8,000 ways to make a martini

What is it about the martini?

The drink is variously credited to bartenders in high-class hotels from about the 1860s to just before World War I. Most students of the game come down on the side of Martini di Arma di Taggia, an immigrant Italian bartender at New York's Knickerbocker Hotel who got closest to the modern drink around 1912.

Obviously, much time has passed since then, yet we find ourselves in the midst of a popularity boom for the celebrated cocktail unprecedented since its birth.

Signor Martini's basic recipe combined equal parts of gin and dry vermouth, but the best proportions have since been debated in enough words to fill several volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica -- 4-to-1, 20-to-1, an eyedropper full of vermouth, passing a photo of an unopened bottle of vermouth in front of a gin bottle ... .

The martini, which had been largely an East Coast drink, had its first global golden age after World War I, faded in the '60s, then became resurgent in the '90s and into this century, now more often employing vodka rather than gin as its main ingredient.

The other major difference is that it no longer is merely the focal point of a debate over proportions. It is the object of world-class inventiveness and I encounter it everywhere I go.

Carlos, head mixologist at the Empire Bar in New York's LaGuardia Airport Marriott, recently told me his clientele ranges from international flight crews to business meeting participants. Their cocktails of choice?

"The younger ones mostly drink Cosmopolitans or Appletinis right now, the ones in the middle like vodka martinis, and the older or more adventurous ones like the original gin martinis, mostly with Bombay Sapphire.''

In San Antonio, Texas, Gilberto -- another bartender who prefers to go by only his first name -- deals with thousands of tourists each year from behind the bar of the historic Sheraton Gunter Hotel near the huge tourist draw known as the Riverwalk, a waterway lined with cafes, shops and bars. What's the adult beverage of choice?

"On the Riverwalk it's beer and margaritas,'' Gilberto said, "but here it's about 50 percent martinis, 25 percent Manhattans and the other 25 per cent a combination of everything else.''

In New York's tourist-rich Capital/Saratoga Region that stretches from Albany north into the Adriondack Mountains, the concoctions have gotten rather exotic. The Inn at Saratoga in Saratoga Springs, for example, offers patrons a range of martinis that includes the Double Fudge (Van Gogh Dutch chocolate vodka, Godiva liqueur and Kahlua) and the Broadway (Bombay Sapphire gin, white creme de menthe and a fresh mint garnish).

At the Webster's Corner martini lounge in Albany's Crowne Plaza hotel, bar maven David Tucker can whip you up a Tootsie Roll (Stolichnaya vodka, dark creme de cacao and orange juice, garnished with a Hershey's Kiss), a Gumbee (Chopin potato vodka with green creme de menthe, topped with a bit of whipped cream), or any one of 40 other concoctions.

The newst martini bar in the Capital/Saratoga Region is 205 At the Turf, in the Holiday Inn Turf in the Albany suburb of Colonie near the Albany International Airport. While it also serves wine and a full range of liquors, marketers there chose to feature the martini menu as its come-on.

205 At the Turf offers concoctions the likes of the Dirty Banana Martini (vodka, banana liquor, Godiva chocolate liqueur), the Espresso Martini (vodka, Tia Maria liqueur and espresso), and the Martini Stinger (vodka, brandy and creme de menthe). The latter is a twist on the classic Stinger cocktail made with just the brandy and white creme de menthe.

But far and away at the top of the innovation scale is a little gem of a CD from the folks at Van Gogh, who distill all sorts of vodkas and gins. It's entitled "8,406 Ways To Mix It up.''

Yes, more than 8,000 martini recipes. A year ago they had only 6,794, so you can see the pace of the game.

The collection includes such inventions as the Coconut Melon Low-Carb (Van Gogh coconut vodka, Van Gogh melon vodka, bottled water and a melon or coconut garnish) and the Roxy Treat (Malibu rum and Van Gogh raspberry vodka, plus a splash of Amaretto).

Click here to request a free copy of the CD (Windows version only) online.

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