This essay was first published on TEDxCanberra’s blog.
Every 19 June there is day that any thinking person can raise a glass to: World Martini Day.
There is no other cocktail so evocative in the mind.
Even non-drinkers can feel transported by its history, glamour, allure and danger.
Ironically perhaps, for it’s the simplest of cocktails to construct: gin or vodka, some dry vermouth, stirred over ice and poured over a garnish into a chilled cocktail glass.
Yet in those seemingly simple elements so much can go wrong, and for many it never lives up to its reputation.
Unlike any other drink, the Martini is a cultural icon. It evokes a time and a place and is firmly rooted in popular culture. How many movies has it starred in as a prop to signify something about the character?
Born in the USA, it captures that nation’s unabashed ambition and boldness and has been a classic in its repertoire of social encounters since its birth. From the White House to Madison Avenue, from movie stars to literary giants, from desperate housewives to gumshoe-detectives down on their luck, the Martini served as a source of solace, inspiration and celebration.
Gin, Vodka, Shaken, Stirred or Dirty, the Martini has been part of the existential Western narrative of personal highs and lows for nearly 100 years.
Its inherent danger is recognised, and in that lies its thrill too. It is seductive, both in its elegance and its promise.
To drink a Martini in company is to be elevated, to be engaged in ideas, to leverage its potency to aspire to be a better person.
To drink a Martini by oneself is to engage in an inner dialogue, to tap the reflective part of your being, and to step out of time for just a moment.
For the Martini is transient: after 15 minutes it’s just a glass of warm booze.
There’s never been a better time for a Martini drinker to be alive. The craft spirit movement around the world, and especially here in Australia, has produced hundreds of fine-grade handmade gins, vodka and vermouths for us to enjoy.
Many are produced by solo, passionate craftspeople and small teams with a commitment to sustainability, place and making a singular expression in a bottle. These wonderful new products offer up an infinite range of permutations of the Martini.
And there’s more: no two Martinis are ever the same, not even with the same ingredients. Like some cosmic touchstone, the cocktail is infused by the mood, the place, who’s made it, the frame of mind you’re in, the company.
It all somehow shapes your experience of it. You don’t drink a Martini, you have a conversation with the spirits and gain some perspective as a result.
But at its finest, a Martini transcends its ingredients and its craft, and possess the crystal purity of stars on a Winter’s night.
So it is fitting that we celebrate a cocktail that is so much more than the sum of its parts and so inspirational each year: The Martini.
You can watch my TEDxCanberra talk on the Cultural History of the Martini here.