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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Monday, June 19, 2023

It’s National Martini Day, so… yep. Gonna be talking about martinis. I made one, so I could say I did. Also because I love them.

What can I say about a martini… it’s the kind of drink you can picture yourself with when you’re wearing your best sequined dress and boa.

It’s just that right combination of snooty and elegant where you can feel important ordering one, more important than you would if you ordered, say, a vodka and Coke.

It comes with a certain romantic clout, a je ne sais quoi, where you can say things like je ne sais quoi and people will sort of nod and say oh, she’s drinking a martini.

It’s a bit like an Old Fashioned in that it is very simple to make, which makes it less than simple to make well.

For starters, it has to be COLD, like cold-cold, like out of the freezer cold. It is not a summer drink, it is a wear your sparkly jewelry and go out for a holiday dinner drink.

That doesn’t stop me from drinking one on an 85 degree day, but again, it’s the je ne sais quoi.

Like an Old Fashioned, it also has enough variations that you can try different things for long enough that you never have to worry about getting sober… I mean… bored.

There is also something very elegant and beautiful about martini glasses even though they are stupid creations. The problem is twofold. First of all, you’re drinking two-plus ounces of pure alcohol and trying not to slosh it over the edge of a giant saucer. Tell me how often that works out for you.

Second, you naturally hold onto the saucer part because balancing the thing is hard enough, forget holding it by the stem. But that means you’re warming the glass and the drink in it every time you touch it, which either means you are going to have an unappealing drink or you’re going to drink it with a certain amount of determination.

I do love the glasses though, and I’m pretty determined, so that works out for me.

A martini sits in the beautiful gray space between sipping drinks and pounding drinks.

Whiskey, you sip it. You savor it. You swirl it around all smart and snooty-like and pretend you know things about ethanol on the nose and an oaky finish.

Jell-o shots, well that just says it all, doesn’t it? Some drinks are meant to be done with quickly, usually because they’re not very good in the first place. I mean, really, if you’re drinking vodka and Coke you’re not really in the upper echelon of tipplers, are you? Just saying.

But martinis, they are in the Goldilocks Zone of sipping. You don’t pound them like a shot of schnapps, because that is not classy at all and also it’s a waste of good alcohol. You also can’t spend all day sipping them because then they get warm and unpleasant.

The trick to successful martini consumption is to drink it consistently, until it’s gone, then ask for another. It’s why martini drinkers are some of the happiest on the planet.

And also why they walk very slowly while gracefully flipping their boa over their shoulder. Otherwise how could you keep your drink from sloshing and stand upright at the same time? Martinis were made for slowing down, just a little.

You can see I’ve given this a lot of thought.

It wasn’t until I read a cocktail book recently that I realized there’s as much of a culture around martinis as around the entire bourbon industry.

I mean, you almost need a pocket dictionary to order one.

When you want a whiskey, you basically have to remember whether you like it neat or on the rocks.

But there is a whole etiquette around ordering a martini that includes things like gin or vodka, wet or dry, dirty or filthy, shaken or stirred, and whether you’re going with the classic olive or getting daring with a twist or possibly going off the reservation completely with an onion.

Personally I prefer gin cocktails, because gin has actual flavor. And I like mine filthy, which means put some gin in with my olive brine, please.

Just a few days ago I wrote an ode to gin, on World Gin Day. Apparently there are enough of these days to keep me very wordy. And if ever there was a way to appreciate gin, it’s in a martini.

Plus, only James Bond orders martinis shaken, not stirred, which if you’re in the mood to be a rebel, go ahead, but then I will call you a savage and move on.

Ironic thing about martinis? A wet martini has more dry vermouth. I prefer mine more on the parched side. This is only a thing you learn after drinking enough of them that you can accurately evaluate your gin to vermouth preference along the 1:2 to 15:1 scale. For science.

Not a lot of things are as beautiful as a crystal clear martini with a bright green olive speared in the center.

If you’re into detective mystery snark, you may be familiar with the Dasheill Hammet classic The Thin Man. The main characters, who double as a married couple named Nick and Nora, drink copious amounts of martinis.

They are also responsible for the name of the Nick and Nora glass, in which many a martini is served.

I love that book.

It also wasn’t until recently that I learned an even number of olives is considered unlucky. I used to be so gauche as to put two olives in my martinis, until I learned this fact and now it’s three. Or seven. But never two.

I don’t drink martinis often. They’re the cocktail equivalent of having a special set of China that you only take out when company comes. A drink you think about drinking for a while until you can’t not. A thing to savor when you’re feeling exceptionally civilized.

You don’t get fall down drunk on martinis. You get staggeringly drunk, the kind where you tip your hat to strangers and stroll in the rain.

And that should be sufficient to sound like a hoity toity cocktail drinker. Or maybe just a drunk, who knows. I wasn’t planning on talking about either food or cocktails again, but I couldn’t not. Now, don’t talk to me again until it’s Cynar day. Otherwise people are going to start to worry.

Photo: tonight’s martini, one olive, as we are dangerously low. With a most appropriate cocktail napkin that was a gift from my mother. I’m not sure why the counter is defying physics and sloping down to the left, but quite possibly it had just consumed a martini.