What’s in a name? Plenty.

In today's LATimes article on boutique gins Charles Perry makes the interesting suggestion that America's martini fiasco — namely that a martini made with vodka is still considered a martini — began because of James Bond. I'm glad to see this issue raised. Martinis are made with gin, not vodka. If it's made with vodka it's not a martini. There's nothing wrong with vodka or the people who would order such a drink (nothing catastrophic anyway), but there is something wrong with the name. A Manhattan is made with bourbon; if you make it with scotch, it has a different name, a Rob Roy. The same distinction ought to hold for replacing gin with vodka in a martini preparation. Perhaps call it a James Bond. Or a Charles Perry. Even a VM. Or in keeping with a contemporary food issue, a Sea Bug. It makes me sad when I order a martini and the bartender asks "Gin or Vodka" as if all were right with the world. I would welcome suggestions for a proper name and if there is any clear consensus, I will do my part to spread the word.

17 thoughts on “What’s in a name? Plenty.

  1. My understanding was that if one wanted a vodka martini, one specified it as such by ordering a “vodka martini”, otherwise it’s made with gin. But maybe times have changed. And what about the Gibson (a martini garnished with an onion rather than an olive)? I don’t drink cocktails much anymore, so I don’t know if people order Gibsons ever, or if they get them with vodka instead of gin, but I guess if they do they could order a “vodka gibson”?
    I like the suggestion of “James Bond” to specify a vodka martini, though in general people seem to be moving away from names for cocktails and just ordering by ingredients, e.g. I always hear “vodka cranberry” instead of “Cape Codder”.
    And I LOVE Sea Bug! I think it should be made with Cold River vodka from Maine, a splash of butterscotch flavored liqueur, and the water from the boiled lobster pot sent through the soda siphon so it’s carbonated. Garnish with a lobster leg. Or maybe the tamale if you’re lucky.

  2. I wouldn’t suggest a James Bond for vodka martinis generically, as that should be reserved for one that is shaken, not stirred. 😉

  3. I always thought that James Bond was the term for a vodka martini, but I could be wrong.
    However, I did do a quick wikipedia search and they suggest two other names (besides vodka martini):
    1. vodkatini
    2. kangaroo
    no explanation, just that. Anyone have the dirt on where that comes from?
    Also, this reminds me of the excellent epsidoe of Good Eats where Alton Brown make a martini for “James Bond”
    Bond says to him, “That’s the best martini I’ve eve had. What’s your secret?”
    AB replies, “Gin”.

  4. Well I’m a gin hater. Vodka only for me. But I could go for a name to distinguish between the gin versus the vodka versions of the “martini.” Though it really matters little to me. I take way more issue with people (usually from the East) who order their cappuccinos “wet” (espresso + steamed milk + milk foam) or “dry” (espresso + milk foam). A cappuccino is actually the latter. The former is what we now call a latte.

  5. Controversy! I’ve always heard:
    Cappuccino = 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, 1/3 foam.
    Latte= 1/3 espresso, 2/3 steamed milk (or more), no foam.
    Here in Vienna, a melange is a cappuccino and a cappuccino has whipped cream. WTF?
    No coffee drink should be over 8oz. In fact, read this fatwa from the espresso jihad:
    Oh, and regarding the topic at hand: martini is made with gin. That’s a period right there and here.

  6. The same distinction ought to hold for replacing gin with vodka in a martini preparation. Perhaps call it a James Bond.
    Some bars do. though in the UK, it’s usually a Vodkatini. Or in the best hotel bars, a ‘Vesper’, following Fleming’s books. In Casino Royale, Bond’s drink is three parts gin (Gordon’s), one part vodka, one part Kina Lillet. That is, a vodka-laced Gin and French. And it’s clearly not a conventional martini: “This drink’s my own invention. I’m going to patent it when I think of a good name.”
    I’m less worried about the vodka/gin confusion, though, than the shake/stir. Saying ‘um, gin’ to the bartender as s/he picks up the wrong bottle is preferable to screaming ‘NOOOOO!’ as said bartender picks up the shaker and plays it like a maraca.
    Also, gimlets. “A real Gimlet is half gin and half Rose’s Lime Juice and nothing else. It beats Martinis hollow.” — Raymond Chandler.

  7. Re Rob Roy/Manhattan, I’ve lost track of the number of bartenders who have asked me “What’s that?” when I’ve ordered one.

