Let me begin by saying that I hate Dirty Martinis. I’ve
often called them the ‘devil’s urine’ (probably stolen from Angus Winchester referring
to olives as the ‘devil’s testicles’). We’re a crude bunch, us bartenders. Strange
thing is, I love olives. I mean I really, really love olives. So what gives? Why
do I despise this drink so much?
Much of the problem for me is that it is one of the most
thoughtless drinks in existence; one that is always made with an overly salted,
industrial brine that has been locked away in a can or jar for what could have
been years. The brine doesn’t run the risk of going bad. It already is bad.
I’ve never bothered to add vermouth to my Dirty Martinis because
really, what’s the point? And I used to always shake them because again, the
drink under its current guise is beyond salvation and the people drinking them
probably couldn’t give a toss either whether it’s stirred, shaken or strained
through someone’s armpit. The Dirty Martini is what it is, right? It’s not a
contemplative drink by any stretch and therefore it really shouldn’t be given
much thought beyond that.
This would, however, become the very reason why I’ve
obsessed over this drink for two years now, trying to create something
respectable, thoughtful and dare I say it, elegant. Instead of turning my back
on this drink that I could just as easily ignore for the rest of my life – or
just continue to reluctantly or nonchalantly make them – I decided to go on a
mission. I was determined to create the best Dirty Martini the world had ever
seen and with God as my witness, I think I might have pulled it off.
Two years might seem like a preposterous, even maniacal,
amount of time to workshop a cocktail. And it is. But I do enjoy a good
challenge and this one seemed like a doozy. I like the idea of taking a drink
that is almost always made terribly (and without any respect for quality) and
trying to turn it into something remarkable by breaking it down, perhaps
re-imagining it and most importantly, creating something more beautiful and
balanced than the sum of its parts.
It was no different than my desire to create what I would
eventually coin ‘Olives 7 Ways.’ But where to begin? My issues with the drink
itself were with that awful brine we spoke of and its overly liberal use. I was
determined to simply pour this down the sink (where it belongs) but the olives
still needed to sit in some liquid solution otherwise they’d dry out. I also
believe that a true Martini is not a Martini unless it contains vermouth.
Voila! I’d soak them in vermouth, not that this is anything cutting edge or
even new. Bartenders have been doing this for decades. But it was a start.
I had a lot of ideas bouncing around in my head but the
earliest practical experiments began with good friend and distiller, Allen
Katz, who owns the New York Distilling Company, based in Williamsburg.
I wanted to create an olive distillate and I knew that he had worked some
experiments on a small scale still before. This seemed like an ideal
We ran a few test batches and finally settled on
re-distilling a neutral grain spirit (the same one he uses for his two gins)
infused with a lot of finely diced green cerignola olives. The yield was
frustratingly small and the entire process was like watching paint dry. What
came out had only soft olive nuances. But again, we were making positive
progress and the excitement was building.
Then I reached out to Zach Feldman, a cocktail enthusiast
and writer who makes various bitters under the name Bitters, Old Men. He had
made a couple of custom flavors for me in the past and I asked if he’d make an
olive bitters this time. He used olives from Spain, Greece, France and Italy,
adding bitter components from wormwood and gentian root and the results were
awesome. Next, I wanted to create an olive shrub and put this in the hands of
Brett Hughes – the bar manager at New York gin den, Madam Geneva –
using the same olives as we used in the distillate. This, I hoped, would give
the drink some body and texture.
Saxon + Parole bar manager Masahiro Urushido and I tested out a bunch of different ratios together and settled on the recipe
below, which is what launched recently. Like all Martinis at Saxon + Parole,
this one is served in a frozen, small, vintage cocktail glass, with the
remainder served in a small carafe sitting on crushed ice. It is garnished with
drops of olive oil, which float on the surface of the drink and it is given a
final flourish with a spray of the olive bitters, adding a delightful wash of
It is served alongside a small bowl of mixed olives that are marinated in the exact same botanicals (juniper, coriander seeds, dried lemon peel, dried orange peel, dried grapefruit peel, whole green cardamom pods, whole star anise, cinnamon, angelica, wildflower honey) that are used in the production of Perry’s Tot Gin, a thoughtful touch that ties it all together. And there you have it – ‘Olives 7 Ways.’ As you can see by this photo, it is a spectacular looking cocktail that is also thoughtful, balanced, restrained and indeed elegant. You’ll never look at a Dirty Martini the same way again. Sorry.
OLIVES 7 WAYS
Stir with ice and strain into frozen glass
Serve the remainder in a carafe sitting in crushed ice
Garnish with drops of olive oil on top and spray with olive
Serve with a bowl of mixed olives
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