To fully understand the Dry Martini you need to view it within its own context. According to the English comic novelist and drinker Kingsley Amis, the heyday of cocktail making coincided with the age of jazz music, lasting roughly from 1925 until 1945. Prohibition in the USA motivated barmen and householders to experiment with whatever limited alcohol was at hand in order to make a palatable drink and so the art of mixing cocktails was born. Cocktails need to be mixed fresh for every new round in order to taste their best and by the end of World War II only the richest families in Europe and America could afford to have servants at home who were always at the ready to prepare a complicated cocktail on demand such as, for example, an Old Fashioned. The Dry Martini, a popular cocktail from the moment of its inception, remained just as popular even after the War probably because it was easier and less time consuming to prepare than many of its counterparts which few people drink or have even heard of today.

No one knows for sure, but the Dry Martini seems to have been invented by a barman called Martini di Arma di Taggia at the Knickerbocker Hotel in New York in 1910. It remained the cocktail of choice in sophisticated circles until around the late 1970s – it’s no coincidence that it was the original oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller’s favorite tipple. Why it began to fade slightly from the public consciousness is anybody’s guess. A common error, and one that I used to be guilty of myself, is conflating the cocktail’s name with Martini Rossi dry vermouth, one of the drink’s two ingredients. Actually, this is just a coincidence. There are other dry vermouths with which you could substitute the Martini Rossi, such as Noilly Prat, but most authorities on the matter do recommend sticking to Martini Rossi.

So, how to make a good Dry Martini? The standard recipe involves pouring four measures of gin and one of vermouth into a jug half full of ice, stirring for half a minute (shaking a la James Bond is unnecessary and will chip and melt the ice thereby watering down the finished product), then straining and serving it in small stemmed glasses with a lemon rind. However, a lot of people like theirs drier, i.e. with less vermouth and with a cocktail onion or green olive instead of the lemon rind which is technically a variant of the Dry Martini called the Gibson. To prepare a jug with sixteen parts gin to one part vermouth is not uncommon, while some barmen will simply rinse out the glass with vermouth before filling it with ice cold gin. Amis, who considered the Dry Martini the world’s best cocktail, commented, “The best Dry Martini known to man is the one I make for myself. In the cold part of the refrigerator I have a bottle of gin and a small wine glass half full with water that has been allowed to freeze. When the hour strikes, I half fill the remaining space with gin, flick in a few drops of vermouth and add a couple of cocktail onions, the small, white, hard kind. Now that is a drink.” It is important to drink a Dry Martini relatively quickly, before the drink increases in temperature and loses its taste. Small stemmed glasses are perfectly designed for this purpose.

Other popular variants of the Dry Martini include the Vodka Martini (replace gin with vodka) and the Dirty Martini (add the brine from a tin of green olives). However, my personal favorite variant is called the Lucky Jim. This requires twelve parts vodka, one part dry vermouth (again Martini Rossi) and two parts cucumber juice. Use an ordinary lemon squeezer to squeeze out the cucumber juice and then pass it through a sieve into your mix, adding ice and stirring well. The result tastes much milder than it really is and so, like the straight up Dry Martini, should be drunk with a modicum of caution. A friend of mine likes to point out that a Dry Martini is like breasts on a woman: one is not enough and three are too many.