Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Martini, and the Understanding of the Framers

The ever-lovin' Wonkette reports that the combative, famously "Borked" former U.S. Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork has gone out on a limb with yet another controversial stand in a recent letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal:

Martini's Founding Fathers: Original Intent Debatable

Eric Felten's essay on the dry martini is itself near-perfect ("Don't Forget the Vermouth," Leisure & Arts, Pursuits, Dec. 10). His allusion to constitutional jurisprudence is faulty, however, since neither in law nor martinis can we know the subjective "original intent" of the Founding Fathers. As to martinis, the intent may have been to ease man's passage through this vale of tears or, less admirably, to employ the tactic of "candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker."

What counts in mixology is the "original understanding" of the martini's essence by those who first consumed it. The essence remains unaltered but allows proportions to evolve as circumstances change. Mr. Felten's "near-perfect martini" is the same in principle as the "original-understanding martini" and therefore its legitimate descendant. Such latter-day travesties as the chocolate martini and the raspberry martini, on the other hand, are the work of activist bartenders.

Mr. Felten lapses into heresy only once. He prefers the olive to the lemon peel because the former is a "snack." Dropping a snack into a classic drink is like garnishing filet mignon with ketchup. The correct response when offered an olive is, "When I want a salad, I'll ask for it."

Robert H. Bork
The Hudson Institute

I, too -- along with the estimable Ms. Cox -- happen to agree with Judge Bork's assessment of the silliness of such creations as the chocolate martini and the raspberry martini. Indeed, if we're throwing silly drinks around, I would immediately hurl an apple martini into that very same swill-bucket.

However, I would observe that Judge Bork's arguments regarding the heresy of the olive as a garnish for a true martini reveal the problems inherent, in both jurisprudence and mixology, within Judge Bork's use of "original understanding" as a decisional methodology.

We all have our favorite framers. I prefer John Jay, for example, to Ben Franklin -- but that's just me, I suppose. In the world of the cocktail, I prefer David Embury, who offers his own opinion regarding the perfect martini in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks (1948; reviewed by yours truly in a previous post here). After citing several popular yet mediocre recipes for a martini, Embury offers the following as a preferred formula:


1 part Lillet Vermouth
7 parts imported English Gin
Stir well ["If you shake the martini, it becomes a Bradford," according to Embury] in a bar glass or Martini pitcher with large cubes of ice and pour into chilled cocktail glasses. Twist lemon peel over the top.

The distinction between the Martini and the Gibson is simple. The Martini is served with an olive, the Gibson with a small pickled cocktail onion.
If you can get olives stuffed with any kind of nuts, they make the perfect accompaniment to a Martini.

Embury insists that his 7-to-1 ratio was derived after extensive experimentation, and that it is the proportion "most pleasing to the average palate," although some have been known to prefer a ratio as high as 10-to-1.

You and your framer can protest all you want, but if my framer says I can have an olive (even an olive stuffed with a nut!), then by the Constitution of this great land of ours, I will have one.

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Blogger Lonnie Bruner said...

Excellent. Thanks.

I'd also add that a vodka "martini" is not a martini. Only gin should be used.

1:00 PM  
Blogger 8 Count said...

I'd also add that a vodka "martini" is not a martini. Only gin should be used.

Here, here!

6:48 PM  
Anonymous M Noot said...

If you asked me a month ago if I would like to go over to Robert H. Bork’s place for a few drinks and conversation I would have jumped at the opportunity but now I’m not sure. I agree there is no place in a civilized world for these new flavored martinis. I say NEW because a real martini is flavored. The flavor is GIN. Gin and an olive I should say. Despite its lack of color we should all remember Gin in not just a fermented white grain mash . Each distiller has its own recipe for Gin and I for one would like to see more opportunities for Gin tasting events. Each premium Gin has a character of its own blending the perfect ratio of juniper berries and other botanicals. But back to my problem with Mr. Bork and my support of the writer of this blog. An olive is the perfect compliment to Gin not a lemon twist. And most heinous of all, a twist that is allowed to bob around in my conical shaped vessel holding the elixir that was surely the choice of those on Mt Olympus whenever Dionysus was passed out in the corner on top of his cork screw. Have you ever smelled a lesser god after a three day bender? The slightly briny, somewhat oily and soft round flavors of an olive or two on a skewer adds so much to a great Gin. As far as the "salad" comment. At least when my wife asks if I have had any vegetables that day I can look her in the eye and say "I have had my greens today." And by the way, vermouth should be used very sparingly. 10 to 1 works well. In-and-out is nice. But I like to be able to blow the dust off the top of mine. I go for the biblical recipe. Put ice and a nice gin in a shaker (we can debate shaken and stirred later) take the bottle of vermouth and Pass-it-over the shaker. Shake, Pour, Drink, Repeat as needed. So if the Judge invites me over I’ll go, but I’m bringing my own olives.

5:18 PM  
Blogger Lonnie Bruner said...

Dear Mr. "m noot",

That was poetry. Please start a blog, then email me the URL.



11:20 PM  

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