There are limitless ways to tweak the classic Martini, including tried-and-true iterations like the 50/50 and Dirty Martini. 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 rather than an olive or 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. However, at the time, the Gibson was more known for what it omitted than what it added—bitters. In the Martini’s early days, it was customary to add a dash or two of orange bitters to the cocktail, but the Gibson consciously skipped this ingredient. The now-signature cocktail onion didn’t become explicitly 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. Gin lends more dry, bracing characteristics to the cocktail, while milder vodka takes a backseat 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 classic Martini variation.
Click Play to See This Slightly Savory Gibson Cocktail Come Together
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.
What Makes an Onion a Cocktail Onion?
Cocktail onions are typically pearl onions that have been pickled through use of a flavored brine, although other varieties of onions (usually those on the sweeter end of the spectrum, like White Bermuda) are also sometimes used. In addition to ingredients like vinegar, salt, and sugar, vermouth is a common component of pickling brine for cocktail onions, which may help illustrate why they work so well in Martinis. Many other ingredients used in cocktail onion brine, like coriander, peppercorns, and herbs, are also similar to common gin botanicals, making for a suitable pairing.
Should a Gibson Martini use Gin or Vodka?
The answer, as with almost all Martinis, is to simply use whichever you prefer. However, the pickled onion’s sweeter notes and umami undertones do work particularly well with gin, and will help add depth to the cocktail and temper its inherent dryness.