On this episode of “Cocktail College,” host Tim McKirdy is joined by Simon Sebbah, beverage director of New York’s Grand Tour Hospitality. They explore the history of the Dirty Martini, the perfect olive brine, and the importance of ice-cold temperatures and precise dilution when it comes to this drink. Tune in for more.

Listen Online

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Listen on Spotify

Simon Sebbah’s Dirty Martini Recipe


  • 3 ounces gin or vodka (such as Tanqueray No. 10 or Grey Goose)
  • 1 ounce olive brine
  • Olive to garnish


  1. Combine gin or vodka (taken from the freezer) and chilled olive brine into a mixing glass with ice.
  2. Stir slightly.
  3. Strain into chilled coupe glass.
  4. Garnish with a singular olive.

Tim Mckirdy: It’s “Cocktail College.” We’re in the studio here with Simon Sebbah. Simon, welcome. Thanks for joining us.

Simon Sebbah: Thank you for having me.

T: It’s a wonderful day today. Fall’s kicking in here in New York. Nice temperatures outside.

S: It’s pretty hot. As I told you, I just came back from Europe. Weather was amazing and now you don’t know how to dress here. It’s just like you leave your home with the jacket and midday, you just swim.

T: You’re warm. I tell you what, I do enjoy this time of year. We’re off topic already, but I do enjoy this time of year because I have a collection of light jackets that probably gets a three-week window twice a year. I have too many of them, so I’m just trying to wear them all now.

S: I actually saw a meme on the internet, I think it was yesterday or something. It’s like, you leave your home at 6 a.m. in New York, it’s winter. By 10 a.m. it’s fall and whatever. It’s just like you get four seasons in a single day in New York.

T: In a single day. It’s wonderful. I tell you what it is good for, drinking Dirty Martinis. That’s today’s episode.

S: You’re right.

T: How do you feel about the Dirty Martini, just off the bat as a cocktail? How do you feel about it?

S: Well, I mean, Martinis in general, just the way of making stirred drinks in a very simple way like Martini, for example, has been my background for I will say 12 years. I collaborated with the biggest cocktail bar on the planet using very simple techniques and you just realize as people cross paths with you that doing simple things are usually the most complicated things. Just using regular bar techniques or bar tools or how you control temperature in a drink, which is the number one factor in the Martini in general. Really, my go-to drink everywhere I go is a Martini, can be made in many different ways, I don’t have a very precise way I like it, but we are here to talk about Dirty Martinis.

T: I am with you there on that one. The Martini is my go-to, it’s well publicized at this point. I just speak about it all the time. But it’s interesting because you talk about those techniques being so crucial for the Martini, and I think sometimes maybe people don’t afford the same attention to the Dirty Martini because… I don’t know, we’re going to get into some of the components of it, but maybe because you have the brine that’s very bold, that maybe you might feel like it’s not as nuanced as a classical Martini, but we’re going to treat it properly today.

S: Yeah, sure. I’m ready.

The History of the Dirty Martini

T: All right, let’s start with the history. Let’s go chronologically, the Martini itself, obviously the origins are disputed. No one really knows where it began. Was it the Martinez, was it something else? Was it even the Manhattan that morphed into the Martini? What about the Dirty Martini, though? What do we know about the history of this drink?

S: Dirty Martini, that’s a tough question because if you think about origin, as you said, it’s disputed. There are so many different opinions. I will have a feeling that Martinez is the true origin. But again, that’s just my personal opinion. I don’t have any specific way of thinking of when olive brine or people talking about Dirty Martinis that have really been a thing. I want to believe it has been around that time. But also, if you look at the very old James Bond movies, the Vesper is also a very critical point of where the drink had been created for a very specific character in a movie. And that was just the way of calling it a Vesper Martini and incorporating a base spirit like gin or vodka with other things. Clearly in that case, it is used as vermouth for example. But I don’t know when the first James Bond movie was put out, but I know it was a long time ago and I want to believe that’s around that time when people actually started to play around with, “Oh, you can actually incorporate all these things to create a very balanced drink using two components.” But that again, that’s my personal feeling about it. I’m not a big researcher on the internet and looking at thousands of opinions is really what I personally feel, like the people in the industry as well. The different communication that I had with multiple people, I will have to say that’s what I believe is true. But again, I could be wrong, I could be right.

T: And when you think of a Dirty Martini, because I would argue it’s almost become a style of Martini. Like you’re saying there, there’s no one recipe for it. But just in terms of ingredients, what do you think of when someone says Dirty Martini?

