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Is Martini Becoming A Generic Term?

Nov 1, 2006
2006 / November 2006

In chapter seven of the 1953 novel Casino Royale, author Ian Fleming’s first venture into the 007 series, suave secret agent James Bond orders “a dry martini. One. In a deep champagne goblet. Three measures of Gordon’s (gin), one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large, thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?”

We got it, especially the part about its being shaken, not stirred (shaking chills the beverage as all vodka drinks should be chilled). But is Bond’s so-very-specific beverage a traditional martini? In fact, it’s not. A traditional martini is usually five or six parts dry gin, one part dry vermouth, shaken, strained into a chilled glass and served with an olive. No vodka.

And with a few variations, that is the elegant liquid classic that blazed through the Jazz Age to capture the intrigue of connoisseurs and — by the end of World War II — nearly everyone else.

But cocktails, like hemlines, have their ups and downs, and eventually the martini lost its notoriety — until America embraced vodka. As this ubiquitous spirit became a fashionable substitute for aromatic gin, purists were shaken — not stirred — declaring the death of the martini. Trendsetters, though, heralded the rebirth of the cocktail Bond made famous.

The trendsetters were right.

The martini has soared to new prominence with versions made with brandy, rum, port, sake, tequila, cranberry juice, fresh ginger, hot pepper — you name it. Is this possible?

“It depends on how one defines martini,” said Dale DeGroff, bar master extraordinaire. “In 1806, the word ‘cocktail’ was the name of a particular drink. Other drinks disappeared but the name cocktail stayed, becoming the generic word for hundreds of other drinks. That’s what happening with ‘martini.’ For a new generation, it has become another word for cocktail.”

In 1953 James Bond already sensed the change when he demanded both gin and vodka in his martini, albeit a specific gin, a generic vodka. Two years later, in chapter five of “Moonraker,” it was a martini made with a specific vodka, “prewar Wolfschmidt from Riga,” that intrigued him.

And what kind of a martini will Bond be ordering when “Casino Royale” hits theaters this month? We can only guess that it will be cutting edge. After all, Bond is a man who keeps up with the times.

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