Shaken or Stirred, Make Mine a Martini

“One martini is all right.

Two are too many,

and three are not enough.”

James Thurber

I grew up making martinis.

That’s not an admission most people would – or could – make. But in this instance, it plays a part in my larger martini story.

I don’t recall all the details, but I must have been somewhere around 12 years old when I made my first batch of martinis for my mom’s boyfriend, a lawyer who would come over late in the evening for a ritual of watching Perry Mason in syndication after the local late night news, while I made him a shaker of high octane martinis and grilled a steak for him on a Hibachi on the back porch.

When I write it, it sounds weird, but it wasn’t, at least not to me. I enjoyed the responsibility of making a good drink and steak, even though I knew nothing about either. I was more an apple beer and hot dog/hamburger guy. As a kid, I thought steaks required too much chewing and alcohol was strictly for those weird adults.

Being a lawyer, this guy had loud pipes, but I enjoyed him booming about what a great martini I made for him. I wish I could remember the recipe he taught me. It was a very strict ratio of gin (or was he a vodka man? I wish I could recall the fine details, but if I had to bet on it, I would say he was a traditionalist that way, so, definitely gin). Dry vermouth, but little more than a dribble.

“A perfect martini should be made by filling a glass with gin then waving it in the general direction of Italy.”

Noel Coward

The final step in making the martini was shaking the ingredients with “bull cubes,” the lawyer’s term for ice cubes that came from a full tray, rather than wimpy cubes from a tray that wasn’t filled properly. So you wanted to make sure you had the bull cubes for his martini.

I’m pretty sure I poured his icy drink into a large martini glass, and I vaguely recall that he also showed me how to chill that properly before pouring the drink into it.

It would be decades later before I would have a martini, largely because it seemed an effete, perhaps even feminine, cocktail, among my crowd.

“I think I had it in the back of my mind

to sound like a dry martini.”

Paul Desmond

And then in the 1990s someone decided to exploit the martini’s feminine side in the form of Cosmopolitans and other juiced up versions. Martini bars began popping up everywhere. I dug the idea and visited a few, swallowing my previous notion that it might all be a little too frou-frou.

Even though martini bars could be a fun experience, I have to question whether some of those concoctions are martinis or just exotic cocktails in martini glassware?

I forget when I had my first classic martini. Not that long ago. And maybe it wasn’t that classic, because I started with vodka martinis.

Then, finally, I had my first gin martini with a nice herbally gin, a jab of dry vermouth, a squirt of olive juice to dirty things up, and, finally, a big green, garlic-stuffed olive. Ooh, yeah, there we go!

“If it wasn’t for the olives in his martinis he’d starve to death.”

Milton Berle

And that remains my favorite, a dirty martini. However, you do not have to stick to green olives. I found an Italian-style oil-cured black olive that is absolutely delicious in a martini. It’s not juicy like most olives, but it has a deep brininess that is very satisfying in a briny dirty martini.

I’ll end with my very favorite martini quote:

“I like to have a martini, two at the very most

After three I’m under the table,

After four, I’m under my host.”

Dorothy Parker

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