The Worst Drink: Dirty Martini

I will start by saying that I don’t live in your mouth and so I can’t actually tell you what you should or shouldn’t drink based on my tastes and experiences. I will tell you though that you HAVE to be able to find something better to drink than a Dirty Martini. As a service industry professional I will always make you a Dirty Martini should you order one from me. As a human though, I worry that the disdain I feel for the drink will somehow make it taste worse. My old friend and mentor Simon Ogden has a theory that no one really likes Dirty Martinis, they just like saying “Dirty Martini”. I am inclined to agree. There is a passage in Sother Teague’s excellent new book I’m Just Here For The Drinks where he says, “the dirty martini is among my least favourite drinks” and I couldn’t agree more. The Dirty Martini is the worst drink.


A dirty martini, for those unaware (lucky!) is a cocktail made using gin or vodka and “olive brine”. There are great olives made by thoughtful people out there, but more often than not what you are getting is weird “juice” from a can or jar, poured into your spirit.

We all acknowledge that one of the driving forces of cocktails being invented in the first place was that the rough alcohol that people wanted to drink tasted like trash (or turpentine, or gasoline) and so adding some thoughtful ingredients like lime juice or sugar or aromatic bitters made sense. Why drink something gross when you can drink something great? So then why are we putting mass produced “salt” “water” on the beautifully made products we have available to us today?

Lesley Gracie (Inventor of and Master Distiller at Hendrick’s Gin) spends hours, days, weeks even sourcing the botanicals that she uses in her gin. She then uses precise amounts of each, in two different stills to produce a glorious spirit. She then enhances that spirit with the essences of roses and cucumbers. This process took years to perfect. She has several post-secondary degrees that give her the knowledge and confidence to produce such a glorious gin.

Desmond Payne has been the Master Distiller and developer of 8 different gins over the last 50 years (Beefeater and Plymouth amongst them). I am hard pressed to think of someone that has spent that amount of time and energy on producing such specific and exact recipes… and he’s done it eight times. Giant brands worth billions of dollars rely on his expertise in distillation and flavour creation.

Grey Goose, Ketel One, Belvedere, Absolut, Tito’s and every other brand of vodka available have spent decades (in some cases) sourcing the grains they know will produce the vodka they want to present to you. Nothing short of testing each batch of grain – whether it is wheat or rye or corn – results in passing on the experience of that vodka to you, their consumer.

The list of ingredients on a Unico brand jar of olives reads: Olives, Water, Red Wine Vinegar, Salt, Potassium Sorbate. No indication of where any of the ingredients came from. There was certainly some food scientist involved in the recipe, but do we know who they are, or what else they are responsible for? Also, there is 300mg of sodium in each tablespoon.

If Coco Chanel were alive today and found out that people were making her bags with the same canvas used on a pair of Chuck Taylor’s (a classic fashion staple in their own right) how do you think she’d feel? Would people still consider it a quality bag? The impression made by the designs would be lost.

I think what gets me most upset is that ordering a Dirty Martini just shows laziness of the behalf of the drinker. I am here for genuine engagement. Imagine that you are out and sit somewhere where someone (often the person you are ordering your drink from, but sometimes a board of directors from “Head Office”) has taken the time to develop a menu/list/program where the cocktails on offer are being carefully considered. Does it not seem disrespectful to the person(s) whose job is to be there to help you have the best night out (I mean, that is what bartending is all about), to ignore that work and then ask for something you (I’m almost certain) don’t actually like, but happen to know the name of?

Now, I should fill you all in on something. I really like olives. I eat weird artisanal olives, stuffed with all manor of pickled things. I get mass produced olives on pizza when I order it, or make it at home (why else do Unico Olives even exist?). I am not one of these people that doesn’t like olives (I suspect these are the same people that don’t eat pineapple on pizza).

I also really like ice cream. I don’t even care if it’s dairy, soy or almond based. I also like pickles. Pickled anything really. Vinegar makes a lot of food better. Do I want pickles on my ice cream though? Not a fucking chance.

I love Gin and I love Olives, but keep them out of each other’s space and if you are going to drop an olive in a martini, make sure you aren’t adding 25ml of “olive juice” with it.

All I am trying to get out here is that while I know that “better” is subjective and I shouldn’t care what anyone wants to drink so long as it will make them happy, I can’t imagine a world where terrifically made spirits combined with potassium sorbate makes anyone happy.


* If you have a response to this piece and you write it out well-enough for us, we’ll be happy to publish it.

Josh Lindley
Co-Creator at Bartender Atlas
Josh Lindley has been bartending in Toronto since 2007. Before working for Hendrick's Gin as a Brand Ambassador he was bar manager at Campagnolo and a hired gun at Bar Isabel before working at Chantecler, Le Phenix and Eataly. He has contributed to many magazines, tv shows and newspapers with his recipes and opinions. He recently put his diploma in Radio Broadcasting from Humber College to good use through The Blackbird audio documentary. Currently pouring at Civl Liberties and teaching cocktail classes for Evelyn Chick's Love of Cocktails, he enjoys being an ambassador to Toronto and talking about horror movies, punk rock and basketball.
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