When is a Martini not a Martini? When it’s garnished with an onion. Then it’s a Gibson, one of the rare times in the cocktail kingdom where the garnish calls the shots. The difference might seem trifling at first glance, but a sip reveals the Gibson’s flavor profile is markedly different from its famous forebear. As Washington Post food columnist M. Carrie Allan put it, the allium in the onion adds “a salty-sour note that transforms the Martini into a cold, delicate onion soup, at once both aperitif and appetizer.” There are few cocktails of note with a larger number of plausible inception stories than the Gibson. Most booze historians can’t even agree upon the century or city in which it was hatched, let alone who it is named for. The most prevalent tale we’ve come across places the birth of the Gibson at the Bohemian Club in San Francisco in the late 1800s. There, a wealthy industrialist named Walter D.K. Gibson used to order his Martinis with onions because he believed they helped prevent the common cold.
The drink, though, remains an under the radar hit, as most Martini drinkers who prefer a savory drink simply opt for a Dirty Martini made with olive brine. That makes this an excellent time to rediscover this classic. Just remember that in a drink this simple, every ingredient really counts. Our suggestion is to buy a jar of cocktails onions, rinse them off and rebrine them with equal parts water and vinegar, along with plenty of pickling spices like bay leaf and coriander.