S: Well, I have to be honest, there are a lot of people that, especially here, have a hard time understanding what they want to drink when they order a Dirty Martini. There are a lot of ways to balance the drink properly. Personally, I like slightly dirty, you can just use a regular olive brine, it doesn’t have to be a fancy product. But with very minimal tools, I believe you can make one of the best Martinis in the world from your home using very minimal things as long as you know how to get the ingredients straight. I don’t know if there are further questions, but otherwise I will jump into what I have in mind. But as I said, you can use really simple gin or vodka as a base spirit, but the Martini overall for me is really about having everything at the proper temperature. Martini overall is dilution. How you control the liquid being at proper temperature and how you control the dilution you’re adding into the drink without being too powerful or too strong or whatever. So I have a very straight idea. I make Martinis at home and I have 80 percent of the time, not because I make it, but I will say it’s better than most of the bars I go to just because of the fact that I keep my gin and my vodka in my freezer. I have Martini coupes in my freezer as well. I have ice that I make in my freezer. So technically it’s a funny story because the first time I actually drank a Martini the proper way was in London at a bar called Dukes, a very old bar. And they don’t stir drinks.

T: It’s the freezer Martini.

S: They really pour a frozen bottle of spirits from the thing and it’s just almost syrupy because it’s so cold. I’m not sure if I’m pronouncing this right, but “anastasia” or your palate. I don’t know if you get it.

T: Anesthetize I think is the word.

S: Yeah. And I think that’s the entire goal of a Martini. You shouldn’t feel like you’re drinking something extremely powerful. It should be very delicate. That also comes with people shaking Martinis.

T: Well it’s interesting because that is one that we will explore for this and you can argue maybe, because we’re using the olive brine. I guess I was asking that before as well and we’ll get into it when it comes to ingredients, but are we using vermouth or is it just brine? And again, these are things that are open to debate. I do think maybe the origin of this, I would assume that people were using olives as a garnish in their gin Martinis and their classic Martinis or even vodka and someone maybe one day, actually maybe they ran out of vermouth, maybe the vermouth went bad and they’re like, “You know what? I’ll just use some of this brine instead of the vermouth.” Well it’s not similar but there’s a savoriness to it.

S: Yeah, I mean I will say maybe, for example, the Gibson as a history of adding a savory component into a base spirit. So God knows who explored that option, it’s a good thing, thank God somebody did that.

T: What about today? So forget the history because again, it’s murky, but modern times. There’s a lot of talk of a Martini revival, whatever. The Martini is a classic but I think definitely it has reached maybe more drinkers in recent times and I wonder whether some of those connections are tied to the Dirty Martini. Because I feel like among folks that aren’t in the industry, maybe the Dirty is the more popular version. Is that something that you see at bars and is that something that’s unique to the U.S. or is that the case when you’ve been in London or other countries in Europe?

S: I will say, I mean don’t get me wrong, but I feel like British people, they know what they’re drinking when they go to a bar. They’re very well educated in that term. And I feel like Martinis in general, like Dirty Martinis or just regular Martinis, have been strongly coming back after Covid just because of the fact that I feel like people being stuck at home trying to have fun any way they could or just making a simple drink at home is just bringing back the vibe of drinking Martini. I feel for the past year, year and a half people go to bars or restaurants and they just want something simple. They want to go and they just want to have a very simple meal, good and efficient, very simple cocktails. You can see Espresso Martini, Negroni, all that stuff. We own venues in Manhattan that sell almost 600 Martinis per night. And very little, like 93 percent of our sales are Martinis. And you can just tell. There is no age, there is no preference. Dirty Martini is definitely the number one. Yeah, I feel like, I don’t know, they’re just a vibe. People are past the way of not being vegan and gluten-free and all that stuff, but people are trying fusion and new things and opening new concepts, etc. I feel like that wave is gone and now people want classic. They know what they want when they go to a place and you can argue that. And I feel there is no better way to… If you have a venue or you go to a place and they serve amazing Martinis, very casual food, but you don’t need anything else. And I feel Covid helped people realize that you don’t need fancy, you just need what you want being well done.

T: It is interesting to hear there that you say that the Dirty Martini probably wins out in terms of those sales there among so many. I wonder whether it’s like… If you’re not in the industry or if you’re not an aficionado, you’re not geeking out on spirits. Yeah, vodka is more approachable than gin. Gin tastes like juniper, juniper is not that easy to come to terms with at first and then a vodka Martini made with vermouth, again, that’s a very nuanced subtle tasting drink. Whereas the olive brine, I mean who doesn’t love an olive? So I just feel like the Dirty Martini is probably the strongest flavor but maybe the most approachable.

