A classic cocktail with just a few ingredients, the dirty martini seems like it should be easy to assemble. But, it’s actually quite the delicate drink—a tad too much brine, for instance, can commandeer the earthy, briny cocktail, making it too salty, even for those who like an extra-dirty martini. Plus, each step of this drink is nuanced and ripe for debate as James Bond proved when he so famously ordered a martini “shaken, not stirred,” which, by the way, most bartenders firmly advise against.
“Stirring your martinis will give them a nice, silky texture,” says Javelle Taft, head bartender at Death & Co NYC. “Shaking them tends to over-dilute your cocktail, leaving them with too much water.”
With that disclaimer out of the way, here’s what else you need to know about making the perfect dirty martini at home, from picking a base spirit (vodka vs. gin?) to choosing the right olives.
Plus, one bartender skilled in the craft of martini-making shares his go-to dirty martini recipe you can reference, and build upon, the next time you’re craving a salty, briny cocktail.
Choosing Your Liquor: Gin or Vodka?
Like much in the world of cocktails, your spirit of choice largely comes down to your personal preference. But, a dirty vodka martini will taste much different from one made with gin. Since vodka is a neutral spirit, the olive brine and salinity will be more predominant in a vodka martini, explains Jose Pereiro, beverage director of Storico Vino in Atlanta. A dirty martini made with gin will be more complex because the botanicals can open up sweet notes on your palate, which pair nicely with the olives.
If you’re going for a dirty vodka martini, try incorporating a potato vodka, like Chopin [$33; chopinvodka.com], into your martini, says Will Patton, the beverage director of Michelin starred Bresca and Two Michelin starred Jont in Washington, D.C. The full-bodied, earthy flavor of these vodkas isn’t bullied by the assertiveness of the olive brine, he says.
For dirty gin martinis, Darron Foy, bar manager at The Flatiron Room in New York City, recommends Hendrick’s Gin [$33; flaviar.com], which has notes of cucumber that plays well with olive. Or, for something more herbaceous and floral, opt for a bottle like The Botanist [$42; drizly.com], Foy suggests.
Make it ‘Dirty’ (or Don’t)
Some of the best cocktail mixers are made by bartenders who recognize a void in the market. Enter Dirty Sue Premium Olive Juice [$15, amazon.com], which was created by Eric “ET” Tecosky, who has two decades of experience behind the bar. As the former bar manager at Jones Hollywood, he’s made lots of martinis. A far-too-frequent scenario he and other bartenders faced? The bottle of olives behind the bar gets tapped out of juice—all while the olives are left to dry out.
Dirty Sue became the first bottled olive brine formulated specifically for cocktails. Having a bottle on hand makes it a breeze to make dirty martinis at home. But, you can also use the brine in bloody Marys or even to make a dirty marg, Tecosky says. Olive brine and salt are a dream team.
Adding the Right Olives
Opt for olives that have seeds in them because they tend to stay fresher longer, says Jose Pereiro, beverage director of Storico Vino in Atlanta. He likes Castelvetrano from Sicily because they’re both sweet and salty, and super meaty.
Weston Holm, co-founder of Blue Cover Distillery in Scottsdale, Arizona, recommends large pimento green olives because the juice is not overly salty. Of course, blue cheese-stuffed olives make a killer martini, too.
Interestingly enough, you don’t need to limit your martini brine to an olive brine, Taft says.
“The definition of dirty martini means ‘savory,’ ” he says. “Flavors can come from all sorts of pickled vegetables.”
Taft recommends starting with a nice base of equal parts apple cider vinegar and olive brine. Throw in some olives, onions, carrots, peppercorns, string beans etc. Let that sit at room temperature for 24 hours. Strain out the juice and let it chill in the fridge overnight.
A Note on Vermouth
How much vermouth you use (and whether you use it at all) can also come down to preference.
Dry vermouth (not sweet vermouth) is the way to go for dirty martinis, Holm says. For a compromise, you don’t even need to add it to your cocktail; you can just ring the glass with it, he says. Pro tip: Once you crack open that bottle of vermouth, make sure to keep it refrigerated so it doesn’t spoil.
Often, bartenders will skip vermouth if they’re making a dirty vodka martini.
But for a dirty gin martini, Patton likes to pair a gin like Tanqueray [$30; drizly.com] that has a strong juniper backbone with Mancino Secco vermouth [$32; woodencork.com], which has a dry herbaceousness.
Recipe: How to Make a Classic Dirty Martini
Here’s a diplomatic recipe for a classic dirty martini that’s courtesy of Pereiro. Master this recipe, then improvise with it as you’d like.
- 2.5 oz gin or vodka
- 0.5 oz dry vermouth
- 0.5 oz olive brine
- In a chilled mixing glass, add all ingredients and ice. Stir for 20 seconds until chilled.
- Pour over a chilled coupe or martini glass.
- Garnish with three olives.
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