• Cheryl Anne Stapp

A New Cocktail for Gold-rushers


As legend has it, the martini was invented for hard-fisted California gold miners in 1849, only back then it was called a “Martinez.”

Entering the port at San Francisco, gold-seekers journeyed east from there to the interior gold fields on steamboats that plied the Sacramento River. Steamboat travel was heavy and speed was essential, if the shiplines wanted to make money by attracting the most passengers. The fastest ship was the two-wheeler steamship Chrysopolis, which typically left the San Francisco docks at 7:00 a.m. By the time it reached the town of Martinez on the south side of the Carquinez Straight close to noontime, it needed to stop for wood and water, and sometimes the ship was laid over because of fog. If the halt was expected to extend for several hours, passengers left the ship for the saloons and other entertainments in town.

So, it was out of pure commercial necessity that the steamship’s bartender William Garson was inspired to concoct a unique beverage as way to keep paying passengers aboard. After some mixology experiments, he hit upon the formula of three parts gin to one part sauterne, a sweet white wine grown and bottled locally; sometimes, depending on supplies on hand, substituting vermouth. He added a green olive picked from the trees on the hills surrounding Martinez, and named his drink for the town. Miners drank it down with gusto, called for more—and remained on ship, which was bartender Garson’s intention.

Supposedly, Mark Twain later introduced the drink to Chicago. Today martini aficionados sip from the wide brim of elegant cone-shaped crystal glassware fluting upward from a thin stem. Gold miners, who disdained “fancy drinks,” probably consumed theirs from something more akin to a jelly jar.

© 2019 by Cheryl Anne Stapp. 

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