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July 2001
Vol. 10, No. 07, p 72.
 
 
 
Lighter Elements
"IT SEEMS THE ENVIRONMENTAL PEOPLE, THE HEALTH DEPARTMENT, AND THE FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION ALL HAVE RESERVATIONS ABOUT THIS PLACE."
Stirred, Not Shaken
The martini is probably America’s favorite aperitif. Bernard De Voto called it “the supreme American gift to world culture”. H. L. Mencken proclaimed it “the only American invention as perfect as a sonnet”. Even at the height of the Cold War, when served a particularly potent sample of our national drink, Nikita Khrushchev admitted that it was “the USA’s most lethal weapon”.

The cone-shaped, stemmed martini glass with its obligatory olive is an American symbol as universal as the cowboy, blue jeans, or Coca-Cola.

Because everyone concedes the martini is an American invention, it’s not surprising that our leaders have partaken of it on a regular basis. Among Republicans were Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and George Bush, but the most famous presidential martini imbiber was a Democrat. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was chief priest of the martini ritual, which, for many aficionados, has become as ritualized as the Japanese tea ceremony. Becoming president in 1933, the year of the repeal of 13 years of Prohibition, FDR claimed to mix “the first legal martini”.

As time passed, the main desideratum became dryness. Many methods were devised to keep the amount of vermouth to an absolute minimum: Pour the gin into an empty vermouth bottle and then over ice. Pour the vermouth over ice cubes in a sieve over a sink, and pour the gin over the same ice cubes into a pitcher. Allow an electric fan to blow across the top of an open vermouth bottle toward the pitcher or shaker. Place the vermouth bottle next to the gin and turn it slowly so the label with the word “vermouth” is exposed to the gin. Finally, for ultimate dryness, whisper the word “vermouth” over the gin or just salute in the general direction of France.

Martini guzzlers view their potation with such reverence that they incessantly search for the ideal martini. So a standard of perfection was proclaimed against which all martinis should be judged. Developed by the American Standards Association and approved on August 31, 1966, the tongue-in-cheek document included nomenclature, sizes, ingredients, proportions, mixing methods, and test procedures. An article, “Shaken, not stirred: bioanalytical study of the antioxidant activities of martinis,” by six Canadian scientists (Brit. Med. J, 1999, 319, 1600) received widespread media coverage.

However, James Bond was wrong (pace Ian Fleming)! Although shaking produces a colder cocktail more quickly than stirring, with some cocktails “eye appeal” is paramount. Such a suave aesthete as 007 should have known that a substantial part of the martini’s charm is its clear, almost scintillating translucence. A stirred cocktail will remain clear, while a shaken one will appear cloudy or muddy, especially if vermouth or another wine is an ingredient.

So while the Canadian researchers have reported that shaken martinis have more antioxidant power than stirred ones, I’ll stick to vitamins C and E as my preferred antioxidants. Cheers! A votre santé! Salud! Prosit! Skål! L’chaim! Na zdorov’e! Egészségére!

George B. Kauffman


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