There are limitless ways to tweak the classic Martini, from tried-and-true iterations like the 50/50 and Dirty Martini to suspect ’Tinis that combine a spirit with sugary mixers in a stemmed glass. But one of the best variations is also the easiest to make, simply calling for a specific garnish to differentiate it from all other Martinis.
The Gibson is made with gin and dry vermouth and garnished with a pickled onion—not an olive, nor a lemon twist. It’s only a Gibson when that savory onion adorns the glass, adding its umami undertone to the classic cocktail.
The origin behind this drink isn’t entirely clear, but it’s possible that the Gibson was created by San Francisco businessman Walter D.K. Gibson in the late 1800s at the Bohemian Club. The Gibson did first appear in print in the 1908 book, “The World’s Drinks And How To Mix Them” by William Boothby. But then, the Gibson was more known for what it omitted than what it added. During that time, it was customary to add a dash or two of bitters to a Martini. The Gibson was made without bitters, and the necessary onion wasn’t strictly associated with the drink until years later.
Gin is the traditional choice when making Gibsons, but as vodka usurped the gin’s botanical throne through the decades, vodka-laced Gibsons became common. You can choose whichever spirit you prefer. The dry, bracing gin lends more of its own character to the cocktail, while milder vodka takes a back seat to the other components.
One way to really customize this three-part drink is by making your own pickled onions. A common practice in cocktail bars, it’s an easy endeavor. Most recipes simply call for soaking or cooking a handful of cocktail onions in a brine of vinegar, sugar and pickling spices. Making your own onions ensures that your Gibson’s garnish is fresh and crunchy, imbuing the drink with depth and complexity rather than the artificial sweetness often associated with the jarred versions. Once your onions are done, all you need is gin and dry vermouth, and you’re ready to enjoy this underrated classic.
2 1/2 ounces gin or vodka
1/2 ounce dry vermouth
Garnish: cocktail onion
Add the gin (or vodka) and dry vermouth into a mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled.
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Garnish with a cocktail onion.