S: Yeah, I mean, as you said, for somebody that’s not from the industry, let’s say your group of friends, you go out on Thursday night, you know you’re going to have dinner and drinks, etc. I don’t feel there is a better drink than a savory drink like a Dirty Martini to start your evening, opens up your palate, and makes you hungry. There are a lot of things that get in place, helps you have a smoother night. If I were to have one drink at a bar for a very specific occasion and I had to order a Martini, I would go with not a Dirty Martini, even though I love it, but I feel like you drink that. The more you drink Martinis, I feel the more you realize how you adjust what you like. I will say 80 percent of the people will go with vodka just because, as you said, maybe it’s more affordable, maybe it’s the taste, they know better. Maybe gin is too technical for them and they think gin is being only mixed with vermouth or straight up and that brine doesn’t go well or something like that. You don’t know what’s going on in people’s minds. And I feel like I like the fact that I can educate customers on a daily basis, even though we’re really busy, when I get two random customers coming to the bar and be like, “Hey, can I have a Martini?” And they don’t give a single explanation of how they want the drink made, it’s good to explain to people, try to orient them to the better choice. I know I’ve done that a lot of times and now probably some people go to random bars and they know exactly what they like and they feel confident ordering it in a bar.

T: So I think it says something about yourself when you get to that point of having your own Martini order. I don’t know, you go to the bar and know how to order a Martini. And no judgment against anyone who doesn’t, but knowing how to order it is being the person at the restaurant that your friends will give you the wine list when it comes to the table and there’s a nice feeling about that.

S: Yeah, that’s for sure. I mean I don’t think you need to be a bartender or extra knowledgeable, but how you like things, it’s a personal preference and I feel like confidence, some people there are shy to speak to a bartender because of the people listening around them. This is something I see a lot nowadays, people going white when they order Martini, the bartender is like, “How do you like your Martini?” And they think they’re making fun of them or it can be…

T: Intimidating.

S: Intimidating, exactly. And I don’t think that’s the right way to go. It’s just all about confidence. And I think it doesn’t go only for Martini, but just in life in general. If you make a mistake or you try things one, twice, three times, by fourth or fifth, you understand. You understand, “Okay, I’m not making that mistake again and this is how I like my things.”

T: Nice.

S: Just a regular thing.

T: Here’s something for you. Question for you, the name. Do we think the name, the Dirty Martini, A) Do you think that has kind of added to its appeal or its notoriety? This is a Dirty Martini. And also B) Do you think it’s fair to call it the Dirty Martini? Because in some way does that imply that it’s not as good or what’s so dirty about olive brines? I don’t get it.

S: I mean that’s a good question. I feel like since you are so familiar with the name of Dirty Martini, I never asked myself that question, to be honest with you. And I don’t know, maybe I will have a preference to say that if you order a straight-up Martini, you have a crystal-clear drink in front of you and a Dirty Martini gives you this opal, almost a brown color. And I will have to say that again, I didn’t see this anywhere, that’s just personal and just breaks the color of crystal-clear components.

T: Maybe that’s it. Yeah, that makes sense. Yeah, maybe it’s a visual thing. But I will say, because otherwise olives are a pretty sophisticated little snack. I don’t think anyone enjoys their first olive, but once you get into them.

S: Yeah, I mean I loved my first olive. But I’m not the type of guy that adds like three olives or stuff like that. I just take the drink as it goes. And again, my flare sometimes tells me I shouldn’t be ordering Martinis in certain places. And also I have common sense of very specific places I go to just have a beer or just decompress. That’s not my go-to drink. No matter where I go, I order a Dirty Martini or a Martini. But yeah.

T: Obviously we’ve discussed that this drink can take on many forms, but I think for the purposes of this question we’re going to say that it’s vodka, brine, maybe a little vermouth, maybe not. But when you’re thinking about that combination, what are you looking for when it comes to the best-prepared version of this drink in terms of what you want to taste? Where does the balance lie?

S: So again, if you think of a Martini, you think of two ingredients. So if somebody orders a Martini, what I feel that person wants, obviously, is a strong drink, in that case vermouth and brine helps mellow the strength of the base spirits. But again, I feel if you have your ingredients stored the proper way and you can be at home, you don’t need anything. That’s actually coming after. But again, I told you I like my Martini slightly dirty just to have a little something on my palate. Or if I drink it with vermouth, I will go for a 50/50 Martini. Not because I’m a huge vermouth fan, even though I love vermouth. That’s a funny story, actually, but if you go to Paris in 2022 and you ask for Martini, they bring you a glass of vermouth. They have no idea what you’re talking about. And I’m talking about my own country, which is funny.

T: That’s interesting. That happened to me somewhere as well. You know where it was? It was in my hometown, Lincoln, where I grew up in the U.K. I was back over Christmas last year and I tell you, I couldn’t for the life of me find a bar that can make a Martini, and finally found one and it was a glass of Martini Rosso. And I’m like, “No, this is not it.” I’m like, “I know this is a faux pas, but can you just let me behind the bar? I know you have gin, I can make this for myself. Could not get a bloody Martini in Lincoln. Shameful.

S: Yeah, don’t get me wrong. A glass of red vermouth over ice with a slice of oranges.

T: Very nice.

S: I wouldn’t actually complain to whoever brings me that.

T: But when you are craving that specific cocktail, that is not going to hit the…

S: But, so if I go back to what you ask, I will say the best way of preparing the drink, that’s what you asked me, right?

