On this episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” hosts Adam Teeter, Joanna Sciarrino, and Zach Geballe discuss the (in)famous Dirty Martini and its alleged “comeback.” The trio debates whether the cocktail should be made with vodka or gin and discuss other elements that make the perfect Dirty Martini.
On this Friday’s tasting, your hosts try a Dirty Martini for themselves made with Kástra Elión Vodka. Tune in to learn more.
Or Check Out the Conversation Here
Adam Teeter: From VinePair’s New York city headquarters, I’m Adam Teeter.
Joanna Sciarrino: And I’m Joanna Sciarrino
Zach Geballe: And in Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.
A: And this is the Friday “VinePair Podcast” — and a happy Friday to all.
J: Oh, happy Friday.
A: We’re up in your feed today. We’re talking about a drink that I don’t particularly like, but all the Gen Zers seem to really love, especially Dua Lipa. And that is the Dirty Martini. Or she would say “filthy.”
J: Filthy. I think they’re different drinks.
Z: They are.
A: So it is everywhere now. The Dirty Martini is everywhere. The Martini is making a comeback. I do not accept this bullsh*t narrative that Gen Z claims that they’re bringing the Martini back. That’s because they learned it from Millennials. We’ve been drinking Martinis. I’m a big Martini fan.
J: I think we got it from the Boomers. No?
A: Yeah. Everyone likes Martinis. Everyone calm down about someone brought the Martini back, just, “Oh, you discovered the Martini?”
A: Congratulations. Like, it’s literally been in every movie. It’s the classic cocktail. Don Draper drank it. Like I don’t want to hear this sh*t, but it is a great drink. The classic Martini. Now the Dirty Martini is another thing entirely. So I’m curious, what are both of your immediate reactions to the Dirty Martini?
J: OK. I have thoughts.
J: I know the Dirty Martini’s been around for a while, actually since the early 20th century.
J: But to me, the Dirty Martini has always existed as the most like capital B, Basic way to consume the drink.
A: Joanna just f*cking fired shots. Keep going.
J: Yeah, because the olive brine in the Dirty Martini masks the actual alcohol and I think the people who drink Dirty Martinis don’t want to taste the alcohol.
A: Yep. It’s like the Pickleback.
J: Yeah, exactly. And so it’s like their way of drinking a cool drink, right? Just totally mask it with olive brine.
J: So yeah, I think it’s like the most basic Martini you could possibly drink.
J: I think the classic, sorry, the classic form of a Dirty Martini. Because I do think that the dirty, quote unquote, Dirty Martinis that we’re seeing on menus today are very different and they’re more clever and they’re more inventive. We see more things than just dumping a bunch of olive brine into them.
Z: OK. So I have an important question to ask both of you before I tell you how I feel about Dirty Martinis. How do the two of you feel about olives?
J: I love olives.
A: Yeah, I love olives too. I think olives are delicious.
J: In general? I love olives.
Z: So what the f*ck is wrong with combining one thing that’s great, olives, with another thing that’s great, booze? Like, I love Dirty Martinis. They’re not a thing I order very often, but they’re tasty and like, OK, fine, basic, I guess. I think they are a lot less basic than a lot of other cocktails. I think we would generally consider people who are trending towards a very sweet masking agent. Like I don’t know, cranberry juice, instead of something that’s savory and not, I would say, easy to enjoy for everyone, I don’t know. To me, this is unnecessary slander on a perfectly fine drink. Like you can tell me that you’re 50/50 Martinis or whatever your two to ones or whatever are great. And they are, and I like those drinks plenty. And when I’m going for a Martini where I want to really experience the gin, I want to experience the vermouth, and I’m going to have an all-in lemon twist in it, great. But there are times, and I think there are totally valid times when, what I want is a little bit of brininess. I want a couple of olives, frankly. I love f*cking blue cheese stuffed olives, which is what I often get when, I get this drink, which is not that often, but sometimes, and like, you know, get off my f*cking case, Joanna.
J: OK. I just think of all the Martini serves, this is the most basic, that’s all I’m saying.
Z: Well, if you’re not including the Espresso Martini, which is definitely more basic.
J: No, I think of the… Yeah, you’re right. Not like those types of ‘tinis.
Z: Sure, but things that are just spirit and one other thing, sure, fine, whatever. But who cares? I mean, I don’t know. Maybe we all care because, God forbid, you’d be basic, but I think there’s a lot of pleasure to be found in that, and that’s cool.
J: Yeah, sure. I mean, I think the Filthy Martini, as Adam mentioned earlier as well, is one step beyond this Dirty Martini, which is, I don’t actually know what the spec on a Filthy Martini is. Arguably more olive brine to spirit.
