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Roger’s Rules

Martinis, the original understanding

March 8th, 2013 - 6:57 am

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.

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.

****

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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All Comments   (13)
All Comments   (13)
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A martini is a 2-1 mixture of gin to dry vermouth, stirred and strained. NOT shaken. Garnish as you wish. What you describe is a variant of the Bradfod, not a Martini.

Adjust as you desire, but the proper and original recipe is above. Reading it directly form my trusty 1947 Trader Vic's bartenders guide.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I do find it ironic how snooty this guy is being about the wrong recipe.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Classic memory of our lost heritage. How I wish I was there to listen in on the conversations of Judge Bork, et,al. Martini in one hand and cigar in the other.

My Preference is, Plymouth Gin, Noilly Prat,(4-1) stirred exactly 30 times, ice chilled sherry glass, rubbed with lemon and a dash of bitters, one olive.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
My Bartender'a Bible disagrees with Judge Bork on shaken vs. stirred, and recommends stirring as the original recipe.
Nonetheless my respect and admiration of a man who would have been a
Supreme Court Justice in a just world remains undiminished!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I'd take either olive or twist. Chilled glass of course. Vermouth splashed in, swirled and emptied. Bombay (not Sapphire). Shaken or stirred? Neither!! No ice touches my martini. Gin goes in the freezer for at least 24 hours, poured directly over the vermouth-coated glass and olive/lemon. It may be a variation on the original, but modern times call for modern adjustments!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The war for civilization must be fought on a thousand fronts.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The vermouth needs to be the driest you can lay your hands on, Noilly Prat for preference, but it needs to be there. Otherwise you're just drinking cold gin. Nothing wrong with that if that's what floats your boat, but it's not a cocktail.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Twist or olives--the choice poses an interesting problem of semantics. It's true that one can't simply order "a martini" and know what one is getting. In that sense, we live in a degraded era. But I notice that you failed to mention Mr. Bork's feelings regarding shaking vs. stirring. Did he himself perhaps leave the barn door open on that one?

At any rate, gin (shaken or stirred) with vermouth and garnished with olives is a fine drink. Lacking a separate name (like the Gibson claims) as a matter of long tradition, we'll just have to go on asking for a gin martini, shaken and served up "with olives". Or "with a twist".

And as we do so, it will serve to remind us that usage becomes convention with the passage of time, and that any break from tradition must be accompanied by logical and comprehensible limits to the exception, lest a "martini with olives" should eventually become a "chocolate vodka martini".
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I share with Mr. Bork the taste for the original formula (or is it recipe?) - Bombay, up with a twist. I respect the man even more!

Olives and the idea of a "dirty" martini just slow down the absorption of the active ingredients - ethanol, non-fuel grade, thank you.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Bombay saphire, two olives, and show it a picture of Antonio Carpano before serving.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Now I've got Serge from Beverly Hills Cop in my head: "Woulda you laak a lymon twaist?"

Three olives in my Bombay martini, thanks. The treat of a gin-soaked olive should be limited. And Tanqueray is too, uh, juniper-y. Perfect with tonic, but not in a martini.

Flame away, friends!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
*should NOT be limited. D'oh.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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