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How Robert Bork Defended The Original Martini

Bob observed that the original martini was a careful mixture of three or four (or five or six) parts gin (preferably Bombay or Tanqueray) to one part vermouth.

Roger Kimball


March 8, 2013 - 1:00 pm
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Yesterday, a colleague passed along a request for some information about Robert H. Bork’s position on Martinis. Since Bob’s death in December, we have seen many reflections about his opinions regarding the law. Next week, Encounter Books, where I hang a hat, will be publishing Saving Justice: Watergate, the Saturday Night Massacre, and Other Adventures of a Solicitor General. This memoir about Bob’s tenure as Solicitor General and Acting Attorney General during the Watergate crisis provides a fascinating glimpse into the engine room of American politics in the tumultuous year of 1973. This period, too, has received its share of commentary.

Rather less ink, however, has been dispensed to explain Bob Bork’s philosophy of the martini. A full disquisition would doubtless be lengthy. Here I will confine myself to sharing with readers the comments I sent on to that journalist who is doing research into what H. L. Mencken called “the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet.” “The first thing to be understood,” I wrote, “is that Bob Bork was an originalist when it came to martinis, just as he was about the law and many other things in life.

There is a recipe, whose exact origins are lost in the mists of time, but whose lineaments have been passed down through the generations. We introduce innovation into this hallowed process at our peril.

I once suggested Bob write a book with the title: Martinis: The Original Understanding. He was partial to The Road to Hell is Paved with Olives. Bob observed that the original martini was a careful mixture of three or four (or five or six) parts gin (preferably Bombay or Tanqueray) to one part vermouth. The whole was shaken (not stirred) over ice in a cocktail shaker, served in a chilled martini glass, and garnished with a twist of lemon. A twist of lemon, mind you.  That is what a martini was.

On the occasion of his eightieth birthday, I gave Bob a silver vermouth dispenser in the shape of an tiny old-fashioned oiling can (you can get them at Tiffany’s).  He found it amusing, but he regarded the unbridled diminution of vermouth, favored by many asking for a dry martini, as dangerously latitudinarian.

He recognized, however, that the battle to preserve the martini had far more radical enemies than the vermouth minimalists. One large heresy concerned the very foundation of the martini: gin. People might ask for a “vodka martini” (let’s say) but that concoction, though possibly delicious (my concession, not his) was not a martini.

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Vermouth is what us gin-swilling drunkards use to keep from being called gin-swilling drunkards. ;)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
19th Century gin, the kind with which the martini was invented, had a much stronger juniper influence than modern almost tasteless gin. There are some boutique distillers that still make old-fashioned gin and it is heavy, almost oily, and smells and tastes a lot like juniper - or pine needles. Costco was selling a boutique gin made in San Franciso, where many think the martini originated, a few years back. Some friends and I bought a bottle and some vermouth had had a martini fest on my boat. Mixed three to one or even two to one and shaken, garnished with lemon peel, it is a very tasty and very powerful drink; don't be planning on doing much or going anywhere after a couple of them!

What was the old Dorothy Parker thing?

I like martinis/
I like them the most.
With two I'm under the table/
With three I'm under the host.

Or something like that. Martinis aren't as good as tequilla at making a woman's clothes fall off, but they're more civilized about it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Do yourself a favor and try this:

1. Select a great gin. I favor Beefeater, particularly the new Beefeater 24, but Bombay works and if push comes to shove so does good ol' Seagrams.
2. Select a great dry vermouth. To the best of my knowledge there is only one: Noilly Prat.
3. Shave off a portion of a lemon peel about the size of three postage stamps.
4. Get yourself an ice-filled shaker.
5. Combine gin and vermouth in shaker at 3:1 ratio. 3 gin, 1 vermouth.
6. Shake until your hands are almost too cold to hold the shaker.
7. Pour into frosted martini glass.
8. Forget about olives. Take a piece of lemon peel, hold over the martini, give it an aggressive twist, and then plunk the peel right into the martini.

Liquid nirvana.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Having been a bartender I can say that I rarely was asked to make a traditional Martini. Not even many older (in the early 1980's) customers asked for the traditional. Also, the lemon peel -- by the time I was a barkeep -- had become the garnish for the dry martini. In this age of excess the modest-sized martini glass has become enormous, and the garnishes have multiplied from single olives to an entire skewer of them.

Martinis were out of vogue when I became of drinking age, but they enjoyed a revival among the young in the 90's with the brief, mixed-up, anachronistic "swing" craze that seemed to conflate/collapse all the years of the 20th century preceding the birth of the "swing" enthusiasts. Faux-swing has been discarded, but the Martini -- sort of -- is back.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Alice's conversation with Humpty-Dumpty is a perfect distillation of modern "progressive" argument styles. Obama "Humpty-Dumptys" on a regular and frequent basis.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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