T: Yeah. This one or the profile that you’re looking for, What’s the ideal profile of a Dirty Martini?

S: The profile, I will say, the drink is so cold that you don’t… Not that you don’t understand what you’re drinking but it’s almost… It makes sense. It’s like everything’s flowing perfectly and that only happens when you drink a Martini. It can be dirty, it can be dry, 50/50, it doesn’t matter. It only happens if you add proper dilution and if ingredients are being kept at proper temperature. And again, that’s why I was saying I think I make better Martinis at home than in an actual bar where I have every tool in front of me because I can do very simple things. Simple things are often hard to do in a volume place. But keeping your base spirit in the freezer, your vermouth or your brine in the fridge, a few coupes or a Martini glass, whatever vessel you have at home in your freezer as well. Few ice cubes, that’s pretty much it.

The Ingredients in Simon Sebbah’s Dirty Martini

T: So let’s talk about those ingredients now and let’s start with a base spirit. Do you want to just count out gin for this or if you are using gin for a Dirty Martini, what kind of profile are you looking for from that spirit?

S: I’m looking for something that’s probably high in citrus, low botanical. If you ask me for a brand, I will say Tanqueray No.10 is literally probably the only gin I have at home. And also, it’s an all-purpose gin. Amazing for Gin & Tonic. Amazing for straight up, 50/50, Dirty Martinis. It serves many purposes, Negronis, etc.

T: So that’s the kind of profile there because, yeah, it’s a bit more delicate than the classic Tanqueray, which is more juniper-forward.

S: Yeah, I mean again, that’s my preference. But I will say most of the London Dry is doing the job here. And again you can see what’s the most popular gin for Martini in any bar. I will have to go with Tanqueray, something like that. But that’s the profile. You don’t want anything too botanical. Especially if you like gin as a base spirit and you like your Martini dirty, I don’t feel that’s a great match. You want something as low key as possible, especially if you mix things in there. And then I will say a high-botanical gin, maybe Botanist, Hendrick’s or something like that for a straight-up Martini. Literally nothing added. Just a pure, cold, straight-up Martini if you want to have these flavors into your palate.

T: And then what about vodka? Because I’m assuming that most people when they order this think they’re getting a vodka Martini if they’re ordering dirty. So what are you thinking about on that front?

S: Vodka? I will go the way of mixing other ingredients like vermouth or brine with vodka, even though I’m not the biggest fan, but that’s probably the choice. I just love gin so much that I don’t want to put anything in it unless it has a good purpose. But for vodka I will say Grey Goose is an amazing option. There are a lot of good products but that are also so high in marketing that, does it really make a difference when… Again, I go back to the technique I was trying to tell you earlier. The only thing that matters in that drink is temperature and dilution. So somebody that said like, “Oh no, I’d rather have a Tito’s Dirty Martini over a Grey Goose.” If things are made properly…

T: You’re not going to tell much of a difference.

S: No.

T: Because I think there are amazing vodkas out there and vodkas that have real distinctive character. Again, I probably agree that this drink is probably not the home for them, that’s for something else or drink it straight or just drink it ice cold. But any nuance that you’re going to get from that base spirit is probably going to be lost when it’s coming up against something like a brine.

S: Not fully lost, but I’m a firm believer that specific spirits have their place in specific drinks and many people in the industry can probably tell you the same thing. But again, when you come to a very simple drink with so many options, at the end of the day it really goes to what you prefer. If you think a Tito’s Dirty is going to be better than a Grey Goose Dirty, I’m not the one to tell you otherwise. As long as the drink is made the proper way, I believe that’s how we like the drink, nobody can tell you that. I like to drink vodka straight, not cold to understand the flavor profile. Gin has a big impact. I don’t think vodka has as much impact as gin.

T: Go for something economical, maybe neutral. What about brine, though? So that does have a big impact. You said before, maybe you’re not going for something super high end, but when it comes to running a bar and this drink being very popular, are you buying brine? Have you made brine? What’s the thinking there?

S: Yes. So there is a very simple technique. Not everybody knows that. I actually learned that in my time at Lyaness in London. So we use a type of olive that’s called Losata. It’s a very standard green olive, no pits, it’s a large olive. The brine is actually pretty good. It’s very, very, very salty. So you can literally strain the brine from the olives and you can adjust the level of water and salt. So that, for example, in most of our outlets, we use the exact same brine. So that’s the base. So they come in huge, big olive jars. We filter the brine, we adjust the level of salt and water and the result is a crystal-clear olive brine. So you have a crystal- clear Dirty Martini and it’s not too powerful in salt, not too powerful in olive taste. And that’s made for two reasons: I believe a Dirty Martini, a Martini in general — again that’s personal opinion but I have many other people that can back me off on this — should never be shaken. Just because of the fact that you disturb a very subtle liquid, specifically gin or brine, you express the strength of that by shaking by 2000, and the drink becomes, I don’t know, it’s so weird to drink. It’s very, very powerful. So again, that’s why the formal technique of keeping ingredients as cold as possible to have very little dilution, you could almost pour vodka and pour brine or vermouth if it’s a proper temperature without adding any water in it. And yeah, the olive brine situation, that’s pretty much it. So we empty a container of olive brine from the olives and then we readjust the level of water and salt into the olives. So while we pass the new brine, the water and salt can make new brine into the olive jar that was empty at the beginning.