Z: I think dumping it in. So do you think in terms of the Dirty Martini, is there a right spirit?
J: I don’t know, Zach, you order these, so what do you think?
Z: I mean, I generally order them with gin because I just would prefer that. And I’m usually not ordering a Filthy Martini. To me a Dirty Martini has, I don’t know, a quarter- to maybe a half-ounce of olive brine in it at most. I don’t need it to completely overwhelm the flavor of the spirit. But I think it’s perfectly valid to have a drink that is the amount of brine you like, which could be much more than that, and a cold clear spirit. And if that for you is vodka, great. That’s cool, I don’t have a problem with it. To me, it’s definitely a space where I’m not going to be too picky about the base spirit as long as it’s not terrible. And it’s actually, I think, a valid drink to order somewhere where you’re not, or in the time or a place where you’re not, interested in maybe a $20 cocktail. If you’re at a decent bar and you’re using their well vodka or gin, that’s a perfectly valid drink that’s going to be pretty pleasurable, and if you don’t want to spend, like I said, upwards of $20 on a cocktail, I think that’s a perfectly good way to go.
A: So I think there’s a correct answer and an incorrect answer.
A: And I believe that the only spirit, if you’re going to waste your time with a Dirty Martini, should be vodka. Because if you’re there for the olive brine, you’re there for the olive brine. Because you’re basically for the most part, Zach, I feel like I’ve never seen a Dirty Martini made with that little amount of brine that you’re talking about. It’s usually a lot more.
Z: Like more than half an ounce? That feels excessive. Like that would be definitely into the filthy territory.
J: Because I feel like when you order one…
A: I feel like when I see people make them, dude, they just dump the olive brine from the back bar into the glass.
J: Because I think when people order them, that’s kind of what they’re looking for.
Z: OK. I’m going to push back on this. As someone who bartended for a while and made sh*tloads of Dirty Martinis, like every other cocktail, and actually maybe more than every other cocktail …
A: But you measured it, though.
Z: I did. But I also would ask my guests what they wanted and people have really different levels of the amounts of olive brine they want in it.
J: That’s a good point.
A: That’s a good point.
Z: There’s a reason it’s not something we ever would put on a cocktail menu because someone’s going to call their preferred spec for it. And you’re going to say, someone says, “I want a Dirty Martini.” I would always ask them, “What does that mean to you?” And some people would be like, you know…
J: How dirty?
Z: Really excessive. “I want a dirty, dirty, dirty, Dirty Martini or a Filthy Martini.” Then, you’re going to dump in a sh*t load, to all, of olive brine, but the average person who’s wanting it, does not, I think, actually want to taste only olive brine. They want a balanced cocktail and you can absolutely balance the cocktail with olive brine and either gin or vodka. And I think actually, to push back, I think gin balances with olive brine much better than most vodka does for, from both a flavor standpoint and also a texture standpoint. Again, olive brine is going to be rich and viscous and a lot of vodka is not that, necessarily. And so to me, it’s like any cocktail. Right? You know, there are a lot of ways to come about it. Or I should say it’s like some cocktails. It’s not like a Negroni, where there’s a correct way to make it, in my opinion. It’s a cocktail that is very much customized to the individual person’s preference, like all Martinis really are. And therefore you have to ask your guest, if you’re making it, how they prefer it. And if they can’t articulate it to you, then, OK, maybe you go by a standard amount, which I think would be no more than half an ounce. Because that’s a lot of olive brine; olive brine is strong.
Z: And if someone wants it… The other thing is, the juices, if someone wants it brinier, you can always add more. It’s not hard to do that.
A: So then, OK. Fine. Agree to disagree on the gin versus vodka. Although I still think it’s vodka.
A: But vermouth? Is there any point in adding vermouth?
Z: No. And I would assume that anyone who orders a Dirty Martini doesn’t want vermouth in their drink.
Z: Unless they say otherwise.
A: So we agree that basically it’s straight vodka or gin and then olive brine. That’s the cocktail.
A: OK. So that’s interesting because I have seen people who’ve said they wanted a Martini, and I’ve watched the Martini get made and they’ve requested gin, and I feel like I’ve seen certain bartenders then make a classic Martini and they’ve added vermouth. And then they’ve also added olive brine. And I’ve been like, “Huh, that doesn’t seem to work for me.” So maybe that’s my bias against the gin Dirty Martini.
Z: I would agree, that seems—
Z: That just seems like … Well, yeah. I mean again, if someone wants that, fine, but without someone specifying that they want vermouth in their Dirty Martini, I would never think to add it because frankly you’re using the olive brine the same way you use the vermouth to alter the flavor of the spirit by itself. Like that’s why you, I mean, it’s not the only reason you add vermouth, but it’s also to cut the ABV, etc. And so I don’t see that as being… The two of them plus spirit seem like a good combo because they don’t really complement each other.
