When I first encountered Pip Hanson’s Oliveto, my reaction was one of wonderment, bordering on denial.

Olive oil? In a cocktail?

I have no idea how people dream these things up, but my incredulousness gave way to intrigue. I had to try this.

The result is utterly surprising—light, foamy, and luscious, a cross between a gin sour and a Ramos Fizz.

The drink is built on the gin sour model, but with striking enhancements.

The first, and most obvious: it includes olive oil. Far from being just a stunt, the oil mellows the tartness of the lemon on the tongue. The flavor is not the bizarre mix I expected, but instead combines well with the herbal aspects of the gin.

The second: it includes egg white. While this is not new—sours historically include egg white or gum syrup to modify the drink’s texture—Hanson uses egg white to generate a massive foamy head on the drink reminiscent of the Ramos Fizz. The egg foam combines with the oil to provide a soft, lush mouth feel and a very pleasant visual presentation.

The Oliveto Cocktail, photo © 2013 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.
The Oliveto

Here is the basic Oliveto formula from Johnny Michaels’s Northstar Cocktails:

The Oliveto
Pip Hanson, Marvel Bar, Minneapolis

  • 2 oz (heavy) Martin Miller Westbourne gin (or Gordon’s)
  • 1 tsp Licor 43
  • ½ oz simple syrup (2:1)
  • 1 oz fresh lemon juice
  • ½ oz olive oil
  • 1 egg white
  • dash salt solution (3:1)

Preshake all ingredients without ice; add ice and shake again [for about 2 minutes]. Strain into rocks glass.

It’s interesting that Hanson specifies the Miller Westbourne gin in the book, but mixes the Oliveto with Gordon’s at Marvel Bar in Minneapolis. I think it would work well with any juniper-forward London Dry gin, though the Westbourne seems an excellent match—very juniper-forward, with citrus and spice notes and an elevated ABV that combine well in a sour.

Hanson specifies 2:1 syrup; I prefer to make 1:1 syrup (it’s not as sluggish when it comes out of the ’fridge), so I add twice the amount. The extra water dilutes the drink, but the Oliveto is a relatively low-alcohol drink to start with, and it doesn’t seem to matter. (And it doesn’t hurt that the Westbourne gin is a bit higher in alcohol than normal.)

Licor 43 (detail), photo © 2013 Douglas M. Ford. All rights reserved.The sweet, vanilla Licor 43 is a curious addition. It adds a bit of complexity to the flavor, but I experimented with leaving it out, and didn’t particularly notice any loss. On the other hand, more than a teaspoon did not improve the drink.

The olive oil is the hallmark ingredient, and should be a high quality, full-bodied oil. A little spicy or peppery is good.

As with all sours, balancing the lemon juice and the sugars is the trick to making a good drink. I have noticed that the Oliveto’s lemon comes through fairly strongly—more so than you might expect, given the amount of oil and egg—and I tend to short that ounce a bit. The first time I ordered an Oliveto at Marvel, I was surprised to find it more lemon-forward than the ones I made at home.

Salt is becoming a standard ingredient in craft sours, and I think it’s a good thing. The “dash” here is more a reminder than a rule; a tiny bit of salt can lift the flavors of any sour. You’re really measuring in drops, and you’ll need to test for yourself to find the right amount.

The Oliveto remains one of the most popular cocktails at Marvel, and it seems to be the prototype of something truly new in cocktailing. I nearly wrote it off because it just didn’t look right—I “misunderestimated,” as President Bush used to say.

I won’t do that again.