Lemon twist or green olive, as garnish

Instructions

  1. Using a standard jigger, pour 3 measures of vodka to 1 measure of vermouth for each person to be served into a glass pitcher or large mixing glass. For shaken martinis (a la James Bond), substitute a metal cocktail shaker for the glass pitcher.
  2. Add ice cubes and either stir or shake your martinis to thoroughly blend the ingredients. Don't mix for too long, or the melting ice cubes will dilute the martini too much (heaven forbid).
  3. Strain the drink into a chilled stemmed martini glass and add a bit of lemon zest (my favorite) or a green olive and drink a toast to old times.
  4. Vodka martinis are good "on the rocks," too. Instead of using a stemmed martini glass, fill an Old Fashioned glass with ice and strain the drink into it. Lemon is the usual garnish for on the rocks vodka martinis, but if you prefer an olive, go for it.

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Origins and History of the Classic Martini

The origins of the martini are unclear. Drinks similar to it were around in the late 19th century. One story has it that a bartender in San Francisco named Martinez used sweet Italian vermouth to cut rotgut gin for his customers and the drink he invented was dubbed the martini. Another tale is that the drink originated in the town of Martinez, California.

Wherever the name came from, it was Prohibition and the advent of the speakeasy that gave the classic gin martini its popularity and its claim to fame. Speakeasy customers often asked for a "martini" because the vermouth cut the taste of bad bathtub gin and made for a better taste experience, while packing a powerful punch.

The vintage vodka martini recipe given here came along later and was the iconic cocktail of the 1960s. It went out of fashion in the 1970s and '80s, when Americans became more interested in wine and beer than spirits.

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Vintage Smirnoff vodka ad with Zsa Zsa Gabor

Vintage Smirnoff vodka ad with Zsa Zsa Gabor

The Birth of the Vodka Martini

In the "Roaring Twenties," during Prohibition, diluting bathtub gin with dry vermouth and serving the mixture straight up in a stemmed cocktail glass garnished with a green olive made bad quality gin palatable and the speakeasy crowd drunker faster. The gin martini became a speakeasy favorite. Once Prohibition was repealed and good quality gin again became available, the martini became even more popular. Check out what people are drinking in all those old Hollywood films where everybody is holding a cocktail glass in one hand and smoking a cigarette in a long holder with the other.

In the mid-1950s, when Smirnoff first began to market vodka to Americans, the vodka martini was introduced, and soon left the classic gin martini in the dust. The Smirnoff marketing plan was to ride the popularity of the martini to profitability by getting Americans to substitute vodka for the gin they were accustomed to making martinis with. A rather clever ad campaign centered around the fact that vodka didn't leave a telltale smell on the drinker's breath the way gin did, and Americans just "lapped it up"(to coin a phrase).

"Smirnoff vodka leaves you breathless" became the company's tagline, and the vodka martini became the drink of choice for the would-be movers and shakers of the 1950s. By the 1960s, executives were enjoying "three vodka martini lunches" and the cocktail party was the preferred way of suburban socializing for the upwardly mobile. The '60s martini was made with vodka more often than gin, drunk "straight up" or "on the rocks" and garnished with an olive, a twist of lemon, or a small cocktail onion (in which case it was called a Gibson, not a Martini).

There were numerous nuances in the making of the martini, and a bartender who could manage a cocktail shaker and strainer with a flourish was in demand. As James Bond, aka 007, taught us, the really hip drinker wanted a martini that was "shaken not stirred" as the shaking theoretically diluted the spirits less than stirring them around in a mixing glass and didn't bruise the vodka (ha!!!) It's all a matter of personal taste, or more accurately, personal affectation.

Poem to Martinis

A famous bit of doggerel from the well-sharpened tongue of Dorothy Parker.

Martinis

I like to have a martini,
Two at the very most.
Three and I’m under the table,
Four and I’m under my host.

—Dorothy Parker

The Martini Renaissance

The martini, the vodka martini in particular, is making a comeback these days with a new generation of cocktail drinkers. Contemporary martini drinkers have come up with a whole host of new adaptations,

As a purist, I have to say that I take a dim view of apple, peach, blueberry, and other mad martinis that have proliferated recently. There is something odd about a blue martini or one made with mandarin oranges and açai berries. I read somewhere recently that some bartender with an internet meme fetish invented a bacontini. What is the world coming to, anyway?

For my money, you just can't beat the old classic vodka martini—the drink that got us all through the '60s and that many of us remember fondly. No wonder a whole new generation has embraced it with gusto. Besides, it goes perfectly with all that mid-century modern furniture that my generation has a hard time feeling nostalgic about. Never mind. Made right and sipped slowly, there isn't a better cocktail in the world.

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