Shall I make you a Martini? Gin or vodka? Bitters? Lots of vermouth? No vermouth? Olive or twist? Up or rocks? Such a simple drink, so many options. And opinions.

So where do you stand on “dirty?”

“Dirty,” of course, refers to the addition of olive brine to the otherwise pristine Martini.

President Franklin Roosevelt is credited with popularizing the style in the 1930s, and even introduced Joseph Stalin to them at the 1943 Tehran Conference. Stalin didn’t like them.

(Winston Churchill was the third ally in that meeting, with his famous preference for extremely dry Martinis. He wouldn’t have liked the Dirty Martini, either. It would have been interesting to be there, with Roosevelt tending bar, and Churchill and Stalin agreeing on what kind of Martini they didn’t like.)

The Dirty Martini, photo © 2012 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.
The Dirty Martini

So how “dirty” is a Dirty Martini?

You won’t get many agreements on this issue, since the answer is, “As dirty as you want it to be.” Roosevelt, by all accounts, was quite careless with his mixing, preferring to regale his guests with stories rather than focus on the mixing task at hand. I’m guessing this resulted in some pretty dodgy cocktails—and Dirty Martinis that were all over the map. Consistency didn’t seem to be an issue at cocktail time.

The nominal proportions usually cited for FDR’s Dirty Martini are as follows:

The Dirty Martini

  • 2 oz London Dry Gin
  • 1 oz dry vermouth (Noilly Prat Blanc)
  • 1 tsp olive brine

Stir (apparently FDR shook) all ingredients with ice, and strain into chilled cocktail stems. Rub the rim of the glass with lemon peel (discard the lemon); garnish the drink with one olive.

That lemon peel rim is a little unusual, and a nice touch.

As mentioned above, the guideline for the amount of olive brine is guided by your taste. Olive brine is unpredictable, and dependent on the source. I suspect that most home bartenders get their olives the same way I do: in the skinny round jars from the grocery. Some are very salty, some very acidic. Your proportions will be tuned to the juice of your preferred brand, so the “one teaspoon” guideline is just that—a guideline, and a minimalistic one at that.

The Dirty Martini Cocktail (detail), photo © 2012 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.If you are really in the mood for olives, you may want to add considerably more brine. The problem with too much is that you will lose the character of the vermouth and gin.

(There are some olive brine products on the market designed just for dirty martinis. I haven’t used any of them, but some have good reputations, and may be worth experimenting with, if you can find them in your market.)

Vermouth helps the olive brine blend with the gin, so it’s the nature of this cocktail to be very “old style,” heavy on vermouth. A “dry” Dirty Martini just doesn’t seem to blend properly.

The Dirty Martini is definitely a “love it or hate it” cocktail. If you’re an olive lover, it will be a welcome addition to the repertoire.