THE DIRTY MARTINI, a love-it-or-hate-it drink that gets its oomph from a promiscuous slug of olive brine, has seen a quiet comeback recently.
At Brooklyn’s Diamond Reef bar, the opening menu included the Steakhouse Martini, with a blend of brines—caper, onion, olive and pepperoncini—plus apple-cider vinegar. At Miami’s Alter, white soy sauce features along with olive brine in the 7 Double “O.” And at New York’s Narcbar in the Standard Hotel, the Cut Here eschews olives altogether. Instead, pickling juice from housemade cornichons brings bite to Stoli vodka infused with fresh garlic, thyme and oregano. (Note: none of these cocktails goes by the name Dirty Martini. This drink desperately need an image rehab.)
The Best Brine for a Dirty Martini
The fastest way to ruin a Dirty Martini is to use the liquid from grocery-store jars of limp, pimento-stuffed Manzanilla olives. In recent years, the Castelvetrano olive, with its vivid green hue and buttery flesh, has become a popular Martini garnish. Yet the mild, salty brine used to cure Castelvetranos won’t do much for your Dirty. At the Grill, Mr. Waugh favors Sicilian olives, whose robust, oily brine adds texture to the drink. He also gives a nod to Dirty Sue, a purveyor of bottled olive brine for cocktails. “They’ve honed in on what that ‘dirty’ flavor needs to be,” he said. “It’s not just salt, it’s oil.”
Narcbar is the offshoot of restaurant Narcissa, the source of that cornichon brine. “We wanted to take what was in the kitchen and move that into drinks,” said
who created Narcbar’s initial bar program. At other bars attached to restaurants, the current enthusiasm for fermented foods such as pickles and kimchi yields a wide range of liquids that add critical tang (or, in bar parlance, “dirt”) to Dirty Martini-style cocktails.
At New York’s the Grill, in the former Four Seasons space, the Dirty Martini skews classic: made with olive brine, served in a V-shaped glass. Using the right olives and brine is key, said
director of bar operations at Major Food Group, which runs the Grill. “That’s where a lot of people go wrong,” he said. His pick: Sicilian olives. (See “The Best Brine for a Dirty Martini.”)
Yet Mr. Waugh doesn’t go entirely old-school: The vodka is pre-diluted and chilled in the freezer for an appealingly viscous texture. The brine goes in last minute and doesn’t even need to be stirred. And no vermouth. “It’s going to add sweetness that will combat the savory aspect,” said Mr. Waugh. The result: a bracing pick-me-up with just enough salinity to entice from sip to sip.
When entertaining, you can increase this recipe to a crowd-size batch, stash in the freezer and then add brine à la minute.
In a sealable container, mix 3 ounces vodka and ¼ ounce water. Seal, shake to mix, then chill in freezer at least 1 hour, ideally overnight. Set a Martini glass in the freezer to chill too. // When ready to drink, pour ½ ounce Sicilian olive brine into glass, and top with chilled vodka. Garnish with 3 Sicilian olives speared on a pick.
—Adapted from Thomas Waugh of the Grill, New York