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What's the Deal with Dirty (and Extra Dirty) Martinis?

Could someone please explain the allure of gin/vodka mixed with olive brine? I love olives, and all things salty, but I just don't understand the boner people have for 'em.

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  1. As an ex-dirty martini drinker, it's easy:

    I didn't like the taste of alcohol at the time, and it was perfect. The olive brine hides most of the alcohol taste and just delivers a big dose of salt/sour flavor. With a tiny bit of alcohol on the back to remind you that you're having A Real Drink, not some wussy screwdriver, a beer, or something equally low-octane.

    Nowadays I actually enjoy a bit of burn in my drinks. I want to taste the liquor in addition to the adjuncts. So the story is totally different. And as I've gotten older I've become slightly more sensitive to huge doses of salt so I can't drink an ounce of brine anyway...

    I think dirty martinis are rookie juice, plain and simple. Gateway drinks, just like the over-sweetened blender daiquiris and margaritas. Nothing too interesting there, but it gets you drunk, and you can't even taste the liquor.

    6 Replies
    1. re: davis_sq_pro

      I agree with you. Rooky drink. I drank tham at one time, but realized they were hiding the taste of the gin.. So I went to martini on rocks, then straight up, then gin on the rocks as my tastes developed. then light gin cocktails, then negroni's and such.

      1. re: davis_sq_pro

        Is a historic Martini (say 2:1) also rookie juice, because that cheap flavored fortified wine is just there to hide the gin taste? Maybe so. Maybe not.

        Regardless of exactly how it's made, there are very, very few drinks that I can have night-after-night without getting bored. Martini, good scotch neat, Campari, Maybe a Manhattan.

        I applaud Martini drinkers. Their imbibing world extends far beyond what many others will experience. A little brine doesn't change that much, I'd guess. Never having tried it. :)

        1. re: EvergreenDan

          Vermouth accents and accentuates the flavor of gin, even at a 2:1 ratio. Brine obliterates it. Give it a try next time you're in a bar that can't mix a proper drink. Just remember why (I suspect) they call it "dirty": that brine has been sitting there for days, maybe weeks, has had 20 different peoples' hands dipped it in, and is really just nasty stuff.

          1. re: EvergreenDan

            I like big, bright green olives, like those huge puppies from Whole Foods with the pit in them. I can easily put 3 of those in a Martini with a health dose (maybe 1:3) of Boissiere and be very happy. I like gnawing on them. Food and beverage combined.

            And I'll sip a Fernet Branca neat, if it's served to me. :-P

            I'm just saying that dirty Martini drinkers have already "gotten" the cocktail thing, I think. They aren't member of the "to be reformed / re-educated" camp. They have already seen the light. As evangelists for craft cocktails, the "unwashed" are those happily drinking Jack-and-Cokes or Strawberry Margaritas or Bud Light. (The more metaphors, the better, apparently.) Many of these people haven't yet had their mind blown by, say, a glass of cold Carpano Antica. Much less a Gunshop Fizz.

            Within my limited world, I try to expand my guests horizons. I try to take each guest to the edge of their comfort zone, if they'll let me. I absolutely love it when someone does that to me.

            1. re: EvergreenDan

              Dan, I have to disagree that dirty martini drinkers have gotten the cocktail thing. The dirty cocktail is from the same era as the alabama slammer and other crappy cocktails.

              1. re: EvergreenDan

                Maybe there's a historical perspective that I'm missing, but from a pure flavor perspective, I don't see why olive and brine is any more of a travesty for gin than, say, Cynar, I've actually never had one (as enough brine and olive flavor comes with my preferred 3 big-boys), but in my imagination it doesn't sound like a bad idea.

                A big glass of OJ with some Amaretto, Sloe Gin, and Southern Comfort versus Gin, Vermouth, and a tsp of brine. They may be from the same era, but they don't seem like they are from the same league.

                But now you have me thinking. Change the OJ to Creole Shrubb. Use Luxardo for the Amaretto and Plymouth for the Sloe Gin. Rye for the Southern Comfort. . Lemon for acid. Change the ratios so the Rye dominates (maybe 6:1:1:1:3). Healthy dose of Angostura Orange. Hmmmmm... :)

            1. re: TroyTempest

              If you're a cougar on the prowl, maybe. ;)

              1. re: invinotheresverde

                Sounds like more a case for the "dirty, hot and bothered" martini. Add some pickled jalapeno juice for heat.

            2. Because it's good? I don't generally like things masking the vodka (yeah, I'm one of those people) and I generally don't like olives in my martinis, so I rarely order one, but on the rare ocassion, dirty martinis are just yummy. It adds an extra dimension to the drink, especially with the slight sweetness that Ciroc has on the finish.

              Never heard of an extra dirty martini, though. I want just a splash of brine in my dirty martini, no more.

              13 Replies
              1. re: Ali

                "Because it's good?"

