The Martini FAQ

Brilliant and a must-read for anyone who enjoys good writing and a great martini. I heard of this fantastic site while listening to John Gruber’s “The Talk Show podcast.” Put me in the “shaken” is better camp.

Q: What is a Martini?

A: Do you want the short answer or the long answer?

Q: The short one first, please.

A: A Martini is a cocktail containing unequal portions of gin and dry vermouth (in a ratio of somewhere between 2:1 and 15:1, inclusive) served chilled, in a conical stemmed glass, garnished with either a green olive or a lemon twist.

Q: OK, I’m ready for the long answer now.

A: A highly vocal minority of Martini drinkers, the Prescriptivists,1 insists that the short answer is in fact the only answer. Any deviation from this definition may produce an enjoyable cocktail, but it will not be a Martini. (There is a single exception: one may use less vermouth.)

Strict adherence to the Prescriptivist position brings with it several undeniable benefits. Foremost among these is the quality of the drink itself: it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to truly improve on the classic American Dry Martini. There are also practical benefits, since the Prescriptivist has no need to stock an elaborate bar. Give him an ample supply of the two base ingredients and a fresh stock of garnishes, and he’s set. Finally, there is the bracing sense of keeping the barbarian at the gate, of shielding a flickering flame of culture against the gusts of fad and fashion.

In the end, however, the Prescriptivist position is untenable, because both the English language and the Martini itself are constantly evolving entities.

In truth, there has never been a single definitive version of the Martini: it was born through variations of earlier, similar cocktails; the earliest recorded recipes differ significantly from each other and even more greatly from the classic American Dry Martini; and continuous — sometimes radical — modification of the basic recipe has been a part of the drink’s identity and appeal throughout its history. The rise of vodka as the most popular base spirit and the multitude of Martini variations that became popular in the 1990’s are only the most recent cycles in a process of mixological experimentation and exploration that has accompanied the Martini since its inception.

The difficulty surrounding precise definition is compounded by an additional factor. In a manner shared by no other cocktail, the Martini has become an icon. For many it is a symbol, either of a certain subset of American culture, or of America itself. As Lowell Edmunds discusses in his scholarly deconstruction of the cocktail, Martini, Straight Up: The Classic American Cocktail, the word “Martini” evokes not only a cocktail, but also an image and an idea. The symbolic potency of the Martini depends very little, if at all, on its ingredients. It depends somewhat on the conical cocktail glass in which it is traditionally served, and it depends above all on the name: if someone identifies a given drink as a Martini, then, for symbolic purposes, it is a Martini.

One may, however, arrive at a workable definition by setting aside consideration of the Martini qua symbol as a matter calling for scholarly exegesis rather than definition, and by adopting a descriptivist stance toward the definition itself. This is what Anistatia Miller and Jared Brown have done in Shaken Not Stirred: A Celebration of the Martini: “a Martini is a short drink made with either gin or vodka and served straight up, in a Martini glass” (14).2 While Prescriptivists may shudder at some of the concoctions that this definition allows into the fold, and while others may be disappointed that their favored avant garde Martini-like drink is not blessed, this definition does accurately describe the drink throughout its history, while remaining narrow enough to distinguish Martinis from other cocktails that happen to contain gin, vodka, or vermouth, or happen to be served in a Martini glass.

1 “Prescriptivist”, in my usage here, is not a synonym for “Traditionalist” or “Purist.” Traditionalists and Purists are those who drink traditional Martinis, made according to the short definition. Prescriptivists are those who insist that cocktails made according to the short definition are the only true Martinis, and that deviant varieties should be referred to by a different name.

2 A “short drink” is a cocktail that contains primarily spirits — such as a Martini or Manhattan. A long drink is mixed drink served in a tall glass, containing approximately eight parts non-alcoholic mixers to one part spirits — such as a Screwdriver or Bloody Mary (Miller and Brown 14).

The Martini FAQ, by Brad Gadberry

The Great Bifurcation

A great article by Ben Thompson at Stratechery about our increasingly double (and more) lives.

