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Daniel Craig as James Bond enjoying a Vesper Martini in 'Casino Royale' (2003) | Image: MGM Grand

What Makes a Martini Dirty? A Saucy Exposé

In the hierarchy of traditional, timeless cocktails, there are few drinks as classic as the martini. In the most basic sense, it’s a mixed drink made with gin (or vodka if you’re into that sort of thing) and vermouth. It’s usually garnished with a twist of citrus or an olive (or blue cheese stuffed olive if you’re feeling adventurous). It’s simple, elegant, and very easy to make. A true gentleman’s (or gentle lady’s) drink.

As cocktails go, there are few easier to make than the martini. Even if you don’t have a traditional martini glass, all you really need to make this simple drink is your base spirit, vermouth, some olives, and a shaker. It couldn’t be easier to whip up for your friends and family. While it’s clean, fresh, and gin-centric (or vodka-centric), it has its dark side as well. Of course, we’re talking about the dirty martini.

Dirty Martini characterised by the thick olive juice | Image: Trasch
Dirty Martini characterised by the thick olive juice | Image: Johann Trasch

What is a Dirty Martini?

Obviously, referring to a dirty martini as the drink’s “dark side” is a bit of a tongue-in-cheek joke. The “dirty” is a reference to the addition of olive brine or olive juice. This results in a somewhat cloudy, salty, olive-centric martini. It adds a bit of salinity to an otherwise very boozy cocktail. Clearly, it’s not for everyone though. If you don’t want to sip on a salty mixed drink or if you don’t enjoy the taste of olives, this isn’t the version for you. Stick to the classic gin or vodka martini instead.

Martini Ingredients

The martini is one of the most popular cocktails of all time. A favourite of James Bond (he preferred his “shaken, not stirred”), the drink’s origin is shrouded in mystery. Like many cocktails, there are disputed theories of when and who invented it. A bartender named Jerry Thomas claimed to invent the drink in the late 1800s at the Occidental Hotel in San Francisco when he made a drink of gin, vermouth, bitters, and maraschino for a prospector. Regardless of who invented it, the contemporary recipe consists of gin (not vodka) and vermouth with an olive and/or lemon peel.

Dirty Martini | Image: Aditya Saxena
Dirty Martini | Image: Aditya Saxena

Dirty Martini Recipe

While the classic martini’s origins are mysterious, the dirty martini is most often attributed to a bartender named John O’Connor in 1901. This is when the New York City-based barkeep muddled olives into his martini and then moved on to adding olive juice. To create a “dirty” martini for yourself, you’ll need gin (or vodka), dry vermouth, olive brine, and green olives. The basic recipe consists of 2-3 ounces of gin (or vodka), a half ounce of dry vermouth, a half ounce of olive brine, and two to three green olives.

How to Make a Dirty Martini

  • 3 ounces Gin
  • 0.5 ounces dry vermouth
  • 0.5 ounces olive brine
  • 2-3 green olives


  1. Add gin (or vodka), dry vermouth, olive juice or brine, and ice to a shaker.
  2. Shake vigorously.
  3. Strain into a cocktail glass.
  4. Garnish with as many green olives as you’d like.
Dirty Martini | Image: Ambitious Studio/Rick Barrett
Dirty Martini | Image: Ambitious Studio/Rick Barrett

Dirty Martini vs Filthy Martini

It should come as no surprise that a “filthy” martini is simply an even more elevated dirty martini. Also referred to as “extra dirty”, a “filthy” martini ups the ratio of olive juice or brine and lowers the amount of gin or vodka. While classic martini drinkers might enjoy the flavour of gin or vodka and dry martini drinkers like how the dry vermouth flavours compliment the base spirit, filthy martini fans would rather sip on an over-the-top salty, briny drink that doesn’t have much of an alcohol taste at all.

It’s a great choice for drinkers who prefer savoury cocktails like the iconic Bloody Mary and also don’t really like the floral, botanical flavour of gin or the neutral, sometimes harsh flavour of vodka. To reference ‘This is Spinal Tap’, this is a dirty martini turned up to eleven.

Dirty Martini FAQs

What’s the difference between a martini and a dirty martini?

As we mentioned above, the difference between a martini and a dirty martini is one ingredient: olive brine. While classic martinis have gin (or vodka), vermouth, and a twist of lemon, or a green olive, the dirty martini adds in olive juice or olive brine. The more added, the saltier and brinier the drink will be. Its addition also masks the juniper and botanical flavour of gin and the neutral grain flavour and perceived harshness of vodka.

Is a dirty martini better with vodka or gin?

This is a difficult question. There’s no perfect answer as it’s all subject to your own personal taste. If you already enjoy sipping on a martini with a base of juniper, botanical, and herbal gin, you’ll probably like the same drink with the addition of olive brine. The same goes for vodka. If your preference is a martini with as little overall flavour as possible (save for the vermouth), you’ll like this same drink made the “dirty” way. It’s as simple as that.