                That's what boggles my mind, though. I've tried them and think salty gin/vodka is nasty. I realize good v. bad is subjective, of course, but, as davis_sq said, it seems like such a rookie drink. Why mask the flavor of your booze?

                If you like 'em, hey, that's cool; I'm just trying to get it.

                1. re: invinotheresverde

                  I think it's one of those things where if you don't like it, you just won't "get" it. It's not a moral failing either way (I hope!). :)

                  And a dirty martini isn't about masking your booze. The extra dirty martini, maybe (assuming that extra dirty means extra brine?), but the perfect dirty martini should just have a splash of brine. It should add a little extra salty dept, not have enough brine to mask out any prevailing flavours. Or at least that's my experience with dirty vodka martinis. Salty gin sounds pretty nasty to me, too.

                  1. re: invinotheresverde

                    arguing taste is silly.

                    i rarely have a dirty martini (then i rarely have martinis at all) but i get it. a martini is a bit of a one note song (and the drier they are the more monotone they are)

                    the brine adds another note to the chord. it is a fuller tasting drink. well made it does not hide anything, it adds something.

                    1. re: thew

                      Gin (and vodka, I guess) with good vermouth is hardly one note.

                      1. re: invinotheresverde

                        to me, while it's delicious, it's not complex ( and vodka, having no taste, wouldn't really add a flavor note to vermouth, would it?)

                        1. re: thew

                          I definitely find quality gin and good vermouth to definitely be complex, especially with a dash of bitters. Vodka, certainly less so, agreed.

                          1. re: invinotheresverde

                            a dash of bitters adds complexity. again - i like a martini. just find it pretty one note. when that's the note i want, no problem.....

                          2. re: thew

                            It's funny that so many people say that vodka has no taste. To me, almost every brand tastes different. I really don't like Absolut and I tried the Kirkland premium vodka and gave the bottle away.

                            1. re: c oliver

                              I'd bet good money that most vodka drinkers would be hard-pressed to identify their favorite brand in a blind taste test. I certainly don't think the teensy differences between most vodkas justify super-premium prices. By legal definition, vodka is supposed to be inherently flavorless.

                              http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                              1. re: MC Slim JB

                                Although vodka is supposed to be flavorless, the complete absence of flavor is pretty hard (impossible?) to achieve. So there are differences in flavor.

                                Those differences are, however, miniscule compared to the differences in hype. Sidney Frank (the first guy to put mediocre vodka in a pretty bottle and slap a $30 price tag on it) is a marketing genius with an enormous solid-brass pair of, well, never mind.

                                Those whose day-to-day drink is vodka neat or on the rocks can probably identify their favorites. But somebody who orders Belvedere cosmos or Cîroc-n-tonics because they've been told it's what they should drink? Probably not.

                                1. re: MC Slim JB

                                  Warm, I think you might be able to discern subtle differences if you really concentrate and don't let your palate get too numbed by the alcohol. Cool, it will be difficult, maybe impossible, to get anything. Iced, same problems as cool, plus the flavor of the water used to make the ice will start masking any flavors in the vodka--next to impossible to tell them apart. And mixed in a cocktail, forget about it. I challenge ANYONE to tell the difference between two midrange to high end vodkas when mixed with a splash of olive brine. I'll leave open the possibility that the lower-end brands might burn a bit more.

                                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                                    Do a tasting of vodka and you'll realize that variations do exist. Some are super clean and others have hints of grain, grape, or whatever they were distilled with. Or hints of whatever they were adulterated with like glycerol.

                                    And there are also some pot still single distilled vodkas (as opposed to column still prepared through multiple distillation runs) appearing on the market like Karlson's and U'Luvka that have some extra character and body.

                                    Still a moot point when people call for top shelf vodka with their soda, tonic, juice, or brine.

                                    1. re: yarm

                                      I've been looking for Karlson's at retail in the Boston area exactly for the purpose of investigating this claim: know anyone that carries it?

                                      http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                      2. For me it's a mood thing. Sometimes I just want my Martini a little dirty, sometimes I just want it dry. And sometimes I want a bit more vermouth. I like them with gin and I like them with vodka. I never make a dirty gin martini though. I never have them extra dirty though.

                        1. If your bartender is making your dirty martini with brine from a well-fingered garnish tray, it is literally dirty. I think it's a travesty of a cocktail, but it is a matter of taste. I do object to the comparison of brine to vermouth, which sounds like the observation of someone who hasn't tasted many of the great vermouths out there.

                          http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: MC Slim JB

                            I'm not saying that brine = vermouth. I'm saying that, along with cynar or campari or cointreau they are valid modifiers to vermouth. It's not unlike Maks adding a pinch of salt, it would seeem. It's not like I'm suggesting Parfait Amour or bubble gum syrup. :)

                            As for the ad hominem, my fridge currently has Dolin, Vya, M&R Bianco, Boissiere sweet, Carpano Antica, and two sherries. I certainly am no vermouth expert, but I've tasted a few.

