Until Dietz Fischer opened his distillery, I had never drunk a Martini. I had never had an occasion to do so, nor had I ever longed for one. After all, could there possibly be a drink superior to a Margarita? A martini is a cocktail made with vodka or gin as well as vermouth and garnished with an olive or a lemon twist. It is the best-known mixed alcoholic beverage in the world, yet its exact origin remains somewhat unclear. Henry Louis Mencken, an American satirist, claims that a Martini, “is the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet.” The Martini remains the undisputed king of the cocktail world. What other drink has its own glass in which in it is served – the iconic V-shaped bowl on a stem? It’s strong, it’s supposedly even sophisticated, but is the Martini perfectly American? Like many famed creations, there are multiple claims.
Dietz Distillery offers a variety of cocktails made from the spirits he distills from Gillespie County fruits and mostly Texas sourced ingredients. He began production late last season utilizing the last variety of our peaches and the pears from our 81-year-old-trees that my father planted. More fruit-based spirits will follow this year and we have planted more pears, quince, plums, peaches, and apples for future distilling.
I was limited to only 3 different drinks at my first tasting. I decided the wisest way to understand Dietz’s offerings was to drink the same drink each day for at least a week before trying another. Dietz also loaned me his book by Tristan Stephenson, The Curious Bartender: The Artistry and Alchemy of Creating the Perfect Cocktail. It’s a fascinating read. I hadn’t known nor understood why using shaved or cracked ice made any difference to a drink, but there is a science to that. I am still muddling my way through the book, but at least I am beginning to understand the wonderful art involved in making a cocktail.
Many historians follow the Martini back to a miner who struck gold in California during the frenzy of the gold rush days. The story goes that he walked into a bar and asked for a special drink to celebrate his new fortune. The bartender threw together what he had on hand — fortified wine (vermouth) and gin, and a few other goodies — and called it a Martinez, after the town in which the bar was located. Perhaps it did evolve from a drink called the Martinez, but there are other claims. Jerry Thomas, “the Father of American Mixology”, wrote the Bartender’s Guide, How to Mix all Kinds of Plain and Fancy Drinks in 1887. Thomas displayed creativity and showmanship while preparing drinks and established the image of a bartender being a creative professional. He invented and served the Martini at the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco which was built in stages between 1848 and 1855. Others link the Martini to the Knickerbocker Hotel, a 1911 Five Star Luxury Times Square Hotel in New York City. And so, the debate began!
California came out fighting for the rightful claim to the Martini’s invention due to its history with the Gold Rush and the Occidental Hotel, but the Knickerbocker Hotel in New York swooped in to lay its claim. It seems that the bar was frequently visited by John D. Rockefeller, for whom its mixologist claimed to have invented the Martini. I guess the Rockefeller name held more weight than the historical dates. No matter who created it, experts agree that a Martini must be made and presented with style, and that is the way it is done at Dietz Distillery.
The earliest written reference to a Martini Cocktail can be found in Wehman’s Bartenders’ Guide, a book published in 1891. For some a Martini is surprisingly strong. Just as I discovered as I sipped on my first. Wehman concludes that it often takes a few attempts to really engage with it, but as others have written, at some time something special will happen: the drink will make perfect sense. And this is what I began to experience toward the end of my week’s trial. Perhaps it is the simplicity and magic that makes the Martini such a holy sanctity.
It was Prohibition that led to the Martini’s rise, but it has become a drier drink since Prohibition’s repeal. During World War II, Winston Churchill would argue that a martini is dictated by how little vermouth goes into it. He allegedly preferred his Martinis so dry that merely his glance across the room at a bottle of vermouth would suffice for his. By the 1970s Martinis were beginning to be seen as just being plain and old-fashioned. More intricate drinks became fashionable, but by the mid-1990s, Martinis began making a remarkable resurgence.
You’ll have to decide whether to stir or to shake. Watch as Dietz prepares yours. Which creates greater aeration? Tiny bubbles of air trapped within the drink create a slightly cloudy appearance. A shaken martini does look different. Which might cause the drink to lose its ‘mellow’ and ‘yellow” qualities. That degree of a perfectionist, I will never be, but I can now tolerate drinking one and admire how Dietz has chosen to stir his.
The purpose of a Dry Martini is to be an aperitif, an alcoholic drink taken before a meal to stimulate one’s appetite — not that I have a problem with that, but I have discovered that it’s all about taste in more ways than I had ever thought possible. If one can stir up one’s flow of saliva it will help carry flavor across one’s palate. After eighty-one years, I have discovered that a Martini is the perfect beginning.
Dietz Distillery Five Judges Gin Martini
2 oz Five Judges Gin
Place 3 cubes of ice in a coupe glass and fill a mixing glass with ice.
Add the gin to the mixing glass and stir thoroughly (around 75 turns).
Also stir the 3 ice cubes in the coupe glass (holding the base with one hand to prevent the glass from overturning).