German Lesson: That’s not a martini you’re ordering

Posted on 03.03.2013


This is actually something I’ve known for a while, and tried out multiple times before feeling confident enough to write about. Most of my German Lessons posts tend to be culture shock related, highlighting the differences between what I as an American have grown up with, and how those things are different or otherwise confusing once you leave our very large island.

photoI was reminded of this specific realization (and what it led to for me personally in my home life) last night while out at one of the many bars I hit last night. Now, this technically only happened at ONE bar last night, but that’s because I’m far past the point of trying this hypothesis out. Been there, wasted money on it, learned my lesson. However, the menu to the left reminded me of my issue and I took a photo to share it with the world.

This, as you can see, is the shot list from a bar. 2cl is really a small amount, the size of a shot glass, pretty much. Now there are a lot of things on here that you might recognize, and one of them really, really doesn’t belong here. And that one thing is the topic today.

Why the HELL is the martini listed as a shot? Isn’t the martini a cocktail, technically, made famous by James Bond, who felt the need to drink his with vodka, rather than gin? That’s what I thought, and I’m pretty sure that EVERY American you asked might say the same thing.

As someone who spent years working in bars and restaurants, I’m pretty certain I know what is in a typical martini. As a martini FAN, I can tell you I happen to enjoy a nice Sapphire martini, very, very dirty. So my martini, and I imagine most martinis in the states, are made in a similar way: a martini glass full of mostly gin (or vodka, if that’s your style), with a nice little spritz of vermouth. And some olives. That’s the general recipe. And it’s definitely not a shot’s worth… there are at least 3 shots of gin or vodka in one of these things.

So how can a Martini be a shot here in Germany? Interesting. Technically, it’s not. This is a case of ‘false friends’, or two words which sound the same (or are), but have different meanings between languages. This technically doesn’t have a different word, it’s the same. But what we’ve got here is a misunderstanding from different word usage, pure and simple.

Screen Shot 2013-03-03 at 11.57.07Vermouth. Martini and Rossi makes Vermouth, as anyone who has worked behind a bar could tell you. So when you see the ‘Martini’ listing on a list of shots in a German bar, you are actually looking at and purchasing a shot of Vermouth. It is not what Americans consider to be a Martini, although it is, here in Germany, called a Martini. The Martini that I know and love and want in my belly has to be listed on the Cocktails list of a drink menu in order to be safe. If it’s listed on the shots side, it’s just Vermouth.

So now you know and you can travel (and drink) a little more confidently:) This led to me having a fully stocked Martini bar at my last apartment, and lots of ordering ‘easy’ drinks when out. Like wine.

A word to the traveling and maybe not great with the language wise: it’s very hard to mess up Amaretto as a shot. Or straight Hendrick’s gin, which has become my personal favorite. When in doubt, drink the shots. Or a fruity frou-frou drink. I have yet to see a drink menu that is missing a Sex on the Beach or Tequila Sunrise option.

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