Featured Museum Piece
Vermouth Dispenser by Gorham Silver
This month, we feature something rare but fun, a sterling vermouth dispenser and case from Gorham Silver. This piece was most likely produced during the 1950s, the heyday of the classic martini and the culture that developed around that drink. The Gorham vermouth dispenser that we feature here measures 6 1/2" long and can “spike” a martini with up to 12cc (cubic centimeters) of vermouth. Some companies even produced vermouth “droppers”, which looked like mercury thermometers and were often connected to a cork which would then be used to stop a vermouth bottle. The dropper could be pulled from the bottle to dispense as many or as few drops of vermouth as the mixologist desired.
The vermouth dispenser that we highlight here features a sterling body and “needle”, and a “window” with graduated markings to allow perfect control of the amount of vermouth added to the user’s recipe. The piece also is displayed in its original black case, which features gold embroidery and a green velvet interior. If this case could only talk, what stories it could probably tell! One merry wag noted that to make the perfect “dry” martini, one would add gin to a martini glass, garnish, fill this featured Gorham dispenser with vermouth, place it on the table pointed toward the glass, then drink the gin. To fully appreciate this unique piece, let’s delve into a bit of the history of the American martini.
A martini, properly called “an American martini cocktail,” is made by mixing five parts gin to one part vermouth, then garnished. No one is exactly sure where the martini originated, but many believe it was born in a hotel in California. It is said that a bartender prepared the drink in the morning(!) to knock the chill off for travelers in what used to be California’s capital, Martinez. Originally, to mix the drink it was stirred in a glass. Today however, the drink is typically made in a cocktail shaker. To soften the gin, it is “bruised” while being shaken with ice and the vermouth in the cocktail shaker. Not only does this process sharpen the gin’s flavor, it also obviously cools the drink and adds a touch of water. The elixir is then poured into a martini glass and garnished with a lemon twist or olive. Similar to the merry wag referenced in the paragraph above, there are some who consider a true martini to be undiluted pure gin. This “recipe” was born of pragmatism during the Prohibition era, when gin was relatively easy to produce, and was dispensed in speakeasies. Other liquors, like vermouth, were not as readily available. When prohibition ended, some were not ready to abandon their dry-gin drinking ways and much lore developed around preparing the “driest martini”. With this in mind, some would merely coat the inside of the martini glass with vermouth and drain the excess. A shaken or stirred martini would then be poured into the glass. Others, seeking a still drier martini, would add no measurable amount of vermouth at all. Instead, they would wave the stopper of the vermouth bottle over the prepared martini or put the vermouth bottle next to martini and shine a light though it onto the glass. At this point the drink is little more than “bruised” gin served with an olive, but to each his (or her) own. And legend has it that none other than the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, would prepare a dry gin martini by merely casting a glance at the vermouth bottle across the room. (If this is true, let’s give Mr. Churchill credit for having the decorum to at least have the vermouth bottle in the room.) This became known as the “Churchill Martini.”
By the 1950’s, martinis were quite popular and became one of the many icons of the bachelor culture of that time. With this in mind, companies, including Gorham, sold items like a vermouth injector to accommodate the martini aficionado who sought either the “perfect dry martini”, or wanted to convey at least the pretense of caring about the vermouth. And of course, in recent years we’ve seen a renaissance of the martini lounge culture, complete with classic barware and music of the period.
While this museum piece is not for sale, we do have a wonderful selection of silver and crystal patterns by Gorham that are quite stylish, and include pieces like olive forks and martini glasses, if you are so inclined. Come visit us and see this amazing vermouth injector in person, as well as hundreds of other equally unique and fun items in our museum! Our Showroom and Museum are open from 9am to 7pm ET, 7 days a week (except holidays); free tours are available from 10:00am to 6:00pm ET, 7 days a week. The Showroom and Museum are conveniently located between Greensboro and Burlington, NC, at exit 132 off Interstate 85/40. Make plans to visit us this summer!
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