T: Got it.

S: So that’s to control volume. As I said, we go through, I don’t know, maybe six liters of brine.

T: So you’re putting it back in there to preserve the olives as well?

S: Correct.

T: But you’re adjusting it first?

S: Correct.

T: So for consistency too. How is that becoming clear then? Is that just because you’re diluting it slightly?

S: Yeah, you’re diluting, for example, I will say out of… I use three extra parts of water for one part of brine.

T: Got it.

S: So the brine becomes very, very clear and usually you don’t do an equal parts in a Dirty Martini besides if you want extra dirty or whatever. So if you add a minimal amount of brine into let’s say three ounces of base spirits, the brine color doesn’t take over the base spirits. Plus the water dilution, when you stir it, etc. So you pretty much have a glass of water.

T: Nice. And what about vermouth here because we did mention that all right, probably most people aren’t putting it in, but if you were to use vermouth as well in your Dirty Martini, what are you going for? Are you going for a dry or maybe a bianco to introduce a little bit of sweetness here? What are you thinking there?

S: So to give you another idea of a technique that I learned in my time in London, I love 50/50 Martini. I’m a very, very big fan and I was able to play with some very old vermouth back then and we were trying to create a 50/50 version using gin or vodka, doesn’t matter with a very subtle citrusy type of flavor combination. And we came out with this result of blending extra-dry dry vermouth, lemon peels, and lemon bitters. Let it rest for 24 hours and use that as a base to do a 50/50 no matter what you use as a base. And that’s actually the flavor profile. If I don’t drink a Dirty Martini, that’s actually the flavor profile that I’m looking for. A smooth drink, vermouth in that case, it’s used to lower the ABV on the drink, to not have something too strong in the mouth but something very pleasant and the result is amazing. The dirty version that I just explained and that technique of the blend of dry and extra dry vermouth are the two Martinis on the menu in each outlet that we have and it’s extremely popular, good feedback. So I’m guessing I’m doing something right there.

T: Sounds like it. What about the olive garnish here then? You mentioned the types of olives that you use there. Can you say that again for the folks?

S: Yes. The type of olive, it’s called Losata. L-O-S-A-T-A.

T: Nice.

S: So it’s a type of olive from Spain and from trying many, many, many olives and brine, etc., I believe that’s the perfect fit for a Martini. Not only the brine but also the type of olive. You can just put one big olive into the glass. It looks very sexy.

T: One not three?

S: No.

T: They’re too big for three?

S: No, that depends on the vessel you use. I mean we use a very old type of vintage Martini glass in our outlet that fits literally one olive in it. You put two, you will have to do a side car or something because it’s overflowing. But yeah, I feel the one olive into a glass is sexy and if you want extra olives, we just bring it to you on the side.

T: What about blue cheese stuffed olives? Because I feel like a lot of people like that with their Dirty Martini.

S: Yes. So that’s also something we do in each location. And I don’t know, that’s… I don’t know.

T: Not a fan.

S: Don’t get me wrong, you don’t use the brine of blue cheese olive in order to make a Dirty Martini. That’s nonsense. But we wash the cheese that sticks on the olives before we put it into the glass or we put it on the side, to again… Somebody that ordered a straight Martini with no brine, no vermouth and one blue cheese as garnish? I feel it’s very oily first, so as soon as you put that into the drink you have olives floating to the top, which is not great. So yeah, just on the side.

T: So do you buy those in as well? Because I feel like you have to have them on hand rather than hand- stuffing them.

S: So the good thing with the Losata olive, as I mentioned, they’re quite big and without seeds in it. So we stuff them in one outlet, the other outlet we buy them. Again, I don’t think there is any right or wrong. It’s really about testing many different kinds and seeing what’s the… Losata, I feel, is, I don’t know how you explain that, but it’s like sake for somebody that doesn’t know sake but thinks he knows sake, that’s like the first time you drink, this is what you expect from an olive. So it has no weird things.

T: Got it. The dictionary definition of an olive.

S: Correct.

T: Interesting that you’re doing that stuff in there. So is that a piping bag, you’re just piping the cheese in there?

S: Old school, gloves.

T: Oh wow.

S: It’s a blend of blue cheese actually made by our chefs.

T: Nice.