J: I think we’re seeing vermouth and other things added to Dirty Martinis now, though, the ones that have kind of evolved past the classic Dirty Martini of olive brine and spirit.
A: I think we are because beverage professionals are deciding they need to have it on the list.
A: I think, Zach, when you were bartending, right, in the early aughts.
Z: Oh, it wasn’t that long ago, but sure.
A: OK, fine. In the teens.
Z: Yeah. In the early teens. In the early teens, to be fair.
A: When you transitioned from behind the bar to somming. But it was a drink that I knew people ordered. I had friends who would order it once in a while. Me and my parents’ friends, I would hear them order it. But you wouldn’t see it on the list because it was just one of the Martinis.
A: Now I think it’s become so popular, it’s become very big in pop culture. Like we said, Dua Lipa is talking about it in interviews, that she’s obsessed with Filthy Martinis, blah, blah, blah, blah. I think a lot of the… Like the Espresso Martini, a lot of venues feel this pressure to have one on the menu, but they want to have their spin on it.
A: So now we’re all of a sudden seeing the move away from the classic, what I think we’re both talking about, which is, it’s either gin or vodka with olive brine, to having some vermouth in it, some other random sh*t. I see people putting in pepper, olive oil.
J: Different pickles.
J: Anchovies. MSG.
A: All this kind stuff. Oh yeah. I had a crazy Dirty Martini. I think I talked to you guys about it.
J: Yeah, we talked about it.
A: With the anchovy juice.
J: Yeah, same.
A: It’s a thing people are doing now because they thought they need to have something but needed to be weirder than just what we’re talking about. And I think that’s where also for me, it’s getting to be too much. Like I’m not trying to have a salt lick for my cocktail. You know what I mean? I don’t need to go along with that and then have tons, and tons, and tons of glasses of water afterwards.
J: See, I like where we’re going with it now because it feels more thoughtful than that original version of the drink.
J: And then at least it feels like a crafted cocktail in the way that other cocktails on a menu are.
J: I think my biggest issue was back when Dirty Martinis became very popular. Maybe a decade ago. I don’t know. It felt like there was a time where everyone was ordering them, that when you did order a Martini, and this happened to me a few times, they would just give you a Dirty Martini. And you’re like, “Actually, I don’t want a Dirty Martini.” And that really annoyed me.
Z: Well I think one positive about where we are in this space now, is that I think there is a better understanding that a Martini is not a monolith and that there are a lot of different ways to make a drink that you might call a Martini. And there are variants, whether they’re dirty, whether they’re different ratios of vermouth to spirit, whether they’re gin or vodka, etc. And I think that, again, the lesson here, I think most instructively is, if you’re putting something on your menu, that’s one thing, right? You can list out the ingredients. You can be pretty confident, but when someone calls a drink like a Martini to you as a bartender, as a server or whatever, it’s like your responsibility to ask that person a few questions about what they’re looking for and never assume anything in that kind of cocktail, because the Martini is such a variable drink that there’s no one-size-fits-all recipe that will work for everyone. And, yeah, if you’re giving someone a Dirty Martini, when they have it specified, that’s what they want. You’re doing a sh*tty job, but that’s true with a lot of drinks, you know, if you’re not asking your guests what they want or not paying attention to what they say they want.
Z: That’s just bad service. I don’t think it’s the drink’s fault.
A: So let’s try a Dirty Martini. So Zach, you obviously have one with gin.
Z: I do.
J: Tell us about it.
A: Want to tell us?
Z: Yeah. So I have some Aviation Gin here. I did about 2 ounces. Honestly, to me, this is a drink that I don’t measure. Like I don’t bother because it’s a feel more than a recipe, in my opinion. And then, if I had to guess, it’s about a half-ounce of olive brine. Somewhere between a quarter and a half, like I said, didn’t measure. And I have some blue cheese stuffed olives. They’re not actually technically Castelvetrano, they’re some other Italian variety that I can’t remember the name of, but they’re big green olives, the kind you’re used to, I think they’re Cerignolas, actually, now that I think about it.
J: Is that the brine you used?
Z: Yes. I don’t have other olive brine just lying around, as it turns out.
J: You know, you never know. And how many olives do you have?
Z: I have two.
A: Interesting. I learned from Tim McKirdy, that two means someone’s taking a mob hit out on you.
Z: Well, I guess I’m taking a hit out on myself since I also made it.
A: OK. I never knew that, I never knew that, Tim. So we have one made by Tim McKirdy, and it is a vodka Dirty Martini.