                            1. re: EvergreenDan

                              That wasn't meant as an attack, but a defense of vermouth; I understood your post above to be slagging vermouth as "cheap flavored fortified wine", which I guess you intended ironically. Sorry: the irony eluded me.

                              http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                              1. re: EvergreenDan

                                No offense taken, no reason to apologize, all in good fun.. I should have been clearer.

                                I didn't mean to imply ad hominem abusive, but rather ad hominem circumstantial. That I may or may not have tasted a large selection of quality vermouths does not invalid the logic of my argument that a small amount of brine is comparable as a flavor modifier for gin to other accepted ingredients, such as vermouth or Cynar.

                                But then again, vermouth is each of cheap, fortified, and flavored, is it not? ;-)

                                My real point is not a defense of dirt in a drink (man, I have to come up with a drink to use that name!), or a tongue-on-palette attack on wine, but rather to support good cocktails as evangelists. Part of this is recognizing who's already in the flock and who might be ready to join. And, I suppose, who is beyond conversion.

                                For whatever reason, it bothers me when I see grown adults -- particularly those in their middle years and beyond -- selecting drinks that are more appropriate for beginning drinkers. I would feel the same if they were eating Froot Loops. It's a waste of perfectly good adult taste buds.

                                I'm not a purist. I will drink a coke occasionally. But I'd rather Sanbitter. Or unsweetened iced tea. But I like to exercise my adult tastes when I can. And I enjoy bringing others with me.

                                The balancing act is to do this without appearing to be elitist or aloof. Perhaps you really never know what your friends and guests think. I try to push a bit, but not too hard.

                                1. re: EvergreenDan

                                  Interesting conversation. I just have two points to add:

                                  1. I agree with EvergreenDan that a small amount of brine could be considered in a similar vein as other additives to gin cocktails. Regardless if it is truly dirty (i.e. coming from the garnish tray) or simply a mix sold in such stores as The Boston Shaker in the Boston area, I'm not sold on the fact that it is so different than say an Alaska in terms of the strength of the taste of the gin-modifying agent. To argue the respectability of that agent is, in my opinion, to be snobby.

                                  2. I do recoil from terms such as "rookie juice." I think in the end we should all agree to respect each others' tastes. You might laugh at that statement, but at least in the Boston area a great number of bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts not only wear their enjoyment of Fernet as a badge of cool, but include Miller Hi Life in that category as well. So good to cocktail geeks, but laughable to beer geeks. I have friends who are dirty martini drinkers, and while perhaps rookies to cocktail geeks, in terms of life experience they are certainly no rookies and make most cocktail geeks I've met/run into seem like uneducated homers. Also, my father loves his rum and cokes and cheap brandy. He'll enjoy a gin martini when I make him one, but latches on to old favorites the rest of the time. And this is a man that was not only on station during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but has traveled the world and tasted more indigenous alcohol than the vast majority of posters on Chowhound.

                                  So in the end, to each their own I guess...

                                  1. re: Canadian Tuxedo

                                    I certainly agree with the point that your taste in cocktails is no reflection on your worth as a person. Regardless, there are still degrees of connoisseurship in cocktails, levels of sophistication in their appreciation -- as of anything made by gifted artists or skilled artisans. Everybody starts out with an unrefined sensibility, but if you come to care about a particular art or craft, persistent study, exploration and exposure to the work of gifted creators / fabricators has a way of making you eschew the amateurish, the trite, and the slapdash.

                                    My disdain for the Dirty Vodka Martini does not have anything to do with some preconception of the sort of people who drink it, rather with its one-note dullness and the frequently shoddy way in which it is made. There's no craft, no scholarship, no skill, no alchemy in it of the kind that more serious cocktails made by talented / adept bartenders can embody. I'm not arguing against simple drinks -- there are plenty that I like -- but against crude ones, cocktails that lack balance. A haphazard combination of salt, water and ethanol doesn't meet that nominal cocktail standard, in my book.

                                    Perhaps part of my unforgiving attitude toward the DVM is the frequency with which its made with super-premium vodkas. I think the alleged differences between a vodka that retails for $20 and one that retails for $40 or $60 are almost entirely in packaging and advertising: super-premium vodkas are a scam, a collusion between consumers seeking brand affiliation and spirits marketers happy to profitably fill that need. If there is any flavor reason to drink Grey Goose over Smirnoff, it's almost ineffably subtle, and if it actually exists, you're clubbing it to death with that olive brine. A DVM made with a pricey call brand brings a bad cocktail to the level of completely ridiculous cocktail.

                                    That said, "Here, here" to the notion of coaxing rookies up the path toward a richer appreciation of thoughtful cocktails, rather than just looking back and mocking them. I think we're still in an evangelical phase, and the movement needs more converts to sustain it.

                                    http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/