Martini history

Some believe that a New York bartender named Martini invented the drink in 1912 while some believe it to be invented in San Francisco by Professor Jerry Thomas around 1850 for a miner on his way to Martinez, California. Lore says that a miner placed a nugget of gold on Jerry’s bar and challenged him to concoct something special. The result was the Martinez, the said prototype of the Martini. The Martinez was first published in The Bartenders Guide in 1887, the first bartenders manual of its kind and was made with a full wine glass of sweet vermouth, one (1) ounce of Old Tom Gin, some bitters and a dash or two of maraschino. In those days, if the drink weren’t sweet enough, gum syrup was added.The citizenry of Martinez, California believe that the martini was first concocted right there in Martinez by a bartender named Julio Richelieu in 1870. They claim that a miner became disenchanted with the whisky Richelieu served him. After all, he paid for the whisky with a pouch of gold. So, Richelieu concocted a glass of gin, vermouth, orange, bitters and an olive to make up for the difference. Thus was born the Martinez.The Oxford English Dictionary credits Martini and Rossi with the martini. In 1871, the company, then named Martini e Sola, shipped 100 cases of red vermouth to New York. Unfortunately, this was 20 years later than Jerry Thomas’ concoction and a full year later than Richelieu’s serving to a disgruntled miner.The British think the martini is derived from a British-made rifle called a Martini & Henry used by the English army between 1871 and 1891 because of its kick.New Yorker’s insist that a bartender at the Knickerbocker Hotel named Martini di Arma di Taggia invented it in 1911 for John D. Rockefeller. True or not, it seems to be the first time the martini forged its way into Wall Street and big business lunch deals. Incidentally, Rockefeller took his martini with London Dry Gin, dry vermouth, bitters, lemon peel and one olive.Some think it was first discovered in Martinez, California while others believe it was invented by a 19th-century Italian chef in London who named it after his grandfather.

The following timeline is adapted from “The coming of the Martini: an annotated timeline

Perhaps the most frequently cited theory is that Jerry Thomas, a famous and influential 19th century bartender, invented the drink at the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco, sometime in the late 1850’s or early 1860’s. As the story goes, a prospector, about to set out on a journey to Martinez, California, put a gold nugget on the bar and asked Thomas to mix him up something special. Thomas produced a drink containing Old Tom gin, vermouth, bitters, and Maraschino, and dubbed it the “Martinez,” in honor of the customer’s impending journey.

His recipe as published in the 1887 expanded edition of The Bar-tender’s Guide is as follows:

      Use small bar glass
      One dash bitters
      Two dashes Maraschino
      One wineglass of vermouth
      Two small lumps of ice
      One pony of Old Tom gin
      SHAKE up thoroughly, and strain into a large cocktail glass.
      Put a quarter of a slice of lemon in the glass, and serve.
      If the guest prefers it very sweet, add two dashes of gum syrup

It should be noted that this recipe did not appear in earlier editions of Thomas’s book (even though they were published after he left California for New York), nor did any other bearing the name “Martini” or “Martinez.” Further, while there are certain similarities between this and a 20th-century Martini, it would have tasted quite different. Old Tom was a sweetened gin, quite unlike the dry London gin of today, and the vermouth used was most likely the sweet variety. The Maraschino and optional gum syrup would have further sweetened the drink (Conrad 20-22).

Citizens of Martinez, California, seem to favor the theory that the journey took place in the opposite direction: sometime around 1870, a San Francisco miner stopped on his way home at Julio Richelieu’s saloon in Martinez, and used a sack of gold nuggets to pay for a bottle of whisky. The miner complained that this wasn’t quite enough for the amount of gold he had given, so the bartender made up the difference by mixing up a small drink of gin and vermouth, garnished with an olive. The miner inquired about the drink and was informed that it was “a Martinez cocktail” (Conrad 22).

While the Martini is considered a quintessentially American drink, another plausible theory puts its origins in Europe. A German musician, Johann Paul Aegius Schwartzendorf (1741-1816), emigrated to France in 1758. Acting on a friend’s advice, he changed his name to Jean Paul Aegide Martini, at least in part to capitalize on the vogue then enjoyed by Italian composers. According to one biographical account, his favorite drink was a mixture of gin and white wine. Martini’s popularity ensured that others would request the same drink, using his name. Some of these French musicians may have emigrated to the United States, bringing the drink they called a Martini with them (Miller and Brown 30-31).

A dubious but widely cited theory places the drink’s origin in Britain, with the name being a sort of homage to the drink’s “kick,” reminiscent of that of a Martini & Henry rifle, the primary tool of the British infantryman. We may also discount that the drink’s name refers to Martini & Rossi vermouth, since this brand was not available in the United States when the first Martini recipes were published (Conrad 24-25).

Another published account of the drink’s origin — that it was invented by Martini di Arma di Taggia at the Knickerbocker Hotel in 1910 — is problematic in that numerous published references to the drink occurred before this date, but it is possible that di Taggia was the first to use dry white vermouth (an essential ingredient in the modern Martini) in place of sweet red vermouth (Conrad 22-23; Miller and Brown 34). Dale Groff’s excellent book, The Craft of the Cocktail, supports this theory (p. 142).