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Martini is a martini is a martini

Before I begin, I just want to say that I'm not trying to cause trouble, and I hope that replies to this post (if any) won't simply be declarations in favor of one side of this issue.

The issue seems to have begun with a curious confusion of mixology with glassware. For some people (even people who understand the difference, as a recent post makes clear), a cocktail glass is **really** a martini glass. It's not hard to see how that came to be, given the ubiquity of the martini as the drink of fashionable trendsetters from Nick Charles to James Bond. Most people who've seen these movies would never buy glasses made especially for drinking cocktails, so what else would they call that funny-looking glass?

This raises a not-so-interesting question for me: does the difference matter? The answer is, obviously, only to some people; which raises an interesting question: what's the difference between the people for whom it matters, and those for whom it doesn't? If you you've never heard that the glass that a martini is traditionally served in has a name of its own, then clearly you aren't qualified to speak to the issue; but if you're aware of the distinction, what determines whether you choose to recognize it?

I don't see any need to get upset about this--Nick Charles would no doubt have sniffed at the idea of a "vodka martini," but I can't see him getting worked up about it. It just makes me wonder, and I wonder what other people think.

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  1. The difference definitely matters to me. I'm the kind of person that somehow finds value in this sort of distinction, whether it's for drinks, cooking in general, or even word usage and grammar. I'm sure there's all types of adjectives you could think up to describe that, but oh well.

    I suppose I keep it to myself, though, for the most part. If it can be made an interesting part of conversation, I'll talk about the difference, probably getting into my own use of "cocktail" vs. "mixed drink". I'm sure I've converted a friend or two this way at some point, but I try to avoid being the hypercorrecting know-it-all that has to chime in just because a word is misused.

    The distinction, or lack thereof, can be used as an advantage, however, particularly when sizing up the quality of a bar/restaurant drinks menu. I'll allow an establishment some flexibility in naming some cocktail variations "martinis", but there's a point when I figure I should probably just have a beer instead...

    g

    1. It's called an up glass, as in, straight up, no room for ice cubes. Martinis can be served up or on the rocks, I believe, and still be Martinis.

      I hold to the notion that a Martini means gin plus some amount of dry vermouth, with twist or olives, bitters optional.

      Drinks made with vodka or other ingredients aren't, in my opinion, Martinis but you can call them, for example, Vodka Martini, Green Apple Martini, Chocolate-Razzberry-Lime-Coca Cola Martini, etc., I suppose, but if these drinks are worthy they really should have their own names, don't you think? Like the Gibson, which has the same ingredients as a Martini but the garnish is cocktail onions.

      1. Nick and Nora Charles usually drank out of little, rounded 2 or 2-1/2 ounce cocktail glasses, like the ones you'll see in the famous "catch up" scene. (Can't find a picture!)

        Yes, it drives me nuts when all the latest barf drinks are called martinis (or often --double cringe -- Martini's), and no doubt they are served in fishbowl-sized v-shaped glasses. <Green Apple Martini, Chocolate-Razzberry-Lime-Coca Cola Martini, etc.,> should probably be be referred to (in polite society anyway) as "cocktails."

        The champagne saucers used for cocktails at the King Cole bar in NYC are some of my favorite bar glasses. I use all different types at home; I really do like the little 2-1/2 oz.-sized vintage ones because the cocktail doesn't have the chance to get warm. If you want another, you can have a cold one. Or you can just have a civilized nip and then move on to wine with dinner.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Up With Olives

          It makes me cringe too, but that's the direction the lexicon is heading. "Martinis" evoke more of a nostalgic feel than "cocktails", and since everything old is new again these days, the trend is to call any straight up cocktail a martini. Believe me, I wish it didn't go that way either.

          1. re: Up With Olives

            Oh yeah, some friends of mine bought some of those little vintage glasses once and they were really cool. But we were all thinking wow, such small drinks...but then you can just have more of them. Helps when you had servants to make 'em. But in those old movies (from the 40s-50s anyway) they would often make a "pitcher" of Martinis and serve over time. Seems like they would get so watery...I would love to go back in time and see what those drinks tasted like. Then again, maybe not, so much cigarette smoke everywhere...

