The Magazine

Shaken Not Stirred

How the opiate of the masses got gentrified.

Apr 15, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 29 • By MARTIN MORSE WOOSTER
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Cocktails began to become popular late in the 19th century. None was more famous than the martini.  Where the term “martini” comes from is lost to history; it could be named for the Martini-Henry rifle, or possibly Martinez, California. But the cocktail became one that novelists used when they wanted to describe characters who were sophisticated. John Philip Sousa wrote novels about musicians, and in one of them, The Fifth String, the manager of a temperamental violinist survives his client’s tantrums through steady martini drinking. Jack London celebrated martini drinking in his 1910 novel Burning Daylight, in which a Yukon goldminer claws his way to the top of New York society, relieving the daily “strain of his office” through the nightly consumption of “a martini, and .  .  . a double-martini at that.” (London spoke from experience: As his 1913 memoir John Barleycorn trenchantly shows, his writing career nearly disintegrated because of excessive martini drinking.) 

The Lost Generation of the 1920s loved martinis, and that love was demonstrated in the movies—most notably in the Thin Man comedies of the 1930s and ’40s. In fact, as Barnett explains, in Hollywood, the “martini shot” is the last scene filmed on any given day, because after the scene is filmed, it’s time for cast and crew to have a drink.

Of course, some actors abused gin, and none more so than W. C. Fields, who consumed a gargantuan four pints a day. Fields called gin “my pineapple juice,” and when someone once tried to dilute the booze with a soft drink, Fields demanded to know who had put pineapple juice in his pineapple juice.

Martin Morse Wooster is the book reviewer for Mid-Atlantic Brewing News and American Brewer.