Martini Culture: the 1966 Martini standard code


What is a martini? Martini drinkers have very different views on this. On one side the purists: no vodka (that will be a vodkatini, or a Kangaroo), precise proportions, straight-flavoured gin, and absolutely no shaking. In a nutshell: for a purist the favourite drink of James bond is NOT a Martini. On the other, the more flexible drinkers that like Appletinis, Espresso martinis, and all kinds of drinks that get designated a “martini” just because they are served in a martini glass.

In 1966, at the peak of the Martini fame, the American National Standard Institute (ANSI) felt the need to put some order and to standardize martini practices. “The need for an American Standard Dry Martini has been widely recognized by many segments of the manufacturing, distributing, and consuming public since the martini cocktail’s appearance”, they stated. The result is the Safety Code and Requirements for Dry Martinis, and is very enjoyable:

At first, I was impressed by the fact that such a serious organisation, that sets standard practices for industries from livestock to energy, had decided to focus on a cocktail, but after reading the standard, where they strongly defend the original dry martini above all others, I realised it was a very good hoax.

The document is in fact loaded with jokes, like the conclusion of its foreword, which states that “when the committee sobers up it will be in condition to consider further developments in the state of the art.” Another fantastic point is the definition of a Gibson: “An unpardonable form of perversion. See Onion Soup”.

In an article on VinePair, Nick Hines has researched how such a humorous but at the same time apparently serious document came about. He writes that “despite the manual being referenced in books, relevant sources I reached out to were surprised I even found it”. Finally, he wa sbel to get the truth by ANSI itself, which explained that the standard was a novelty joke”, “kind of a lark and a way of showing people what a standard is, in kind of a user-friendly and fun way.” So, a marketing piece, that still deserves a full reading, since it contains some guidelines on how to prepare a martini. Here is how Hines describes them:

1. Leave the onions alone. A martini with an onion, which is called a Gibson, is defined in the manual as onion soup, or, “the unholy abomination produced by the introduction of one or more pickled onions into a dry martini cocktail.”

2. Never serve over ice. Ice, or rocks, are simply the “solid state of H2O on which an American standard dry martini is never served.”

3. Extra dry martinis are “a meaningless expression used loosely by waiters and bartenders. It is frequently the excuse for a supplementary charge and is often characterized by the inclusion of excessive melted ice or an abundance of water-white vermouth.”

4. Vodka should not be in a martini. “Vodka is a “distilled alcoholic beverage made originally from potatoes, but now encountered in grain alcohol versions. It may be clean, palatable, and non-lethal, and, when encountered in this form, is a fitting accompaniment for fresh caviar. It is never employed in a dry martini.”

5. Olives are optional. “While the use of olives is not encouraged, nothing in this specification shall be construed to mean that the inclusion of an olive will not be acceptable,” as long as it doesn’t break the rules of the “Maximum Permissable (sic) Olive Displacement” table.

6. Lemon is forbidden. “Lemonade. A term applied to drinks which have been subjected to the peel of a lemon. There is no place for the rind of any citrus fruit, or its oils, in an American Standard dry martini.”

7. Getting drunk is in the definition of a martini. Martini is a “broad term that can frequently lead to differences of opinion but which will invariably lead to a state of inebriation.”

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