I had my first martini at a swanky London establishment called The Library Bar.
Despite the fanfare, I wasn’t sold on the drink. It was simply too plain for my taste. The best part was the briny bite of the olive.
Maybe that’s why I’ve always loved a dirty martini.
A splash of olive brine adds salty-savory complexity that brings out the herbaceous qualities of gin and vermouth while smoothing out the cocktail’s brash alcoholic edge.
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According to cocktail historian David Wondrich, the original dirty martini was invented in 1901 at New York’s Waldorf Astoria, where bartender John O’Connor “sullied” the storied cocktail with muddled olives. The purists were appalled, but the drink took off.
And at some point along the way, brine replaced the crushed olives.
These days, bartenders dirty martinis with all sorts of additions, including a pinch of MSG with olive brine for the ultimate savory take, as well as swapping olive brine for the salty, tangy, funky liquids from all sorts of other pickles and even the brine from a cheese such as feta.
Inspired by some of these alternative dirty martinis, I decided to do some experimenting.
How To CocktailThe first-ever cocktail book from America’s most-trusted test kitchen includes essential classics, twists on old favorites; and brand-new test kitchen creations.
Our Favorite Alternative Brines in a Dirty Martini
I grabbed capers, feta cheese, cornichons, and preserved lemons as well as pickled onions, banana peppers, and jalapeños from the test kitchen pantry and used the brine from each to mix up a slew of martinis.
Tasters rejected the caper brine, which added fruity flavors. We also weren’t fans of the pickled onion brine, which was too acidic without enough salinity.
But we loved the unexpected twist the other brines brought to the martini: Feta brine’s lactic acid added appealing smoothness; preserved lemon brine contributed deep lemony flavor without the harshness of fresh citrus; and the cornichon brine brought pleasant herbal notes.
The standouts, though, were the banana pepper and jalapeño brines, which added pronounced chile flavor and a warming capsaicin kick, in addition to just the right amount of salinity.
How to Make a Dirty Martini
To dirty your own martini, we suggest starting with our recommended ratios and then, if need be, scaling the vermouth and brine up or down to suit your own tastes in your next batch.
1. Add 2½ ounces of gin (or vodka) and ½ ounce each of dry vermouth and the brine of your choice to a mixing glass.
2. Fill the glass with ice and stir until the mixture is thoroughly chilled.
3. Strain into a coupe glass. Serve.