A: And it is using a Greek vodka.
A: What’s the name of the Greek vodka?
J: Kástra Elión.
J: And it’s made from …
A: I’ll never remember that.
J: It’s made from grain and olives.
A: Cool, which was his thoughtful touch here. Yes. And then it’s Colla the Strano.
A: Castelvetrano. Colla the Strano. Castelvetrano. I’m sorry, Keith, don’t do it to me.
J: Olive brine.
A: Olive brine. And how much did he use?
J: So he used 2 and a quarter ounces of the vodka, three-quarter ounce of the olive brine, and then three pimento olives?
A: Yeah. This is someone’s spec.
A: So there you go. See, he used a lot of olive brine.
J: So this was mixed for us. Yeah. That was a lot. I feel like yours feels, a quarter of an ounce feels…
A: Like he stirred it.
J: Lightly dirty.
Z: Well, that’s the extent of dirty that I am, personally.
A: Slightly dirty. All right. Let’s go.
J: Smells good.
A: I don’t know if it’s the vodka, but it’s just not a drink for me. It’s fine.
J: I like it.
A: It tastes like drinking…
J: It tastes olive-y.
A: Sea water.
J: It tastes very olive-y. But I like it.
Z: Do you just not like brine? But you like briny things, I don’t understand why this is a problem.
A: Because I like a Martini. I like how a Martini has… First of all, I’m a Gin Martini drinker, but I like how a Martini is so clean and pure and you have the lemon from the twist and the botanicals, and maybe you add a little bit of orange bitters. It’s just this fantastic, really drinkable cocktail that feels very sophisticated. This doesn’t feel sophisticated to me. This feels like I’m just drinking salt water.
Z: Hmm. Well, I’m not going to argue with you on that point. I like a Dirty Martini. I mean, again, I think some of it is balanced and maybe yeah, the spec that was used here is maybe not balanced to your preference. I think there’s a lot of variables and all that. To me, what I like about a Dirty Martini that I make for myself or that I might order, is that it isn’t that classic Martini. I mean, I love the classic Martini. I drink them with some regularity, but sometimes I want something different. I like lots of different cocktails, as we all do. And obviously we don’t all just drink one drink.
Z: And maybe part of this comes out of a… There are people and there were times when people had a drink, right. They didn’t have 50 drinks that they liked. So maybe they tried a Martini and were like, “Eh, it’s’ not for me, so what else can I try?” Well, a Dirty Martini. “OK, that’s going to be my order every time I go to a bar.” And fine, whatever, that’s how people can behave, and that’s how they can feel about drinking. That’s cool. But for me, I like it as an alternative. It’s definitely a thing I drink less frequently than a classic Martini, to be clear. But I think there are times and places when I enjoy it. And I like the sort of interplay of the olive-y, briny flavors with the flavors in gin. Again, this is why I prefer it with gin because to me they do work well, especially like a juniper-forward gin. There’s a savory component to those kinds of spirits and the brininess of the olives works well for me. I would think that sitting at a bar, drinking a classic Martini, and eating some Castelvetrano olives sounds pretty good to me. So this drink is basically just cutting out the middleman.
J: Doing the same. Yeah. I think I would sooner make one at home for myself than order it out, I think.
J: But yeah, I like this. I think I like, to your point, Zach, I like olives. I like Castelvetrano olives. I think this tastes nice. It is quite olive-forward and quite salty. So if that’s for you, then I understand why you order one.
A: Yep. I do too. All right. Well with that…
J: Tell us your thoughts on Dirty Martinis, everyone.
A: Let us know, yeah. Are you a big Dirty Martini fan? Do you have a spec that you think is more delicious than another spec? Do you think it should be gin? Should it be vodka? Do you agree with me or Zach, basically?
Z: Are you Dua Lipa? Do you want to come on here and talk about it, please?
A: Hey, Dua Lipa, come on.
A: And yeah. Let us know what you think, firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a great weekend, everybody. We’ll see you back here Monday. Zach, Joanna, peace out.
J: Talk to you Monday, guys.
Z: Sounds great.
Thanks so much for listening to the “VinePair Podcast.” If you love this show as much as we love making it, please leave us a rating or review on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever it is you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show.
Now for the credits. VinePair is produced and recorded in New York City and Seattle, Washington, by myself and Zach Geballe, who does all the editing and loves to get the credit. Also, I would love to give a special shout-out to my VinePair co-founder, Josh Malin, for helping make all of this possible, and also to Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director, who is additionally a producer on the show. I also want to, of course, thank every other member of the VinePair team, who are instrumental in all of the ideas that go into making the show every week. Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll see you again.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.