Shaken Not Stirred, A Celebration of the Martini

Shaken Not Stirred, A Celebration of the Martini by Anistatia R. Miller and Jared M. Brown, William Morrow 2012, $13.99 paper, 224 pages

Shaken Not Stirred, A Celebration of the Martini by Anistatia R. Miller and Jared M. Brown, William Morrow 2012, $13.99 paper, 224 pages

If any drink deserves celebration, it’s the martini. Its crystalline simplicity has made the cocktail a cultural icon, shorthand for urbane fun and sophistication. And if you drink enough of them, you can do anything—even let Kris Kringle stay at your house.

It’s that same simplicity that has allowed the martini to blossom in the resurgence of cocktail culture. The Sex in the City girls made Cosmos—a martini made with Cointreau, lime juice, and cranberry juice, a byword for updated urbane fun. From saketinis to chocolatinis, martinis are fun to embellish, rename, and drink.

Miller and Brown, as directors of Mixelleny Limited have shepherded the cocktail resurgence, exploring the history and mythology of grown up drinks. From J. P. A. Martini who purportedly invented the drink in 1763 France to Nick and Nora Charles, the god and goddess of cocktail sophistication, Miller and Brown not only explore the history, but supply the technique and recipes to make you an expert mixer and drinker.

Their ten fundamental rules address ingredients, dilution, materials (also known as “the rig,” see Hemingway, Islands in the Stream) and warn you off drinking games—save those for lower-proof drinks (and lower class company?) Back to the simplicity, Miller and Brown stress not only the need to use the best ingredients, but a careful technique as well. No aluminum, which lends an off flavor to the drink, fresh ice, and chilled glasses all contribute to martini perfection.

I can attest to the value of chilling. An older friend, who never realized that martinis had gone away, presented me with a petite, icy glass. It was not to be lingered over. As it warmed, the martini lost its youthful bloom, turning into a soupy, bitter mess. I can also attest to avoiding drinking games. As he handed me the drink, he noted that the couch I sat on folded out into a bed. I thanked him and turned down a refill. Maybe that’s part of the reason martinis can be lethal (or inspirational); you have to drink them quickly. As Miller and Brown point out, no drinking and driving, also no drinking and snowboarding, handling unsheathed Samurai swords (sheathed swords are, apparently, okay), or completing your tax return.

Once you’ve achieved perfection in the making and mastery in the drinking, it’s time to play the variations. A stylish drinker will eschew the Cosmo as passé (just as a NYC woman would never wear a scrunchy) and readers are entitled to opinions about Pumpkin Martinis, Coconut Martinis, or Truffle Martinis, but why not try a Lemon Drop or if you have the cast iron palate for it, a Cajun Martini, or a Copenhagen made with vodka, akavit, and a blanched almond. After all if it’s good enough for Kingsley Amis, who knew his way around a hangover, it should be good enough for you.

Best wishes for the new year; keep it shaking in 2013!

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About Appetite for Books

read, cook, eat, repeat
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