S: And again because we use that for topping salads, for example, a mix of blue cheese, gorgonzola, or whatever and they spread it out on top of salads or, I don’t know, they use that. And so just to avoid waste — that’s a big part of our program in each outlet — everything is very simple, but I make sure that we use the proper techniques, the proper tools, and we don’t prep too much. It is just working with your brain over just being a busy bar. It’s already a tough task but I feel like you can manage to create a mindful bar program using collaborating with people, talking, etc. So I could buy the blue cheese olives, but just the fact that I have good communication with people and we change and the kitchen’s like, “Hey we are doing this for salad, then we always have extra. Does it have any use for you?” Yes, of course.

T: Amazing.

S: I’ll try and see and it happens to be equivalent or better.

T: What you can buy.

S: Then what you can buy.

T: Another one, one of our previous guests here, Joey Smith from Chez Zou, they have an amazing little Dirty Martini variation on their menu as well. And they were hand-stuffing the olives for that too. And he told us an anecdote — I think he shared it in the episode — where he was saying one of his early bar jobs, when they didn’t have blue cheese-stuffed olives, but sometimes people, guests, would ask for them and he was happy to do it for them á la minute. But then when he had a day off, people would come in and ask for blue cheese olives and the bartender was like, “Yeah, no we don’t have those.” And they were like, “No, but you’ve given it to us before.” So I think that got him in some trouble with his colleagues because they were like, “Just stop doing this.” So it’s good to see that he’s continued that. But also yourself, I mean I’m here for it. Hand-stuff some olives.

S: Yeah, I mean I don’t think anybody’s too good to do things. I’m going to be very honest with you. I think before my time at Lyaness — and I like to talk about them because they became family very quick, and not only for me, but I speak for maybe 50 people. It’s like I’ve been in the industry since I’m 14 years old, not bartending, obviously, but just growing up in a restaurant and seeing things and having good communication with chefs and trying to be passionate about everything I do. And I went from being an employee, a bartender, somebody with knowledge, always hungry for knowledge etc., to becoming a human, spending time with them. They really taught me how to make my brain work, to make things better not only for me but for the place I work, for the people around me and how I can inspire people to do better things every day. If I give a bowl of blue cheese to somebody, I can tell them, “Fill that up,” as part of a duty at your job. It can be annoying, it can be just like, “Oh, why am I doing that?” We make $30,000 in sales; why don’t we buy blue cheese olives? But if I’m the one showing people how to do things and we do that because of that, to avoid waste. And the kitchen is making stuff to blah blah, and constant communication with people in order to make… You go from being an average bar to a good bar, to a great bar to one of the top. I’m not saying we are one of the top, but I’m just saying that, really, humans are providing that experience to guests.

T: It’s funny that all of that can be stuffed inside that cheese-stuffed olive, the whole experience, but I think it is a really great example there.

S: It’s good. Also, you want to make people proud of what they do when they come to work. I have maybe 60 bartenders across locations on my teams and I don’t like them to see me as a superior. I want them to see me as equal. And if we implement something, it first has a meaning, but also I’m not telling you to do something that I haven’t done in the past. And I always try to find a way to explain, we do this because of that. Everything has a meaning and I’m not telling you to do random things. We are in this together, and by doing so, when somebody asks for a blue cheese Dirty Martini, they can be like, “Hey, we hand-stuff.” There is always a little story to tell and people are like, “Oh it’s funny, here they hand-stuff the olive.” It’s just, again, constant communication. I think that’s the most important thing to a bar, restaurant, to not be too full of your head.

How to Make Simon Sebbah’s Dirty Martini

T: Amazing. All right, let’s walk through the preparation now. Let’s talk about making this drink. We know you care very much about dilution and temperature. So talk us through from the beginning including the ratio or the quantities of ingredients you would. But talk us through it as if you were making the drink for us here in the studio.

S: So ratio again, I will feel the ratio will depend on the vessel you use, it really depends, I will say four ounces total into Martinis is what really you should aim for to balance the drink. It could be four, one straight of, again, gin or vodka, if you like extra dirty or 50//50 Martini, you will go two ounce, two ounce. If you like slightly dirty or just regular dirty, people like an ounce. Depends on many things. Depends on how powerful your brine is, depends on what type of vermouth you use, depends on how cold you can make the drink. Depends on many things, but if I were here right now making your drinks for you guys, the first question would be, “Do you have a freezer?” That is one of the undervalued utensils. But a freezer and a fridge is really what you need. And a jigger. That’s really the three important components to serve the spirits as cold as possible. If I were to make a Dirty Gin Martini right now, I’ll use probably two and a half to three ounces of gin, again out of the freezer, to three-quarters to an ounce of olive brine, slightly stirred and strain over a very cold Martini glass, one olive.

T: And so you’re just stirring that slightly to get a little bit of dilution or to bring the temperature down? Are you pulling the brine out of the fridge?