In the end, the most important connection between the Metaverse and the physical world will be you: right now you are in the Metaverse, reading this Article; perhaps you will linger on Twitter or get started with your remote work. And then you’ll stand up from your computer, or take off your headset, eat dinner and tuck in your kids, aware that their bifurcated future will be fundamentally different from your unitary past.

Ben Thompson at Stratechery

How to maintain a healthy brain

Dementia is certainly an upsetting thing to ponder, and I try to skew the articles I post to offer at least some potential positive or enlightening takeaway. Despite the topic, I believe this article does both. Kailas Roberts goes into great, but accessible, detail about what steps we all might consider to optimize our chances for brain health. I recommend reading the whole article, of course, but the author is also kind enough to include a list of “key points” that may prevent tl;dr.

  1. Ageing changes the brain, but it’s not all bad news. It used to be thought that it was all downhill once you reached your 20s, but it’s now recognised that the brain can continue to grow and adapt into old age.
  2. The roots of dementia run deep. Although dementia usually manifests in the elderly, relevant contributing risk factors and biological processes begin to exert an influence much earlier – offering an optimistic opportunity to intervene.
  3. Nourish your brain. A healthy diet can help ensure your blood pressure and cholesterol levels are in good shape, which will allow vital nutrients to reach your brain. It also might help dampen inflammation, another risk factor for poor brain health.
  4. Train your brain. Completing challenging mental activities will build your ‘cognitive reserve’, which could offer you protection from dementia and cognitive decline.
  5. Care for your mental health (and connect with others). Brain health and mental health are deeply intertwined – socialising is one of the most effective ways to protect both.
  6. Train your body. Your brain health is also dependent on your overall physical fitness, so aim to exercise regularly.
  7. Protect your brain. Blows to the head from injury or even from playing sport can harm your brain and increase your risk of developing dementia, so take care of your grey and white matter.

Kailas Roberts at psyche.co

Web3

Notes on Web3 is a great article for those still pondering what this moment in history means. I tend to think blockchain and decentralization are great tools in search of a purpose (in addition to cryptocurrency), but I do think there’s something there. I also think, like this author, that web3 recaptures some of the same excitement, but also unsustainable dreams of web 2.0.

A large fraction of Web3’s magnetism comes from the value of the underlying cryptocurrencies. Therefore, a good diagnostic question to ask might be: would you still be curious about Web3 if those currencies were worthless, in dollar terms? For some people, the answer is “yes, absolutely”, because they find the foundational puzzles so compelling. For others, if they’re honest, the answer is “nnnot reallyyy”.

Robin Sloan

Joyas Voladoras

A beautiful reflection on the heart, from biological fact to imagined emotional instrument. There’s a good narrated version of the essay, too.

Mammals and birds have hearts with four chambers. Reptiles and turtles have hearts with three chambers. Fish have hearts with two chambers. Insects and mollusks have hearts with one chamber. Worms have hearts with one chamber, although they may have as many as eleven single-chambered hearts. Unicellular bacteria have no hearts at all; but even they have fluid eternally in motion, washing from one side of the cell to the other, swirling and whirling. No living being is without interior liquid motion. We all churn inside.

Brian Doyle

Stepping out of the firehose

A great essay by benedict Evans.

The first generation of internet services tried to help with filters and settings, but most normal people ignore the settings and don’t want to write filters, and so we very quickly went to systems that tried to help automatically. Gmail has its priority inbox, and social networks build recommendation engines and algorithmic feeds. Given that the average Facebook user is apparently eligible to see over a thousand items a day, it seems (or seemed) to make sense to try to show the video of your niece before the special offer from a restaurant you ate at five years ago. So your feed becomes a sample – an informed guess of the posts you might like most. This has always been a paradox of Facebook product – half the engineers work on adding stuff to your feed and the other half on taking stuff out.

Benedict Evans

A Concerto Is a Conversation

In Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers’s “A Concerto Is a Conversation,” Bowers traces the process of breaking into new spaces through generations of sacrifice that came before him, focusing on the story of his grandfather Horace Bowers. As a young man, he left his home in the Jim Crow South, eventually ending up in Los Angeles. Encountering discrimination at every turn, he and his wife, Alice, nevertheless made a life as business owners.