Martini: Shaken, not stirred

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MILWAUKEE – The martini, a venerable drink, is being profaned.

When alcohol and artworks turned into a bad mix recently at a all-you-can-throw-back martini fete at the Milwaukee Art Museum, our effrontery was as clear as Grey Goose.

Perhaps we should have seen the desecration coming when we saw martinis being served from spigots into plastic “glasses” that snapped together. What’s next? Courvoisier in Dixie cups?

And so, dear friends, let us eschew our historic gulp-it-down ways and learn to sip and savor the martini and all that it represents – the classiness we aspire to.

Consider this a mini-martini manual, a Baedeker of cocktail chic.

We’ll guide you through the lingo and the lore. We’ll tell you where to hold your pinkie as you sip, why martini used to be spelled with a “z,” and why – for those on such intimate terms with beer – hard liquor and the all-you-can-drink approach make for an embarrassing hangover.

Don’t be uncouth

The etiquette of martini drinking has loosened up in recent years, certainly, but according to a few who man martini shakers – Nicholas Williams of Sauce, Amber Williams of Coquette Cafe and Jim Conley of Elsa’s on the Park, all in Milwaukee – a few rules apply:

• Ordering the drink: By classical standards, the froufrou martinis in fruity flavors are not martinis at all. They just make the alcohol go down more easily. Get a top-shelf vodka. That matters in a martini.

• Holding the drink: The stem is there for a reason. Handle as little as possible so it stays cold. You don’t have to stick your pinkie out or anything, but holding a martini gently adds to the elegance.

• Behaving with the drink: A martini is a little more dressed-up drink, kind of like champagne. It’s not for sitting there in overalls. It’s the same with any drink, just behave yourself.

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5 martini facts

Drink on this. Martinis come in many sizes, from 5½ to 10 ounces. Here are a few facts about traditional gin or vodka martinis, made with 6 ounces of alcohol.

• Beer vs. martinis: Drinking one martini made with 6 ounces of 80-proof distilled gin or vodka is the same as gulping four 12-ounce beers.

• The martini diet: One martini? About 384 calories, according to Calorie-count.com. A Krispy Kreme doughnut? 200 calories. Hmph.

• Pick your poison: No matter how you swig your martini – with gin or vodka – you’re going to get just as drunk with one as you do the other, said Cheryl Kubinek, a bartender at Eddie Martini’s in Wauwatosa, Wis. Drink two glasses of water for every one martini to squelch the urge to climb on expensive sculptures.

• Be shaken, not stirred up: Sip a martini with class and decorum like international spy guy James Bond, Margo Channing in “All About Eve,” Nick and Nora Charles of “The Thin Man” or Carrie Bradshaw of “Sex and the City.”

A ‘tini timeline

The martini started as quickie drink at old-time saloons, grew up to be the swanky choice at lounges, then gate-crashed the beer bash. Here’s a short history:

There are competing versions of the origin of the martini, but don’t tell that to the folks in Martinez, Calif. They claim that in 1874, a miner walked into a local saloon with a fistful of nuggets, requesting “something special.” The bartender, Julio Richelieu, mixed 2/3 parts gin with 1/3 part dry vermouth and a dash of orange bitters, poured it over crushed ice and garnished it with an olive. He told the miner the drink was called the “Martinez,” but after the miner had two or three, the “z” was, uh, dropped.

By the beginning of the 20th century, the martini was an established American cocktail, but its popularity grew considerably during Prohibition. During that period, whiskey was hard to get because it required skillful blending and long aging. Because gin was easy to produce – sometimes in bathtubs – martinis became the drink of the speak-easy. Martini glasses were about 1/3 the size of today’s martini – hence the possibility of “three martini lunches.”

Wine coolers ruled the ’80s, but martinis had a renaissance in the late ’90s, when lounges offering flavors from chocolate to apricot became fashionable. Bartenders switched from gin to vodka because it mixed better with fruit juices.

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