Who invented the gin martini?
Among martini drinkers, there are few disputes that lead to a barroom brawl. But that doesn’t mean the high-end cocktail crowd agrees on everything. Take, for instance, the origins of the drink they love to clink. The foggy history of the king of cocktails has pitted city against city, country against country and bartender against bartender.
For example, legend has it that in 1862, San Francisco bartender Jerry Thomas mixed the original gin and vermouth concoction that would later become known as the martini for a traveller journeying from San Francisco to Martinez, Calif.
The folks in Martinez, tell a different version. They argue that the forerunner of the martini was invented by Julio Richelieu at Julio’s bar on Ferry Street.
According to an explanation by Lowell Edwards in The Silver Bullet , a miner on his way to San Francisco stopped at Julio’s, ordered a drink and paid for it with a gold nugget. Instead of change, he asked for something special. Julio combined gin and vermouth, added an olive and launched a legend.
G.L. and B.E. Herter argue in Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices at, “The martini drink is strictly German.”
They maintain that German music composer J.P. Schwarzendorf drank Dutch gin mixed with dry white wine and cinnamon. When Schwarzendorf moved to France, he changed his last name to Martini, which became the nickname among friends for his unique drink.
For purists, ground zero of martini history is the Knickerbocker Hotel in Manhattan. Around 1911, head bartender Martini di Arma di Taggia was selling a drink with equal parts London Gin, Noilly Prat vermouth with some orange bitters added. Regular Knickerbocker customer John D. Rockefeller gravitated to the cocktail, which then spread among the corporate elite on Wall Street.
It is sometimes said that the martini is named after Martini and Rossi vermouth or after the Martini-Henry rifle, used by the British army in the late 1800s.
The debate over the origins and the history of the martini includes skirmishes over the drink’s name. The earlier versions of the martini in the 1880s were referred to as the martinez. The name martini, according to Edwards, doesn’t appear until 1888. So for much of the late 19th century and early 20th century, writers of the American bar scene battled it out over what this increasingly popular drink would be called.
And there are the enduring battles over the martini’s ingredients and proportions. As early as 1896, Thomas Stuart writing in Stuart’s Fancy Drinks and How to Mix Them, suggests replacing the sweet Old Tom gin with Plymouth Gin, adding French vermouth and orange bitters, thus creating the forerunner to the dry martini.
Disputes about the correct proportion of vermouth in a martini continue to this day, but most martini traditionalists share a common horror when they walk into a modern cocktail bar and are handed a menu with 45 styles of martinis.