S: Yeah, so the brine out of the fridge, the spirit out of the freezer. Again that’s in the best case scenario. At home, that’s actually something possible, you have a lot of time. In a bar, it can be extremely challenging first because not every bar has a freezer near you or whatever. But again, the goal, what I’m trying to say is as cold as your components are, the best it is. You will add more dilution, or you will stir more, or also the type of ice you use. There’s so many things that go into place. But yeah, if you use dry ice with an extremely cold component, you are looking at very low dilution. Again at home, there is something I really like to do, it’s to use a thermos where people keep coffee or iced tea, whatever, to fill it up in a larger amount and keep that into my freezer and the result is actually impressive because you can literally, without adding dilution, pour that straight into a glass and it’s amazing. I don’t know how, that’s a strange feeling you have in your mouth but it’s actually pretty interesting.

T: It’s kind of similar to that Duke’s Martini you had those years ago.

S: Correct. And again, the Martini is really something I like to play around with. So I’m always eager to learn new techniques and see what my folks around the world are doing. If there is evolution into the drink, it’s always interesting to understand. But again, a very simple drink requires basic techniques that have to be respected to a T.

T: And then if you’re making it with vodka, similar kind of situation, two and a half, maybe, ounces of vodka or…

S: I will say exactly the same. When it comes to Dirty Martinis, it’s really all about your brine. There are some brines that are lighter than others, less salty, more salty, more aggressive, etc. So really you have to understand both of your components in order to create a balanced drink. So I don’t have a very specific answer for that, it’s really how you like to drink your thing. The most important is dilution and how cold the drink is going to be. And again, not too much dilution. That’s also the reason why you keep the ingredient as cold as possible, it’s just like an Old Fashioned. You order straight liquor, you want the first sip of your drink to be strong, but mid-drink you want it to still be strong, but you don’t want the last couple sip to be complete water and warm something.

T: So there we go. Garnish, one olive.

S: One olive, I’m a big lemon twist fan just because of the 50/50 being my favorite drink. But yes, one olive. Again, if you’re at home, you can literally have the jar of olive open next to you.

T: Just munch them.

S: Exactly.

T: Very nice. You said at the bar you have kind of nice vintage glassware, but if you’re at home, is this going into a coop, Nick & Nora, Martini, a V glass, the classic Martini glass?

S: I love a V glass, but it’s really, again, that’s personal preference. If you’re not a huge drinker and you’re drinking as a quick drink after work or something, I will have a tendency to say Nick & Nora or a smaller vessel. Also, it’s great to have multiple glasswares in your freezer if you’re hosting a few guests. But again at home, don’t you really need much. There are so many things around you in your kitchen that you can use as bar tools. Again, it is very easy to make Martinis at home for whoever’s listening, spirit into the freezer, brine or vermouth into the fridge, a few ice cubes, a few glasses into the freezer, and that’s it. You’re ready to go.

T: Glassware is important, but I will say that when it does come to the Martini, it’s never held me back. I was staying in L.A. a couple months back at an Airbnb, bought all my ingredients to make Martinis there, but glassware? They only had these small wine glasses. It was fine, I enjoyed it.

S: You can’t make Martinis into rocks glass, a wine glass, to be honest it doesn’t matter.

T: Doesn’t matter. As long as the drink is good. All right then. Any final thoughts on the Dirty Martini before we move into the next section?

S: No, not really. I’m thirsty now.

T: I’d tell you, I had a Classic Martini at Keen’s last night, and I thought that gave me my fix for this early in the week. But apparently no.

S: Just came back from the long trip drinking mucho, so right now it’s time to rest.

Getting to Know Simon Sebbah

T: Well let’s get into the next section of the show and those final questions for you here today. Beginning with question number one, which is of course, what style or category of spirit typically enjoys the most real estate on your back bar?

S: Tequila.

T: Yeah.

S: Any agave spirit, I will say from the past four years, has just been insane. Again, if you remove tequila, I will say vodka. That’s really two things, I think everybody can give you the same answer.

T: Which tequila is the one that’s most often called out? Because I feel like on the vodka front, maybe it’s Tito’s? But what about tequila? What is the one that people are usually asking for?

S: Casamigos is a big one. There were so many things on the market, there was actually an amazing product — that’s another big thing. Nowadays you have big marketing around products that don’t have the same depth as people that are curating the product to perfection. And that’s also the job of bartenders around the world to show support. I’m a firm believer in having a small back bar, and that’s also something I learned in London, to not have a huge liquor selection. But I have a very specific product that I can probably speak of why I’m carrying those things instead of that. And if people ask for Tito’s and I don’t have Tito’s, I can explain something similar and why we carry that and why it’s similar, blah, blah, blah. But yeah, I don’t know. I think I have to say Casamigos is just… It’s out of stock everywhere. It’s impossible to get.

T: Really?

S: And I feel like, again, people love tequila and mezcal, but a lot of people have no idea what they’re drinking. And that goes back to what you said earlier about Tito’s being the most famous at the moment.

