Cocktail Talk: What You Need to Know About the Martini

You’re at a bar and decide to take a chance on a drink you’ve never tried that’s an American classic - the martini. When you order up, you’re overwhelmed with some unexpected questions...


“Gin or vodka?” the bartender asks.


“Shaken or stirred?”


“Do you want it dry? Dirty? On the rocks?”


Uh...what? Suddenly, ordering this simple cocktail is a lot more complicated than you’d anticipated. Don’t waste any more time. Check out all you need to know about the martini cocktail and the terms that go along with it below.


What is a Martini?

As you may have already guessed from the “Cocktail Talk” label of this blog, a martini is an alcoholic beverage. While there are many different kinds of cocktails labeled as “martinis,” according to The Daily Meal, most are just fruity alcoholic drinks. Only a drink exclusively comprised of gin, vermouth, and an olive is a true martini, The Daily Meal says.


Yet, most of us would consider a martini a cocktail made with either gin or vodka mixed with vermouth and garnished. The standard garnish for a martini is an olive (the most classic choice) or a lemon twist. Martinis can be served straight or on the rocks and most commonly will come in a cocktail glass.


Among alcoholic drinks, martinis are known for being one of the most classic cocktails--a choice that is a timeless and an effortlessly elegant bar staple.


Where Did Martinis Come From?

The history of this classic American cocktail can be compared to the feeling you get after having too many of these drinks--a bit fuzzy. Today, there are numerous theories about how the martini came into creation.


What we do know for sure is that the history of the martini can be traced back to the late nineteenth century, as this is when the drink was first consumed and listed in bartending manuals, according to History News Network. Here are some of the theories that follow this fact:


  1. Historians and locals of Martinez, California claim the martini was invented here during the mid-1800s Gold Rush and originally dubbed, “The Martinez Special,” until its popularity spread.
  2. Author Barnaby Conrad III claims the cocktail was invented in San Francisco after a miner requested a pick-me-up at a bar in the city on his way to Martinez, California, Food 52 says.
  3. “Professor” Jerry Thomas is said by some to be the forefather of the modern martini, as he was renowned around the U.S. for his innovative bartending work, Sipsmith London explains. Thomas was also known for publishing the first seminal cocktail manual, The Bar-Tenders Guide.

How to order a martini: Terms to know

Regardless of where the martini originated or which martini-invention legend you choose to believe, there are several terms associated with the cocktail that you’ll want to be aware of before ordering this classic at a bar.


Dirty martini: A martini referred to as “dirty” is simply a martini made with gin (or sometimes vodka), dry vermouth, and a small amount of olive brine or olive juice. Typically, dirty martinis are garnished with a speared green olive. The dash of olive brine in a dirty martini cocktail is meant to add a salty, savory note to the classic cocktail, Liquor.com says. According to Liquor.com, a dirty martini is most commonly stirred and served neat/up.


Extra dirty martini: An extra dirty martini is basically the same cocktail, but served with even more olive brine. The more brine, the more salty, olive flavor in the drink to mask the taste of the alcohol a bit more. So, if you don’t like gin or vodka, this might be a good option for you.


Dry martini: When someone orders a “dry martini,” it means they want their martini with a drizzle of vermouth. An “extra dry martini” means they want the drink with even less vermouth--basically, just asking for a splash, says Drizly.com.


Shaken vs. stirred:

James Bond famously wanted his martini “shaken, not stirred.” Now, some people refer to this kind of martini as a James Bond martini or a James Bond drink. But what’s the difference? When should you shake it up, and when should a martini be stirred?


The concept behind shaking and stirring is pretty self-explanatory. Stirred drinks are, well, stirred. Shaken drinks are made by pouring the drink ingredients into a steel cocktail shaker along with ice, and shaking it to make everything inside cold before pouring it into a glass.


The Best Martini Temperature

Temperature is crucial when it comes to martinis. It’s widely understood that the colder the martini, the better. According to Martini Institute, a martini mix should be below 20 degrees Fahrenheit when it’s poured. While in a shaker, the temperature is best as low as it can go - between 15 and 19 degrees Fahrenheit, Martini Institute recommends.


Of course, we don’t usually use thermometers to measure how cold a drink is. Instead, a good way to make sure the drink you’re making gets cold enough is by pouring the ingredients into an insulated stainless steel shaker and shaking the mixture inside for at least 20 seconds.


While mixing or stirring a martini will speed up the process just a bit, using a shaker to make a martini will help it reach the ideal colder temperatures more quickly.


When you order this alcoholic beverage, you’ll be served the drink in a chilled cocktail glass. Or, serve your next martini at home in a stainless steel martini glass by Snowfox, which will keep the drink cool much longer than a normal cocktail glass would.

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