A Gold Rush Libation

As legend has it, the martini was invented for hard-fisted California gold miners in 1849, only back then it was called a “Martinez.” San Francisco was the major port, and gold-seekers journeyed from there to the gold fields on steamboats that plied the Sacramento River. Steamboat travel was heavy and speed was essential, if the ship lines wanted to make money. 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 it needed to stop for wood and water, and sometimes it was laid over because of fog. When this happened, passengers left the ship for the saloons in town. Out of pure commercial necessity the ship’s bartender William Garson (or Garrison) was inspired to invent a way to keep paying passengers aboard. He hit upon the formula of 3 parts gin to 1 part Sonoma Valley Sauterne, sometimes substituting vermouth, adding an olive from the trees on the surrounding hills. He named the drink for the town. Miners drank it down and called for more—and remained on ship. Supposedly, Mark Twain 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.


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