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I SAVOR A Bombay Sapphire Martini, up, with a twist, on special occasions, the most recent being the Presidential and Vice Presidential Debates. Coincidentally, The New Yorker recently posted Roger Angell’s “Dry Martini,” originally appearing August 12, 2002. Angell wrote back then, “The Martini is in, the Martini is back.” Here are tidbits from his article, together with my usual Internet sleuthing and special tastings.
High Style and a Gasoline Stain. Angell enthused, “… all over town, extremely thin young women hold their stemmed cocktail glasses at a little distance from their chests and avidly watch the shining oil twisted out of a strip of lemon peel spread across the pale surface of their gin or vodka Martini like a gas stain from an idling outboard.”
He evidently shares my love of a twist, and I like his imagery of the outboard’s gasoline stain.
Martini Offspring. The classic Martini is gin with a hint of vermouth. H.L. Mencken called it “the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet.”
Variations include adding a dash of cranberry juice, grapefruit-cassis, or other alleged enhancement. I like Angell’s line: “All they are worried about—the tiniest dash of anxiety—is that this prettily tinted drink might allow someone to look at them and see Martha Stewart.”
An Historical Incident. “In the summer of 1939,” Angell wrote, “King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited President Franklin Delano Roosevelt at Hyde Park—it was a few weeks before the Second World War began—and as twilight fell F.D.R. said, ‘My mother does not approve of cocktails and thinks you should have a cup of tea.’ The King said, ‘Neither does my mother.’ Then they had a couple of rounds of Martinis.”
Waxing Poetic. Angell shares Ogden Nash’s “A Drink with Something in It.”
“There is something about a Martini,/ A tingle remarkably pleasant;
A yellow, a mellow Martini;/ I wish I had one at present.
There is something about a Martini/ Ere the dining and dancing begin,
And to tell you the truth,/ It is not the vermouth—
I think that perhaps it’s the gin.”
A World War II Commentary. Angell recalled, “In the Pacific, where I was stationed, a couple of Navy fighter pilots told me a dumb story they’d heard in training, about the tiny survival kit that was handed out to flight-school graduates headed for carrier duty. ‘Open Only in Extreme Emergency,’ it said—which seemed to be the case of a pilot north of Midway whose Grumman quit cold a hundred miles away from his flattop. After ditching, he climbed into his inflatable raft, regarded the empty horizon that encircled him, and opened the kit. Inside was a tiny shaker and a glass, a stirring straw, a thimbleful of gin, and an eyedropper’s worth of vermouth. He mixed and stirred, and was raising the mini-cocktail to his lips when he became aware that vessels had appeared from every quarter of the Pacific and were making toward him at top speed. The first to arrive, a torpedo boat, roared up, and its commanding officer, shouting through his megaphone, called, ‘That’s not the right way to make a dry Martini!’ ”
My Iconoclastic Approach. I confess my approach runs counter to advice of Harper’s columnist Bernard De Voto, quoted by Angell: “You can no more keep a Martini in the refrigerator than you can keep a kiss there. The proper union of gin and vermouth is a great and sudden glory; it is one of the happiest marriages on earth and one of the shortest.”
We rarely have ice in our fridge, so instead I keep the gin there. When the spirit moves me, I put the glass in the fridge as well to chill it. I don’t bother chilling the vermouth; I guess De Voto would consider its kiss to be luke-warm.
A Mother’s Style. Angell recalled, “We drank a lot, we loved to drink, and some of us did not survive it. Back in college, the mother of a girl I knew would sometimes fix herself a silver shaker of Martinis at lunchtime and head back upstairs to bed. ‘Good night,’ she’d say. ‘Lovely to see you.’ ”
Gin Versus Grass. Angell posited, “It’s my theory—a guess, rather—that Martini drinking skipped a generation after Vietnam and marijuana came along.”
My experience with marijuana, albeit a brief one, dated from my days in the Caribbean. St. Thomas was a free port, where the best of gins were particularly inexpensive and grass was not unknown. In one of my rare experiments and with an especially potent product, I had a hoot of an afternoon watching a Donna Reed flick on the TV.
Except we didn’t have a TV at the time. I was staring at the front of the stereo.
Angell concluded his article with “Squeeze the lemon peel across the surface—you’ve already pared it, from a fat, bright new lemon—and then run the peel, skin-side down, around the rim of the glass before you drop it in. Serve. Smile.”
Gee, I never thought to run the peel around the rim of the glass. I must give it a try. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020