Gin in the City
From its Prohibition-era origins, the classic gin martini has developed into a drink that takes many forms, and the City of London Distillery has developed a range of gins to suit
September 23 2019
For the martini drinker, the following piece of information is vital if you need to deploy any conversational armoury to defend your adoration of the world’s greatest cocktail: Not only was the martini the favourite drink of John D. Rockefeller, the US oil billionaire and philanthropist, but he kept on drinking it right until his death at the age of 97. Proof indeed that the martini’s reputation as a tipple exuding timelessness, wealth and glamour is fully earned.
The origins of the martini are as cloudy as a ‘dirty’ variant with a little too much olive juice. Did it evolve from the ‘Martinez Special’, a concoction brewed up in Martinez, California during the Gold Rush, to celebrate a prospectors big find? Or was it named after the eponymous brand of vermouth that was used in early versions of the cocktail?
Both are plausible tales. What’s certain is that today's drinkers would find early Prohibition-era versions of the martini revolting. These, after all, were the days of dubious bathtub gins and a propensity to mix a gin-to-vermouth ratio of half and half. Today's martinis have the lightest dash of vermouth.
As gin quality improved after Prohibition was repealed, America entered the golden age of the dry martini – the ‘three martini lunch’ was its apotheosis, as later immortalised on television by Don Draper and co in Mad Men.
In the UK, gin was on the wane. Mostly drunk neat since the days it was immortalised in the prints and paintings of 18th century artist William Hogarth, who depicted London’s elaborate gin palaces, its status as a sophisticated cocktail staple wasn’t helped by the fact that vermouth, made on the Continent, was unavailable during the Second World War.
“The only way to make a martini is with ice gold gin", said Winston Churchill "and a bow in the direction of France".
In 2012, the first gin distillery to open in Square Mile in nearly two centuries was founded – The City of London Distillery, which has already won plaudits for its many different types of gin. But according to the brand ambassador, Joe Brayford, there’s another challenge that they’re attempting to conquer:
“For us, the biggest thing we want to do is help to demystify the martini a little bit" he says. "For people who drink martini a lot, it can be easy to get stuck in one way of drinking it, and for people who have never tried one, it can be a slightly daunting since it has just two ingredients and a lot of gin! This is why we want to show how diverse and exciting a martini can be!"
The City of London Distillery’s gin varieties all have their uses in a plethora of modern martini creations. The Square Mile variety has a punch of juniper with plenty of peppery spice
and bright citrus, while the Christopher Wren is more woody and robust. The new Six Bells is a compellingly fresh and zesty creation.
Each City of London gin is suited to different interpretations of the martini, a drink which, despite having only two core ingredients, has managed to evolve into an altogether more complex and nuanced cocktail. Legendary novelist Ernest Hemingway, a committed fan of the dry martini, knew what he was writing about when his protagonist Frederic Henry expressed his appreciation for the drink in A Farewell to Arms: “I had never tasted anything so cool and clean. They made me feel civilized".
Thanks to City of London Distillery, that civility is alive and well, with a bright future.