  8. As an aside, a martini isn’t a martini without the addition of vermouth. Too many bartenders make martinis with little or no vermouth. Without vermouth, a martini is just a glass of gin. Or as the original post points out, a glass of vodka. A customer who wants a “martini” with vodka and no vermouth might as well order vodka straight up. (Which will probably be served neat, but that’s another issue.)

  9. i’m so glad somebody brought up the vermouth issue. after i resignedly tell the bartender, “Gin, please,” I almost always feel the urge to say, “And i want to be able to taste the vermouth!”

  10. how about calling it an:
    as in:
    “Ahhh, Mr Bond I’ve been expecting you…”
    Maybe not.

  11. Oh, two things I feel passionately about: vodka martinis and wet cappucinos:
    A Grey Goose Gibson is my drink of choice–I always indicate that I want it with vodka (good vodka, stoli if they don’t have grey goose). I don’t see why (gin) martini drinkers get so shaken up that vodka martini drinkers call it a “martini.” I mean, I guess I see why; but why be so angry if a bartender makes you a drink you like? I am a booze snob. But this debate always makes me think gin drinkers are bigger snobs than I. Sorry, guys.
    I love wet cappucinos. But what I consider a wet cappucino is not espresso, milk and foam, but a really thick wet foam poured into the espresso pull. In this preparation the foam, milk and espresso are almost entirely incorporated–the whole drink is rich and frothy and it doesn’t come in layers that require all the ingredients be folded together.
    Oh, and I second the whole annoyance with bartenders who don’t put any vermouth in. Martinis have vermouth. And that James Bond had it wrong when he liked his shaken–stirred is vastly superior, lacking that awful fragmentation that comes with shaking.

  12. Sorry Sarah, but I would still argue that the drink you love is called a latte free-pour. Delicious and frothy, but not a cappucino. And I agree with the comments above regarding Vermouth. A martini must have that bitter, piney essence for complexity. Otherise it’s just a double shot of chilled liquor with an olive garnish.

  13. sarah, gin drinkers aren’t bigger snobs, we’re just in the minority, so we whine more.
    I love grey goose and a grey goose gibson after work today sounds like a splendid idea. but name one other drink with a propper name in which the type of spirit is interchangable. i’m just after clarity here.
    and some ingenious mixologist out there needs to concoct an elixir that can justifiably called a Sea Bug. Meg’s idea is brilliant but I’m not sure it will catch on.

  14. If anything, it’s the drinkers of rye- and bourbon-based cocktails who suffer most at the hands of funkytini-obsessed bartenders. The Old Fashioned and Manhattan are atrociously-made, for the most part. The Campaign for Real Cocktails, anyone?

  15. Making cocktails is baking with liquids; you can’t screw around too much with the classic proportions before disaster strikes. You can always tell where not to order drinks when the establishment provides a martini menu, stocked with bizarre chocolaty concoctions. Just because you serve it in a cocktail glass doesn’t make it a martini.
    My rule of thumb for evaluating an establishment’s cocktail acumen is the garnish in a perfect manhattan. If you get a cherry, stick w/ the beer. If you get a twist, it’s cocktail time – I’ll have a sidecar please.

  16. well i’m damned if i can tell the difference between “premium” vodka such as grey goose and whatever’s opposite on the quality continuum. it’s all rubbing alcohol to me–the sort of thing you put in your breakfast OJ a la truman capote. i’m sure there are non-philistines who like so-called vodka martinis, but i’ve never met one and rather doubt i could ever be friends with one. (little wonder the host of this blog happens to be one of my oldest, dearest friends.) the person, then, who wishes to drink the acrid swill resulting from a mixture of vodka and vermouth should henceforth ask for a “cretinade,” as in, “Give me a cretinade, please, shaken not stirred, and make it _dirty_ … ” (those who order “dirty martinis” are the subject of another blog entry, perhaps, though of course such people tend to be partial to vodka too.)

  17. Vodka martini’s, as opposed to their gin counterparts, became popular for their less pungent bite; and due to it’s cleaner less forgiving flavor; espessialy as vodkas became of higher quality (5,6,7 times distilled), less vervouth was needed, ushering in the era of the ever drier martini. Thus even a very dry vodka martini will still have the familiar taste of vermouth, as opposed to a gin matini, which could in some cases handle equal parts; which by the way I believe the original martini recipee had.

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