It’s almost easier to make a bad Dirty Martini than it is to make a great one. Adding that touch of olive brine can make the cocktail too salty or impart the stale, musty taste of olives bottled during the last century. Your Dirty Martini can also suffer from not being cold enough, too boozy, or out of balance.
To find out how to make the best Dirty Martinis—consistently—we tapped Andrea Scuto, the general manager of the iconic Musso and Frank steakhouse (temporarily closed until March 31, 2020) in Los Angeles, where they’ve been making Martinis for more than 80 years. If you want to make the best Dirty Martini possible, heed Scuto’s advice.
Although some of us are adamantly against the traditional Martini glass, we respect a drinkers’ right to sip their Martini from whichever glass they prefer. So when you mix at home, you can take inspiration from Musso and Frank, where the bartenders serve their Dirty Martini in a classic “V-shaped” Martini glass that's slightly smaller and less precarious.
Whatever you drink from, the important thing is that the glass is pre-chilled and to maintain a consistent temperature as the drinker imbibes. Take another tip from Scuto and serve a small carafe of the cocktail on ice, in its own little dedicated ice bucket. To maintain the utmost frostiness of the beverage, the drinker can top off their Martini as they drink it with the reserved, ice cold cocktail. “Maintaining the temperature is key,” says Scuto. “Only when it’s really cold can you appreciate the aromatics of the liquor. When the drink gets warmer, too much alcohol lift comes from the drink.”
While the bartenders at Musso and Frank will serve a customer a Dirty Vodka Martini if asked—they, like us, prefer gin. “We like a classic London Dry style gin like Tanqueray, Beefeater, or Fifty Pounds Gin,” says Scuto. “Gin has more personality. The briny aspect of the olive juice helps lift the aromatics in the liquor.”
The worst thing that you could do to your Dirty Martini is add a low-quality olive brine. Cheap olives—like those giant, 100-year-old tubs of generic pimento stuffed olives you see at your local dive bar—have chemical additives that will give your Martini a slick, medicinal taste. “The saltiness from the olive brine should allow the aromatics to pop, and balance the natural sweetness of the liquor,” says Scuto. At Musso and Frank, the bar cures their own olives, and their brine is from an in-house recipe that dates back to the ‘30s. While you might not have the patience to cure your own olives (at home or otherwise), what is important is that your brine is sourced from higher quality brands. Or you can purchase fresh olives from high-end groceries’ olive bars.
The Right Ratio
Yes, there is such a thing as a Dirty Martini that’s too dirty. Too much olive brine will render the cocktail undrinkable. There has to be the perfect balance between the gin and the brine. For a standard Dirty Martini using 2 ounces of gin, we suggest using only a quarter ounce of extra dry vermouth and a quarter ounce of olive brine—but if you like it a little more salty, you can easily add more brine. “We give little carafes with olive brine on the side if requested—or if the guest is not sure about how dirty they prefer it,” says Scuto.
Although shaken Martini drinkers like to quote James Bond's famous line ("shaken, not stirred..."), it is crucial to understand that Bond isn’t a bartender (or a real person, for that matter) and he doesn't know what’s best for his cocktail—or yours. At Musso and Frank, the Martinis are never shaken. Like, never ever. “Stirred only,” says Scuto. “We don’t want to bruise the liquor. You want to create a silky texture.”
Obviously your Dirty Martini is going to be garnished with olives. But the type of olive that you choose can actually enhance the drink. Depending on what gin (or vodka) you use as the base of your Dirty Martini, you can pair your olive with the flavors inherent to the spirit. For dry Spanish gins like Mahon, opt for spicy, salty Spanish olives. For soft, creamy potato vodkas like Chopin, use a blue cheese stuffed olive. Our personal favorite—for all types of gins and vodkas—is the robust and buttery Castelvetrano olive. At Musso and Frank, the bar stuffs their own olives, though they also carry both classic pimento peppers or Roquefort blue cheese stuffed olives. “Like everything else with making a Dirty Martini—the devil is in the details,” says Scuto. What’s key is that you’re biting into perfectly supple, savory olives that haven’t lost their texture from a prolonged life in the curing bottle.”