On the Martini . . .

Allow me to climb the soapbox, in the spirit of Bughouse Square, and declaim for a few moments. My subject is a particular cocktail, what is by many colloquially and euphemistically referred to as an adult beverage. I wish to speak to you about the Martini, and one of the unwritten difficulties it presents. There are some that are well known, primary among them whether to use vodka or gin, and to what degree to allow the vermouth entrée into the recipe. Shaken or stirred? Made with both vodka and gin? What garnish to use? If the ingredients are completely different, but the distinctive glass remains, is it still a Martini?

Well, as it happens, it is about the glass I wish to speak, and the secret challenge it presents. Within its shape and design lies a test that determines the fitness of any man or woman to be worthy of the drink. Permit me an example. If you find yourself at the home of a dear friend, who’s either hired a bartender, or taken it upon themselves to vigorously shake the tumbler and bruise the ice, to determine the exact proportion of vermouth per drink for either the guest before them, or for the party as a whole, then, as a Martini aficionado, there is an obligation to respect the power of the drink, and strive not to spill it onto the feet of whatever party-goers one happens to encounter while navigating a particularly tricky passage from the bar to that easy chair you’ve so assiduously scouted, and so tenderly courted. Then again, if you’ve obtained your Martini while sitting at a public establishment, you need only let the glass sit in front of you, and every once in a while lift it an inch and lean forward, and sip it like a child might pull its milk from a sippy-cup.

It’s all very well and good for the wine drinker, with the softly curving bowl of their glass, which they love to agitate while they swish and sniff the contents. Usually the wine glass is filled only halfway, leaving plenty of margin for error. You’ll notice the wine drinker’s habit of grasping their drink by the stem, an extremely unstable center of gravity, but counteracted by the empty top half of the glass. The Martini glass on the other hand is very often filled to the top, leaving the liquid to lap gently against the edges, which only the slightest nudge can cause to spill. To make matters worse, the Martini is nearly always garnished, usually with olives or a twist of lemon, thereby making the contents even more, if ever so slightly, unstable.

It is a childishly simple task for the drinker of wine to take their just-filled glass and walk from the bar to their seat or waiting friends. The liquid sloshes around (apparently, the wine drinker encourages this, something about aeration) to and fro. The higher the drink count, of course, the more sloshing. But the bowl of their glass, only half-filled, curves inward at the top, minimizing socially awkward liquid-based interactions, that is to say spills. It’s as if the wine glass were designed specifically with insobriety in mind. I imagine the inventor of the wine glass saying something like, we’ll curve the lines like so, and taper them gently, and curve them inward, so as to contain in the glass the many inevitable accidents so endemic to parties since time, or at least since adult beverages, began.

The Martini glass allows no such easement. Its design is a direct rebuke to that of the wine glass. Where the latter is protective, the former is downright hazardous. Its angular profile, and its unforgiving geometric precipitousness, demands constant attention, especially if one insists on aping the wine drinker, and holding the glass by the stem. This will not do. The wise Martini drinker will grasp the recently filled glass around the rim while carrying it, or, barring that, cradle it from beneath with their palm, although this has the distinct disadvantage of warming a drink meant to be consumed cold. They will lift it high and keep it at eye level, especially during the later rounds, when the floor is beginning to feel much like a ship’s deck on a rough patch of sea. When simply sitting and sipping, it is still advisable to continue to avoid the wine drinker’s habit, either by touching only the rim, or by cradling the Martini glass where the stem meets the bowl, much like the drinker of cognac does.

No other beverage glass presents so daunting a challenge. The whiskey drinker’s tumbler is short and squat, as stable as the rock of Gibraltar, and can be held firmly between thumb and palm. The beer drinker’s stein is just as foundationally sound, if not more so, made as it is with a handle for grasping, topped off with light suds that pose little to no threat to the occasional clumsy encounter. And for the drinker of brandy or cognac, although their glass superficially resembles the wine glass, it’s a safer container, with a bowl angling more inward toward the top than its cousin’s, and with a much shorter stem, encouraging the holder to cradle the bottom, which is, we reiterate, always less problematic than grasping the stem.

Here then, is my contribution to the literature of that most iconic of cocktails, the heretofore (and perhaps for good reason) unremarked challenge of the Martini glass, and for the Martini drinker. It is one the wine or beer drinker will never have to face, and may never understand, but one the seasoned and discerning drinker of Martinis will, if they are observant, have taken to heart.

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