The dirty martini is a drink bartenders love to hate. In its worst iteration, cheap vodka shaken with warm olive brine from the well, it is indeed worthy of scorn, derision, even active loathing. But more than a few barmen and women have taken it upon themselves to detox the much-maligned cocktail. The Martini Sucio, a dirty martini of sorts, is now the only version of that Madmen staple on Juniper Tar’s written menu.
And it’s a doozy — nothing like any most of us have ever had. The drink is based on Gin Mare, a Spanish product that is itself distilled with olives, thyme, rosemary and basil. (I have a bottle of this, and the olive and aromatics do come through markedly.) Dry white vermouth, house olive brine and an olive oil and thyme tincture, which is spread around the inside of the coupe with an eye dropper, make up the mix. It’s then stirred (not shaken) and served with a sprig of thyme impaling a ring of dried olive.
This is a hardcore drink — punchy, briney (though not necessarily reeking of olive), and bracing. And it needs to be experienced at JT; most of us (and that includes me), will never go to the effort required to attempt a replica at home. But for those who are now at least a little curious (and that also includes me), there are some easier-to-pull-off variations on the semi-sucia ‘tini to try.
Taking little extra effort, but some thinking ahead, is a version that asks you to chop up a half cup of green, Cerignola olives and macerate them in a half a bottle of decent dry vermouth, say Noilly Pratt, for three days with occasional shaking and a final straining. You then stir with ice a 1:1 mix of the infused vermouth with navy-strength gin (say 1 ½ ounces each), strain into a chilled glass, and dispose a few drips of olive oil (preferably from a dropper) onto the top of the drink. Not too much — you don’t want an oil slick. Serve a plate of olives on the side.
Even simpler, start with gin (say 2 ½ ounces), a good dry vermouth (1/2 ounce or more to taste) and ¼ to ½ ounce of chilled brine from a bottle of really good olives — or from the olive bar at Central Market or Whole Foods (no blue cheese, please). Stir, strain, serve with an olive garnish.
But wait: let’s assume you might want to eschew the olive garnish for your newly tony ‘tini in favor of a swath of lemon peel or that sprig of thyme. Bottled olive juice to the rescue. Fee Brothers, the maker of an arsenal of bitters, produces one, among several other labels. Yes, you can also make your own olive brine, but now we’re verging on obsessive.
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