The dirty martini has been a classic for decades. And for good reason — the combination of gin, vermouth and olive brine is cocktail perfection. Whether you’re mixing cocktails for New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s or Singles Awareness Day, an Oscars party or just your monthly book club, the dirty martini won’t fail you. But there's a burning question many people ask: With so many different varieties available, what are the best olives for a martini?
When it comes to martini olives, you want something that can stand up to the bold flavors of the cocktail itself. That’s why we always prefer either Spanish Queen Olives or Spanish Manzanilla Olives.
Spanish Queen Olives are the gold star of martini olives. They’re firm, meaty and pack a bolder punch than a typical green olive. They’re also large which makes them great for stuffing with goodies like pimiento, red pepper or spicy jalapeño! The pimiento stuffed olive is our standard for martinis — the pimiento gives this succulent green olive a mild, but decidedly extra zip.
We think of Spanish Manzanilla Olives as the martini olive workhorse, as they will almost always be available at your local grocery store even if Spanish Queens aren’t. They have a similar taste to Queen olives but are smaller and a bit less firm. They have a slightly nutty flavor, which adds depth to the briny olive.
In addition to the olives themselves, when you’re prepping your dirty martini you have to consider just how much of the “dirty” taste you prefer — that is, how much olive brine you want to add. Dirty martinis include anywhere from a splash of olive brine to equal parts brine and gin. Adding olive brine brings both salt and acid to your cocktail which helps balance the flavors of the gin and vermouth.
Olive brine — or olive juice — is a mixture of salt, vinegar and water, and as olives marinate, the liquid becomes beautifully rich with olive flavor. That salty goodness is a pungent boost that will deepen the flavor profile in your cocktail. Curious how else you can use olive brine? We’ve got 8 awesome ideas right here.
Now that we’ve identified the best martini olives, let’s look at some variations to help you put the perfect finish on your martini. Of course, you’ll likely need to do a little experimenting to find your new go-to, but here’s a quick guide to get you started.
Want to keep it classic?
Looking for a clean olive flavor?
Want to snack on your olives before, during and after?
Want to stick with an all natural drink?
Want to make entertaining easier?
Fun fact: Why do we put olives in a martini?
Like many classic cocktails, the martini has a little mystery tied to it. No one knows for sure the exact origin of the olive garnish, let alone the drink itself. The most popular legend has it that during the California Gold Rush, a miner who struck it rich found himself celebrating in a bar in Martinez, California, where the bartender mixed up the first version of the "Martini" (then called the "Martinez") based on what he had available behind the bar.
Some versions of this story claim that he added a Mission olive to the glass, but according to NPR, the olive was added after the French occupation of Syria in the mid 1940s, when a Syrian bar owner in Paris — who’s native province was known for its olives — garnished the cocktail with the delicious fruit. His last name? Martini, of course.
Regardless of the exact history, finishing off a martini with a luscious, salty, gin-soaked olive is the best part!