The Savory Ingredient That Makes Your Martinis So 'Dirty'

The classic martini is an incredibly simple, effortlessly cool cocktail. At its most basic level, the martini is a two-ingredient drink: a few ounces of gin or vodka and a touch of vermouth. Of course, martini fanatics can (and will) argue for hours over the perfect cocktail ratio and the essential question — to garnish or not to garnish? There may be no other situation where the addition of a single olive to a beverage is so controversial.


Although martini minimalists may consider it blasphemous, the mixed drink's simplicity lends itself to myriad fun and funky variations like the espresso martini, chocolate martini, and even (unfortunately for our writers) Velveeta martini. In many ways, a martini is defined more by its iconic cocktail glass shape than its actual contents.  

One of the most infamous martini varieties is the dirty martini, which adds a kick of salty flavor via a quarter-ounce of olive brine. The dirty martini sounds quite intimidating, but some say the savory edge of olive brine makes this salty variant more drinkable than the classic martini.

What makes a dirty martini filthy?

If a quarter-ounce of olive brine sounds oddly specific, welcome to the world of martinis. But in this case, the specificity is for good reason — just a little bit more or less will completely change the flavor of the drink. True brine lovers can take things up a notch by adding more than a quarter-ounce of the salty olive juice to their cocktail, taking the drink from dirty to extra dirty or filthy. The maximum level of olive brine is a matter of debate — some say a half-ounce, some say a whole ounce, others simply say the more the better (and filthier).


A filthy (or even just dirty) martini is not for the faint of heart. This is a strong drink, in every sense of the word. But to dirty martini devotees the drink's salty, briny, olive-rich flavor is highly craveable. It may be an acquired taste, but for those who have acquired it, the dirty martini simply can't be topped. Flavor aside, a dirty, or better yet filthy, martini is undeniably fun to order.

When did dirty martinis become popular?

Bartenders have been adding olive brine to martinis since at least 1901, but the dirty martini is believed to have gained more widespread popularity in the 1930s thanks to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. After FDR repealed prohibition, he wasn't shy about imbibing in his drink of choice. As legend has it, the president could almost always find a good reason to mix up a martini at the White House, and was particularly fond of adding a splash of olive brine to his cocktail. 


Regardless of its origin, the dirty (or extra dirty, or filthy) martini clearly has some staying power. Although it's often maligned by cocktail snobs, true dirty martini lovers are too busy enjoying their wonderfully briny concoctions to care. So the next time you find yourself mixing up a martini, consider cutting it with a splash (or two, or three) of olive brine — you may just find your new favorite drink.