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Dirty Martini

I am smitten by the dirty martini. It’s like a sickness. It gets under your skin and suddenly nothing else will do. Take back your dry martini, shining silvery and crystal clear in its glass. Take back your lemon twist. Give me a glass with that tantalising haze and a trio of stuffed olives marching down the pick into its briny depths.

Sarah Rense, writing in Esquire, feels the same way.

A Dirty Martini doesn’t just take guts to order, but to drink, as well. Boldly briny and salty as the sea, it’s disgustingly good, with that cloudy swirl of olive juice attacking your taste buds. But when you want a Dirty Martini, you want a Dirty Martini. It’s like craving a can of salt and vinegar Pringles. Nothing will do until you’ve got them.

If the dry martini is elegant perfection, the dirty martini is perfection elevated by an artful flaw. It’s a beauty spot, it’s sprezzatura, it’s wabi-sabi in drink form.

Jump to Recipe

Drinkers have been delighting in this dash of deviance since at least 1901. Yes, we were filthy beasts back then too. But it’s only in the 1980s that we gave this delicious sin its name, which makes me wonder: how did we order dirty martinis before then?

As with so many cocktails the ratios are endlessly changing. Some recipes have you add just a bar-spoon of brine; others split vermouth and brine in equal parts; in some vermouth is demoted to third place. It’s all a matter of taste.


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If you’re unfamiliar with the drink, the best tactic is to start with just a splash of brine and work your way up from there until you find the amount you like.

There are only three ingredients: gin, dry vermouth and olive brine. Maybe four if you want to add a dash or two of bitters. OK five if you count ice, of which you will need plenty. Either way, it’s simple and therefore a great make-at-home cocktail.

Image of a martini glass on a glass-topped table. The drink is half gone. Or there's half left, if you prefer to look at it that way. Three olives sit in the drink as a garnish, aligned along a cocktail pick. The outside of the glass is beaded with condensation.
A Dirty Martini made with Rōku Gin

I’ve gone on long enough. Let’s move on to making our cocktail.


Dirty Martini

This is perfection elevated by an artful flaw. Bold, briny and bracing.

Ingredients

  • 75ml gin

  • 15ml dry vermouth

  • 15ml olive brine

  • 1 or 2 dashes orange bitters (optional but recommended)

  • 3 olives to garnish

Directions

  • Combine all your ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir until viciously cold.
  • When it’s ready strain into a chilled glass (I like a Nick and Nora). Garnish with 3 olives speared on a pick.

Notes

  • Coldness is key. The more components you can chill in advance the better: gin, vermouth, glass, mixing glass… You want to chill your drink fast so you don’t over-dilute it. A well mixed martini should have a silky texture with a crisp edge from the chill.

Your choice of gin matters. You could go for a classic London Dry to balance out the olive brine’s oil and salt, or you could go with a citrus-forward gin to cut through the umami from the olives. You could also lean into all that umami and salt with one of the modern seaweed gins which give a maritime–umami undertone to the usual gin botanicals.

Here are some suggestions.

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