The Martini is as classic as cocktails get. Most people have had one, and any good bar worth its salt can make one. But not all Martinis are the same.
The classic Dry Martini is the standard bearer among recipes and variations, but countless riffs take the drink in new directions, from the 50/50 Martini, which combines equals parts gin and dry vermouth, to the Perfect Martini, which splits the vermouth between sweet and dry. And then you have the savory, beguiling and controversial Dirty Martini.
The Dirty Martini is believed to have originated in 1901, when New York bartender John O’Connor found inspiration in the classic’s famous olive garnish. First made by muddling the olive into the drink, and later by adding a splash of olive brine, the Dirty Martini took decades to reach a wide fan base. It eventually found favor among drinkers, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who often mixed them for guests in the White House.
As the Dirty Martini has grown in popularity, bartenders have increasingly begun to make the drink their own, improving the cocktail with proper techniques and quality ingredients. That includes fresh, refrigerated dry vermouth and artisan olive juice.
The cocktail can be made with gin or vodka. Gin is the classic choice, but by the 1970s, vodka had supplanted its botanical cousin, and it became the regular call in Dirty Martinis. You can choose whichever spirit you prefer, as both do an admirable job.
The Dirty Martini may never touch the classic Dry Martini’s influence or reputation, but you can’t dispute its popularity and significance. What was once a dirty secret is today a go-to order for salt-craving drinkers. And because the Dirty Martini is easy to make, it’s also a great option when drinking at home. Throw in its garnish that doubles as a snack, and there’s just so much to like about this tried-and-true cocktail.
Click Play to See This Dirty Martini Recipe Come Together
2 1/2 ounces gin or vodka
1/2 ounce dry vermouth
1/2 ounce olive brine
Garnish: 2 to 4 olives
Add the gin or vodka, vermouth and olive brine to a shaker filled with ice.
Shake for 15–20 seconds until well chilled.
Double strain through fine mesh strainer into a chilled cocktail glass.
Garnish with a skewer of olives.
Dirty Martini: Shaken or Stirred?
While conventional wisdom is for all Martinis to be stirred (as with most spirit-forward cocktails that don’t incorporate citrus), the Dirty Martini is somewhat of an outlier. Though it can be made with either technique, many bartenders prefer to shake this cocktail to allow for the ingredients to better integrate, and for the denser olive brine to mix more thoroughly with the less-dense vodka or gin. The added dilution from shaking also helps to soften the drink’s saltier profile and open up subtler flavors.
Should You Use Gin or Vodka in a Dirty Martini?
As with all Martinis, the choice of gin or vodka is a matter of preference. However, while many bartenders hew to gin as the preferable option for a standard Martini to create more complexity of flavor, many find vodka to be the better option for a Dirty Martini. The spirit’s more neutral profile allows the olive brine to shine more prominently.