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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.

by
Roger Kimball

Bio

March 8, 2013 - 1:00 pm
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The recent fad of calling almost any clear-liquor drink a martini pained him. For a while, I collected some absurd examples and sent them on to him for his Index Potio Prohibitorum: I wince to recall such toxic-sounding confections as a “smoked salmon martini,” a “chocolate martini,” etc. Once, having ordered a martini, Bob was presented with a drink containing two olives. He sent it back. “If I had wanted a salad,” he told the waiter, “I would have ordered one.”

I hasten to add that this was not pedantry or narrow-mindedness on his part. He often ordered and enjoyed a Gibson, and was not averse to other cocktails.  But a martini was a martini, and if he ordered a martini, that is what he wanted.  There is a famous scene in Through the Looking Glass in which Alice has an exchange with Humpty Dumpty about semantics, identity, and power. It is relevant to Bob’s battle to preserve the martini.

‘I don’t know what you mean by “glory”,’ Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘

‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument”,’ Alice objected.

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’

Bob Bork took a dim view of the Humpty-Dumpty approach to language and to life.  We cannot simply redefine things to suit ourselves. Or rather, we can, but the fate of Humpty Dumpty offers a cautionary tale of what the consequences may be.  You might think it an innocent thing to substitute an olive or two for the specified twist of lemon.  What harm could it do? But start down that road and before you know it you wind up with monstrosities like the “smoked salmon martini.” At that point, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men are helpless.  No, when it came to martinis, Bob Bork was an originalist and we are better off for it.

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Related at PJ Lifestyle from Roger L. Simon: Roger’s Do-It-Yourself Bourbon and More

 And from Vodkapundit Stephen Green: Jazz & Cocktails

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Cross-posted from Roger’s Rules

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All Comments   (5)
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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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