There is no denying the major buzz surrounding the Martini right now — especially the Dirty Martini. While we wouldn’t dare call it a comeback — the classics never go out of style — everyone from star bartenders to A-list celebrities has been flocking to the drink this year for good reason. Characterized by a savory edge that elevates the Martini’s classic spirit-forward flavor profile, Dirty Martinis are traditionally made by adding olive brine to the classic recipe build of either gin or vodka and vermouth.
Beloved for the salty and briny edge they add to cocktails, it’s important to use a good olive when garnishing your next Martini. To learn what kinds of olives are best, we asked 11 bartenders from across North America for their favorites. As it turns out, this question is not as divisive as “shaken or stirred?” — one olive style has clearly stolen the hearts of bar professionals countrywide.
The Best Olives for Martinis, According to Bartenders
“My No. 1 choice would be Castlevetrano olives, either pitted or not. This classic Sicilian olive is rich, buttery, not too sweet, not too salty, and holds up in a stiff gin or vodka Martini perfectly. My second choice would be a Picholine olive. While French in origin, these olives are widely grown around the world. They have a mild brine with some fruitiness while still [being] able to stand out in a classic Martini, however you choose to imbibe.” —Seth VanLaanen, general manager, The Family Jones Spirit House and Distillery, Denver
“Sanniti Castelvetrano olives are my favorite for Dirty Martinis. They aren’t as briny as other olives, and they are also great for stuffing with blue cheese or feta.” —Mathew Scherl, beverage director & general manager, Lagos, NYC
“In my humble opinion, Castlevetrano pitted olives are such a joy to eat when sipping on a nice, cold Dirty Martini. These olives will change the idea of what an olive should truly be. The olives come from southwestern Italy and are usually harvested young. When using these olives in a Martini, the experience is best described as sweet, buttery, and meaty. When jarred, the juice from these olives tends to be less salty and adds a crisp finish to the drink. I bet President FDR would have loved this alternative to his favorite drink.” —Evan Cablayan, head of beverage, Mercy Me in Yours Truly, Washington, D.C.
“We are using Losada olives at Saint Theo’s. Losada are from Spain and are a very meaty type of olive. They are pitted, so they’re the perfect fit for a Martini — kind of large, very tasty, and aesthetically beautiful in a glass. The brine is also one of the best for Dirty Martinis in my opinion, as you can easily adjust the salt and water level to make it to your taste.” —Simon Sebbah, beverage director, Saint Theo’s, NYC
“At Lady Jane, we use Castlevetrano olives for those who crave that subtle brine an olive brings to the classic Martini. The Castlevetrano is a mild, buttery, and soft olive compared to others which can be very salty, aggressive, or overpowering, thus throwing off the balance of your cocktail entirely.” —Stuart Weaver, general manager, Lady Jane, Denver
“The best olives for Martinis, in my opinion, are classic Italian Castlevetranos. They are hearty enough to accentuate the flavors of the gin. While a Queen olive tends to soften and get funky while trying to garnish with them due to their propensity, Italian Castlevetrano do not — they offer presentation and flavor all in one! Just don’t be afraid of the pits — they keep the olives fresh and flavorful.” —Drew Breen, bartender and restaurant manager, CAMP Modern American Eatery, Greenville, S.C.
“My favorite type of olives are Manzanilla olives. They are slightly nutty and smoky and honestly just easier to find in Mexico City. We also love to stuff them with Gorgonzola cheese for the ultimate Dirty Martini experience. Vive Sabor is my go-to brand.” —Tito Pin Perez, creative director, Rayo Cocktail Bar, Mexico City
“Castlevetrano olives are my favorites to use in Martinis!” —Ali Martin, head bartender, The Up & Up, NYC
“I enjoy using Italian Castlevetrano olives in Dirty Martinis over the more common cured green olives for their meaty, savory taste.” —Scott Tipton, director of beverage programming, The Apparatus Room, Detroit
“We use Castlevetrano olives and are certain that’s the only way to go. They have a sweet and buttery flavor to them and are cleaner than any other olive. They are usually not cured in salt, but rather lye, which removes all their bitterness resulting in a garnish that does not overpower the flavors in a classic Dirty Martini. They’re big and firm, which makes them my favorite garnish and perfect snack for when you finish your drink.” —Mario Skaric, founder, Figaro Cafe, NYC
“I always go with Castlevetrano olives. Their meaty, oily texture accentuates the flavors in gin and vermouth beautifully. They also provide a subtle brininess in a cold Martini that I love. It makes my mouth water.” —Lauren “LP” Paylor O’Brien, founder, LP Drinks Co.; winner, “Drink Masters” Season 1, Washington, D.C.