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Here’s everything you need to know about how to make the best dirty martini you’ve ever had. Don’t miss this easy recipe for a classic cocktail.

best dirty martini recipe in a glass with bottles of sapphire gin and vermouth in the background
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Why we love this recipe

In Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, Frederic Henry says of martinis, “I had never tasted anything so cool and clean. They made me feel civilized.” The dirty martini begins with that pristine magic and naughties things up with a big splash of olive brine. Reasonable people can disagree, but if you’re into that sort of thing, it’s a dream come true.

The best dirty martini recipe is:

  • Bracing
  • Savory
  • Elegant
  • Exactly as briny as you like
  • Generously garnished, as so many of the best things are

What you’ll need

Here’s a glance at the ingredients you’ll need to make this recipe.

dirty martini ingredients
  • You’ll start with a good London dry gin. You can refer to the section below for my recommendations if you don’t already have a favorite in mind.
  • Next up, dry vermouth. Dolin is an easy, classic choice that won’t ruffle any feathers. Or try Carpano Dry or Carpano Bianco, an off-dry vermouth that plays well with olive juice.
  • Olive brine is the salty, vinegary liquid that olives are packed in. I tend to use the brine from whatever olives I have around, from the good old 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. Caper brine also makes a delicious dirty martini. You can still garnish it with olives.
  • You’ll garnish with your favorite green olives. More than many drinks, the garnish here plays a big part. I’ve included a section below with some favorite choices.

What’s the best gin for a dirty martini?

I’ve been an almost reflexive fan of Bombay Sapphire since I started drinking gin, and it makes a great martini. It’s a smooth, super-drinkable midpriced London Dry that thrives in a wide variety of cocktails. That said, my personal affinity has as much to do with timing as anything. Diageo sold the brand to Bacardi in 1997, and I graduated from college and moved to NYC in 1998. Sapphire was everywhere and felt fancy to me then. The rest is history.

I also tend to have a bottle of either Hendricks or Tanqueray on hand at all times and often use one of those in the best dirty martini recipe. Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin, Plymouth, The Botanist, and Aviation would make great choices, too.

Olive options

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.

How to make it

Here’s an overview of what you’ll do to make the best dirty martini recipe. You can see the steps in action in the video that accompanies this post, and get all the details in the recipe card below.

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

The history of the dirty martini

I 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.

Expert tips and FAQs

Stirred or 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.

Gin or vodka?


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.

Can I batch the best dirty martini recipe for a party?

I always joke that, in Italian, the word “martini” is already plural. In other words, proceed with caution. But if you’d like to batch this cocktail for a party, you absolutely can.

To make eight drinks, combine in a pitcher up to about 24 hours in advance: 2 1/2 cups gin, 1/2 cup vermouth, 1/2 cup olive brine, and 1/2 cup water. Cover well and chill until serving time. You can spear your olives in advance too if you like. At serving time, divide among glasses and garnish individually.

More classic gin cocktails

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dirty martini with three skewered olives in a martini glass on a light background
4.94 from 15 votes

The Best Dirty Martini Recipe

By Carolyn Gratzer Cope
Classic cocktails don't get more umami-forward than a dirty martini. Here's how to make a great one.
Prep: 5 minutes
Total: 5 minutes
Servings: 1
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Ingredients 

  • 2 ½ ounces (75 ml) good London dry gin
  • ½ ounce (15 ml) dry vermouth
  • ½ ounce (15 ml) olive brine
  • 3 large olives to garnish

Instructions 

  • 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.

Notes

  1. Olive brine is the salty, vinegary liquid that olives are packed in. I tend to use the brine from whatever olives I have around, from the good old 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. Caper brine also makes a delicious dirty martini. You can still garnish it with olives.
  2. Learn more about the other ingredients in the text of the blog post above.
  3. You can batch this cocktail for a party if you like. To make eight drinks, combine in a pitcher up to about 24 hours in advance: 2 1/2 cups gin, 1/2 cup vermouth, 1/2 cup olive brine, and 1/2 cup water. Cover well and chill until serving time. You can spear your olives in advance too if you like. At serving time, divide among glasses and garnish individually.

Nutrition

Calories: 200kcal

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Cocktails
Cuisine: American
Tried this recipe?Mention @umamigirl or tag #umamigirl!

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About Carolyn Gratzer Cope

Hi there, I'm Carolyn Gratzer Cope, founder and publisher of Umami Girl. Join me in savoring life, one recipe at a time. I'm a professional recipe developer with training from the French Culinary Institute (now ICE) and a lifetime of studying, appreciating, and sharing food.

4.94 from 15 votes (15 ratings without comment)

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