Welcome To The Martini Multiverse
On TikTok, cocktails inspired by chicken soup, Caesar salads, and red velvet are having a moment.
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet,” writes William Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet. Of course, Shakespeare was talking about star-crossed love and intergenerational family beef, though his words can be a good point of reference for the internet’s latest debate: What can really be called a martini? Does it all come down to the power of a name? With creative cocktails like Caesar salad- and chicken soup-inspired martinis going viral, the name is up for interpretation more than ever before. Welcome to the martini multiverse.
It’s the drink that unites seemingly unrelated fictional characters like James Bond (with vodka, “shaken not stirred”) and Blair Waldorf (with gin, “as it should be”). It’s the cocktail beloved by New Yorkers. Now, it’s the launching point for various out-of-the-box recipes racking up tens of thousands of views on TikTok and starting a movement.
To understand how we went from a ratio of liquor to vermouth to drinks that resemble whole meals rather than happy hour, it’s important to note the cocktail’s history. It’s generally believed that The Martinez cocktail is the precursor to the martinis of today. It’s made with gin, sweet vermouth, maraschino liqueur, and orange bitters and its earliest written record is in the 1887 edition of The Bartenders Guide by Jerry Thomas.
Eventually, as its ingredient list changed so did its name. Some people think the martini’s name is a shortened version of the popular vermouth brand Martini & Rossi (established in 1863) and others think it was the brainchild of a bartender at the Knickerbocker Hotel in Times Square in 1906. Truthfully, though, it might be this difficult to track down the drink's origin because its recipe has always been so customizable.
Maybe you prefer yours dirty. Dry. Wet. Sweet. Perfect. Neat. Up. On the rocks. With a twist. With an olive — or three, but never two or four.
“The martini is the most personal cocktail that there is,” Vance Henderson, national ambassador for Hendrick’s Gin, tells Bustle. “That's because there really isn't one way it’s made. You can probably Google and Wiki a recipe, and something will come up as a standard, but the way that it's enjoyed is so unique to the individual.”
Henderson is spot-on. There are tons of ways to order your martini that predate the unique elixirs being made today. Maybe you prefer yours dirty. Dry. Wet. Sweet. Perfect. Neat. Up. On the rocks. With a twist. With an olive — or three, but never two or four, per bartender superstitions. All of these are valid ways to order your martini, and although this was initially a gin drink, these days, it’s important to specify if you want gin or vodka.
During the summer of 2022, people started swapping olive brine for pickle juice for the pickle martini. Come October, users like @foodloversdiary were sharing their unabashed love for anchovy martinis. By December 2022, pickled red onion, kimchi, and balsamic vinegar were all popular mixers for martinis on #FoodTok, and this momentum continued straight through to the new year.
On Jan. 17, Jilly Hendrix, founder and CEO of the low-ABV spirit company BODY Vodka, posted the first TikTok video in her series “Anything Can Be A Martini If You Try Hard Enough.” Her creation was a Caesar Salad Martini, rimmed with crushed croutons and garnished with parmesan cheese, a cherry tomato, and an anchovy. Hendrix said not only did it taste really good, but it ignited a sense of curiosity in her comments section.
On Feb. 1, Jazzton Rodriguez, co-founder of Very Good Drinks, a content studio focused on cocktails, posted a video of a Chicken Soup Martini that uses ingredients like Mirepoix, chicken bouillon, olive oil, and saline solution. Very Good Drinks has also used MSG, fermented tomato, and tofu behind the bar, and Rodriguez has been experimenting with savory sips since 2018. So how did we get here?
Of course, there will always be martini purists, but we’re currently in an age of intense exploration in all facets of lifestyle. Fashion girlies are embracing looks with no pants, and eating an orange in the shower is considered a wellness practice now. The current boom for funky drinks during a time when we have constant access to new, viral ideas makes sense, says Henderson.
“With social media, we're able to see just about everything from everywhere, from anyone, all at once,” he says. “I think that explosion of seeing something that is not normal to you, that’s inspiring the willingness to try different things — for the consumer and especially for the bartender.”
Similarly, Hendrix says that in creating BODY Vodka, she looked to the new drinking trends that were popping up online as inspiration. She saw that people were looking for different options for drinking, and with damp lifestyles trending, she created her brand. Seeing the foods that TikTok users love helps to inspire her bar creations. She’s perfected a Red Velvet Martini made with Lambrusco and is currently working on formulating a butter martini — “I don't think I've nailed it yet, so stay tuned for that,” she says.
For Rodriguez, the love eccentric martinis are now getting online has been a long time coming. Running the bar program at Bar Arbolada in Oklahoma City, Rodriguez began creating concoctions like “guactails” and “brothtails” nearly five years ago, using his years of experience as a cook and the knowledge that food flavors are deeply linked to nostalgia.
“Savory martinis, they've been having a moment, which is great because I sort of feel like I've been really into that for a while,” Rodriguez tells Bustle. “I'm a hipster in that sense, I guess. But I feel like I'm finally starting to find my people.”
Perhaps, though, Rodriguez was so ahead of the curve when it comes to bizarre booze because the world wasn’t quite ready for these cocktails until now. Henderson explained that in 2020, people became more cognizant about what makes a good drink and what their taste preferences are since they had to be their own bartenders.
“Everyone, to a degree, being at home, became more versed in what they drink, and how they drink,” he says. “I think that has fed into the revival of martini culture as a whole because the consumer has become more educated about what they're drinking.”
It’s clear that the way to approach a martini is no longer so cut and dry. Henderson says there are “pretentious bartenders” who might “look down on shaking a [classic] martini” because that’s not how they were originally made. And Rodriguez agrees that classic martinis are held to a certain standard, comparing it to the way French cuisine is very protected and revered in its definition, but he believes rules are meant to be broken when it comes to making really good cocktails.
“If it drinks like a martini and it serves the same purpose and has the same essence or soul, then I would say that it is a martini,” Rodriguez says.
Vance Henderson, national ambassador for Hendrick’s Gin
Jilly Hendrix, founder and CEO of BODY Vodka
Jazzton Rodriguez, co-founder of Very Good Drinks