How to Make a Dirty Martini

In the realm of classic cocktails, it’s doesn’t get much more classic — nor much more umami — than the dirty martini. Maybe that’s why this has been our favorite posh drink since day one. Here’s everything you need to know about how to make a dirty martini. And you can browse all our cocktails, from classic to craft, right here.

dirty martini with three skewered olives in a martini glass on a light background with blurred bottles of sapphire gin and dry vermouth behind the glass

Why we love this recipe

As Hemingway’s Frederic Henry says of martinis in A Farewell to Arms, “I had never tasted anything so cool and clean. They made me feel civilized.”

The splash of olive brine that turns a martini into a dirty martini changes the drink’s vibe from perfectly clean to clean with a savory backbone. But otherwise, that’s exactly what we’ve always loved about this drink. Everything about the experience just feels right.

Ingredients for a dirty martini

You don’t need much for a dirty martini. With just a few ingredients, it’s worth sussing out your favorites in each category. You’ll need:

  • Gin
  • Dry vermouth
  • Olive brine
  • Green olives, to garnish
collage of steps to make a dirty martini

How to make a dirty martini

Here’s all you need to do to make a great cocktail. You can see the process in action in the video that accompanies this post.

  • Add plenty of ice to a mixing glass.
  • Pour in gin, vermouth, and olive brine.
  • Stir until very well chilled.
  • Strain into a martini glass.
  • Garnish with three large, skewered olives and serve.

What’s the best gin for a dirty martini?

We’ve been almost reflexive fans of Bombay Sapphire since we started drinking gin. It’s a smooth, super-drinkable midpriced London Dry gin that thrives in a wide variety of cocktails, to be sure. But most likely our affinity has to do more with timing than anything.

Diageo sold the brand to Bacardi in 1997, and we graduated from college and moved to NYC in 1998. Sapphire was everywhere and felt fancy to us then. The rest is history.

We also seem to have Tanqueray on hand at all times and often use it in a dirty martini. And a brand collaboration resulted in our being shipped a bottle of Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin, which did NOT last long in this house and would also make a great choice.

Other easily available, excellent choices of gin for a dirty martini include:

  • Plymouth
  • Hendricks
  • The Botanist
  • Aviation

What’s the best vermouth for a dirty martini?

Here are our favorites:

  • Dolin dry vermouth, a classic choice that plays very well with others (in many a cocktail, including this one)
  • Carpano Bianco (an off-dry vermouth that plays well with olive juice) or Carpano Dry

What’s the deal with olive brine?

Olive brine is the salty, vinegary liquid that olives are packed in. We tend to use the brine from whatever olives we have around, from the good old Goya pimento-stuffed petite green olives that we use for tacos to big, plump Cerignola or Castelvetrano olives.

You can also buy a bottle of olive brine made for cocktails, such as Dirty Sue.

Protip: caper brine also makes a delicious dirty martini. You can still garnish it with olives.

What olives to use for a dirty martini

Good-quality briny, salty, green olives are your best bet for a dirty martini. Try green Cerignolas, Sevillanos, or even Castelvetranos for a sweeter taste. After that, it’s up to you. We prefer ours on the larger side and pitted, but this is a matter of taste.

We have also been known to use stuffed olives in a dirty martini when we’re feeling a little extra filthy. Garlic, anchovies, and blue cheese all work well if you like them. When we use stuffed olives, we don’t use their brine, which can be murky. Instead, we use a cleaner brine from a bottle, or from different olives.

The history of the dirty martini

We always love the slightly suspect histories surrounding classic cocktails, and the martini is no exception. There are several theories about the origin of this drink (source). It may have been invented:

  • In Martinez, California, during the Gold Rush, when a miner struck gold and requested Champagne at his local bar to celebrate. The bartender didn’t have Champagne and instead invented a cocktail containing gin, vermouth, bitters, maraschino liqueur, and a slice of lemon — The Martinez Special. The miner loved the drink enough to order it again in San Francisco, thereby spreading the word. Over time, the drink lost its sweet elements.
  • In San Francisco, when a miner requested a drink on his way to Martinez, CA.
  • At New York’s Knickerbocker Hotel.
  • In honor of Martini & Rossi vermouth.

Regardless of its precise origins, we know that the martini has been around since the mid-1800s, and that it’s still hard to beat.

As for who put the dirty in dirty martini, word has it that a New York bartender named John O’Connor started muddling the olive garnish into a martini circa 1901, and that muddled olive was eventually replaced with a splash of olive brine.

Stirred, not shaken

Everyone knows that James Bond orders martinis “shaken, not stirred.” This has led to a persistent misunderstanding of the martini as a shaken drink. The thing is, it’s a stirred drink. (Shaking tends to be for cocktails with juices, dairy, or egg whites, which like to be aerated — and there’s an idea that shaking may “bruise” gin, though I can’t say I’ve ever experienced this in a shaken gin drink.)

Anyhoo. That’s why Bond had to ask for it differently.

The vodka martini

One thing’s for sure. A martini is made with gin. If you prefer to use vodka, go for it, but that’s a vodka martini.

I’m not sure when this stopped being obvious, but there’s lots of needless confusion about it now.

If you ask me, “Default to gin” would make a pretty good life motto. So the dirty martini and I agree on that.

And virtually everything else.

dirty martini with three skewered olives in a martini glass on a light background

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How to Make a Dirty Martini

Classic cocktails don't get more umami-forward than a dirty martini. Here's how to make one.

Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes
Serves 1

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 ounces good gin
  • 1/2 ounce dry vermouth
  • 1/2 ounce olive brine
  • 3 large olives to garnish

Directions

  1. Add plenty of ice to a mixing glass.
  2. Pour in gin, vermouth, and olive brine.
  3. Stir until very well chilled.
  4. Strain into a martini glass.
  5. Garnish with three large, skewered olives and serve.

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Nutrition Information

Amount Per Serving:

Calories:: 200

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