          2. Personally I could care less if it's called a martini a cocktail or what ever. As long as the drink in it is made with fresh ingredients and good balance bring it on and call it what ever you want.
            After all any martini you get at 99.9% of the bars isn't a martini, based on the original recipe(s). They usually had much more vermouth and orange bitters... maybe even a dash of curaco or marichino liquer.
            So if you're offended by the use of the name you should be offended by someone calling gin with a splash of vermouth a martini.

            1 Reply
            1. re: gymbeaux

              Lucius Beebe was thus offended. "Anything drier than five to one is just iced gin!" he said. I am inclined to agree.

              Many of our more austere cocktails had what we'd consider hilariously elaborate antecedents, if you'll look at (for instance) that famous Savoy cocktail book (with the cover illustration of a guy's silhouette and a lightning bolt going down from his gullet to his gut). There are several recipes for martinis and dry martinis in there, and I don't think one of them is just gin and dry vermouth. I suppose in common with most people I reckon what's normal as being what has occurred during my lifetime, and being a WW2 kid I think the martinis my parents knew were the REAL kind. 1 Tbs vermouth, 2 1/2 oz gin, olive. Bingo. A bit more of both if it's going in the shaker...

            2. I'd like to put in my 2 cents, but I'm really not quite sure what the question is. Is it: "can you call a cocktail glass a martini glass?" Sure, why not?

              I just had a conversation with someone who kept referring to cocktails as martinis, and she never once mentioned a gin drink. *sigh* (gymbeaux, you will be relieved to hear that at least the drinks she was describing had some technique and quality ingredients involved.) Words evolve, and sometimes you have to accept it (after putting up a fight, of course). But calling cocktail glass a martini glass? Not an issue to me.

              Straying off topic a bit, but in regards to someone else's comment: I have found the "Gala" cocktail glass from Crate & Barrel to be the perfect size. I think technically it can hold 6 ounces IF YOU FILL IT TO THE BRIM. So, allowing for a "cuff" between the top of the drink and the edge of the glass, you can really only probably fit about 4.5 oz of liquid in there. If you figure about an ounce of water melts and becomes part of your drink, you are left with only around 3.5 oz (or less) of original ingredients. If you're making a (real) martini, and use, say, 2 oz of gin and a good splash of vermonth, it doesn't look lonely at the bottom of a huge glass (like the fishbowls mentioned earlier). With drinks like a Sidecar or classic Margarita, where you have juice in there as well, you can easily "fill up" that glass to a good level, and still finish your drink before it gets warm.

              1. i can't stand people calling anything other than a martini a martini. if it's with vodka, it's a kangaroo, if it's no vermouth, it's iced booze(technically, a gin "up"). For it to be a martini, it has to have gin and vermouth. it can have variants, but it has to have those. i heard a owner of a local, realtively popular, restraunt say 2 things about making martinis: 1.)never put the vodka in the freezer(sound advice, but he makes the mistake of saying VODKA. not only is he saying it can be vodka, it's assuming it. that's sad even worse is the next) 2.)don't even bother with the vermouth, nobody wants it anyway. so, you're going in, and paying $10 for a martini, that is in fact CHILLED VODKA! yes, their house martini($10) is entirly vodka shaken with ice. I went to another restraunt last week, looked at their cocktail menu, and it was all things they called 'maritini's' made primarily with flavored vodka's and juices. arg. I, personally, will always correct people who call every cocktail a martini, just as i will always order my sidecars, my old fasioned's(no soda please), my harrington's, rusty nails, and satan's whiskers. But that's just me, and i'm stubborn and headstrong.

                2 Replies
                1. re: ashwood

                  If you're going to be that head strong about a martini you MUST add orange bitters... and 1/3 to 1/2 of it should be vermouth. look at any early recipe. If you're going to be a purist be a purist. If not let evolution take it's course.

                2. Kangaroo, thanks, now I know what to tell people they are drinking when they think they are drinking a Martini and it's vodka. I hadn't heard that name, I wonder if bartenders know it. I won't be finding out--I like Martinis (i.e. made with gin...)

                  1. the problem with orange bitters, much as i love it, is that noone has them(well most don't). i ussually have to settle for angosta. and my preferance is actually for 1/4 vermouth. a little bit of evolution is fine, as long as it's micro-evolution, and not macro-evolution.