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Martini History A Medicinal Application

The martini owes its heritage to gin, a mixture of grain alcohol and juniper berry oil. Gin was originally concocted by a 17th century Dutch medical professor named Francois de Boe Sylvius to relieve kidney disorders and to purify the blood. Gin also treated stomach aches, gout and gallstones so it is easy to imagine how popular genever was, especially since it gave the drinker a nice buzz. Genever, the Dutch word for juniper, or gin was also pretty tasty and cheap and easy to produce.

The accomplice to gin in the making of a martini is vermouth. Vermouth is an old drink, borne in the 1700s in Italy. Oddly, its name is a German derivative of the English word for wormwood: welmut, a remedy for intestinal worms, jaundice and rheumatism.

Vermouth is a different drink today than it was in those days. Back then, vermouth was a sweet red dessert drink that was believed to hold special healing powers. Drinking it also meant that Europeans could forego drinking their own polluted water. It was made from a blend of juniper ( derivative of gin), workwood flowers, orange peel, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander, mace, marjoram, brandy, white wine and tree bark. Interestingly, vermouths first visit in the US was to apothecary shops.

Today, vermouth - whether sweet, dry or half-sweet is really white wine infused with special herb and spice blends, alcohol, sugar and caramel.

The martini, through the years, has been referred to as a martinez or martine yet its pungent, trance-like taste and look remained constant: sweet taste and straw-like color. By the time the 20th century rolled around, the martini was only referred to as the martini and its look was transparent because it was made of 1 part gin and 1 part dry vermouth. As refrigerators began to replace ice boxes in the 20th century, gin began to dominate the martini by 2:1.

How the Martini was Named

There are as many storied origins of the martini as there are ways to make one. Some believe that a New York bartender named Martini invented the drink in 1912 while some believe it to be invented in San Francisco by Professor Jerry Thomas around 1850 for a miner on his way to Martinez, California. Lore says that a miner placed a nugget of gold on Jerrys bar and challenged him to concoct something special. The result was the Martinez, the said prototype of the Martini. The Martinez was first published in The Bartenders Guide in 1887, the first bartenders manual of its kind and was made with a full wine glass of sweet vermouth, one (1) ounce of Old Tom Gin, some bitters and a dash or two of maraschino. In those days, if the drink werent sweet enough, gum syrup was added.

The citizenry of Martinez, California believe that the martini was first concocted right there in Martinez by a bartender named Julio Richelieu in 1870. They claim that a miner became disenchanted with the whiskey Richelieu served him. After all, he paid for the whiskey with a pouch of gold. So, Richelieu concocted a glass of gin, vermouth, orange, bitters and an olive to make up for the difference. Thus was born the Martinez.

The Oxford English Dictionary credits Martini and Rossi with the martini. In 1871, the company, then named Martini e Sola, shipped 100 cases of red vermouth to New York. Unfortunately, this was 20 years later than Jerry Thomas concoction and a full year later than Richelieus serving to a disgruntled miner.

The British think the martini is derived from a British-made rifle called a Martini & Henry used by the English army between 1871 and 1891 because of its kick.

New Yorkers insist that a bartender at the Knickerbocker Hotel named Martini di Arma di Taggia invented it in 1911 for John D. Rockefeller. Unfortunately, this was also after the published bartenders manual in 1887. True or not, it seems to be the first time the martini forged its way into Wall Street and big business lunch deals. Incidentally, Rockefeller took his martini with London Dry Gin, dry vermouth, bitters, lemon peel and one olive.

Some think it was first discovered in Martinez, California while others believe it was invented by a 19th-century Italian chef in London who named it after his grandfather.