T: I had a feeling it might be Casamigos there, but I was interested to hear. And follow up one here, what is your well tequila?

S: It’s called Jaja. So we also did something pretty well in each of our outlets where each of our well spirits are very close friends. Not only getting good deals, but also everything has a strong meaning behind it. And that allows us to have actually amazing well for a very good price.

T: Which is important for your well.

S: Very, and also I have a lot of local support. We do a lot of staff training. Right now, for example, we’re opening a new restaurant in a couple weeks in the West Village and the first five or six days of friends and family are all sponsored by all of our well, bringing friends of friends, etc. So it’s a good feeling to have this and not struggling when you open a new location to, “How am I going to create my back bar?” Right now we are at a place where if we open a place, we do a copy paste of what’s happening because we know everybody, we have a strong relationship with everyone. And also me, I don’t have to run behind anybody else to be like, “Hey, you remember you saw me three months ago.” It’s just natural. People want to help, we want to carry their brand, and it’s good.

T: Nice fit there. Question number two, which ingredient or tool, you might have previewed this one, is the most undervalued in a bartenders arsenal?

S: Well now there are two, the freezer, which everybody has at home, most of the people, and I will say a jigger. Really, again, that goes back to making drinks at home and I refer to Covid period and all that stuff when people were stuck at home or, “Oh, I want to make a drink, I don’t know what to do. I have a tiny little cute bar.” A jigger is just the balance. It’s like if you want to cook something, you have all the ingredients at home, but you’re missing salt and pepper. That’s exactly the same. That’s really how you curate the drink to perfection. But then you can drink a Martini in a bowl or a mug, it doesn’t matter. I will say jigger.

T: The jigger, you need the proportions there. Yeah. Nice. Question number three, what’s the most important piece of advice you’ve received while working in this industry?

S: Listen to people. And again, I think it changed my whole life after I tried to… First, processing that sentence and people actually explaining to me what difference it makes between being a leader — not a leader — but being in charge and being a leader that people are looking up to. And it’s just being you, I care a lot about what I do, I’ve been doing that for a long time. I’m not saying I’m the best or I know everything, far from it, but I know that I make a difference on a daily basis just by listening to anybody that comes my way for personal advice, professional advice. Even if sometimes I don’t have the answer, just the fact that I listen to each individual in a different way. People come and go with their trouble, their story. I want to be that person when you come to work, no matter where you work and can be in the kitchen, behind the bar, back office, or whatever. They know I’m somebody they can speak to and that I think I’m a good listener and I always try to help as best as I can.

T: So it just comes back to that, listening. Fantastic. Question number four, second last question here. If you could only visit one last bar in your life, what would it be?

S: Lyaness.

T: Lyaness?

S: Yes.

T: Good pick.

S: I feel like, yeah.

T: Sentimental.

S: Very sentimental. Because I’m going to be honest with you. I’m not a huge fan of hanging out in cocktail bars even though all my friends are in this industry, but just the experience. For me, I like to go to a bar by myself, sit at the bar, and literally just order food or whatever. But I can do that in a dive bar, I can do that anywhere. But Lyaness really gives me that feeling. And that’s, again, I’m not saying they are the only one. As far as I know, having this, you can spend like six, seven hours at the bar and you don’t see the time pass. Everybody’s taking care of you, everybody’s very knowledgeable, they care. The drink program is amazing. You don’t actually have to go with whatever’s on the menu. Lyaness is a great place to drink Martinis.

T: Nice. Final question then today. We might know the answer to this one, we might not already.

S: I forgot the question.

T: If you knew that the next cocktail you drank was going to be your last, what would you make or order?

S: A 50/50 Gin Martini.

T: It shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone listening that’s got this far in the episode, that you are a Martini lover. So the answer to that question…

S: Is a Martini.

T: All right then Simon. Well thank you so much for joining us today. It’s been a pleasure. I’m definitely thirsty now.

S: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me, and thank you.

T: Cheers.

S: Cheers.

Okay, that was a lot of info, but here’s the good news. Every single episode of VinePair’s Cocktail College is also published on VinePair.com as a transcript. So you can check it out there all over again.

If you enjoy listening to the show anywhere near as much as we enjoy making it, go ahead and hit subscribe, and please leave a rating or review wherever you get your podcasts — whether that’s Apple, Spotify, or Stitcher. And please tell your friends.

Now, for the credits. “Cocktail College” is recorded and produced in New York City by myself and Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director and all-around podcast guru. Of course, I want to give a huge shout-out to everyone on the VinePair team. Too many awesome people to mention. They know who they are. I want to give some credit here to Danielle Grinberg, art director at VinePair, for designing the awesome show logo. And listen to that music. That’s a Darbi Cicci original. Finally, thank you, listener, for making it this far and for giving this whole thing a purpose. Until next time.