The Martini-Mixing Trick I Wish I’d Known Earlier

March 23, 2018

You don’t have to know me well to know that I love martinis. Dirty, gin, extra olives. Over the years, the finer details have swayed back and forth, like birds or branches or birds on branches. Sometimes I grab a coupe. Most times, a rocks glass. Maybe an ice cube will tag along, to melt and mellow the mood. Maybe the olives will be Castelvetrano—or pimiento-stuffed—but never blue cheese. These days, the gin-to-vermouth ratio is slowly but surely becoming more and more lopsided, leaning away from the classic 2:1, toward a Julia Child–esque “upside-down,” where that number flip-flops.

But the more martinis I drank, the more I realized that I had a problem. Let’s call it, The Olive Problem. Here’s what happened. If you want your kitchen to be martini-ready, you only need a few items on hand: gin, dry vermouth, olives, and olive brine. The last two are supposedly the most obvious—a two-in-one, score!—but here’s the catch. Pimiento-stuffed olives live in olive brine—less like fish in the sea, more like fish in an overcrowded tank, where there’s no room to swim.

Come martini time, you snag a couple olives, splash a little brine, shake, shake, shake, done. This is all well and good for the first few. But fast-forward a couple weeks and, boom, it’s: The Olive Problem. By the time you use up all the brine, you still have a ton of olives. This led to a few emergency pickle brine martinis, which are actually quite good.

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But, anyway, not for every night. The Olive Problem becomes even worse if you just happen to fall in love with Castelvetranos (it just happened, who knows how?). Their brine is too watery and sweet for martinis, so now you’re buying Castelvetrano olives for the olives and pimiento-stuffed olives for the brine, which you’re always running out of.

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Top Comment:
“I prefer mine shaken, thank you very much.....”
— Sharon

There has to be a better way, right? There always is. One day, I was wandering Whole Foods (you know when you go in for one thing, then walk out with seven?) and I stumbled upon bottled olive brine. Like, without the olives. You can find this in other stores—or, just order online. I like to buy a few at once—one in the fridge, extras in the pantry. Olive Problem: solved.

What’s your favorite recipe that uses olives (or olive brine!)? Tell us about it in the comments.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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  • Steve
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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Ha March 27, 2018
This article is a bit of a waste of space
Steve March 25, 2018
A Martini is stirred, not shaken. Bond was doing everything wrong on purpose; vodka, shaken…
There is a shaken version of the cocktail, but its proper name is a BRADFORD.
Garnish with a cocktail onion and it's a GIBSON.
Garnish can be a green olive. Two olives, and it’s a ROOSEVELT MARTINI.
Garnish with green olives and add a splash of brine and its a DIRTY MARTINI; what's described here.

Sweet vermouth yields a MARTINEZ (historically, variations of the same drink), usually with a splash of Maraschino liqueur. Ideally, Old Tom gin is used.

Vodka may produce an enjoyable cocktail, but it will not be a Martini. Though sometimes deferentially referred to as a VODKATINI, the proper nomenclature for that drink is a KANGAROO.

Keep the barbarians at the gate.
holly M. August 5, 2019
Thank you Steve, you're fabulous! I'll be raising a Kangaroo to you at 5:00 EST.

JC March 24, 2018
sorry but olive brine is a BS thing made up by FDR..
Classic Martini
4 parts gin
1 part dry vermouth
olive for garnish
shake gin and vermouth until chilled
pour in martini glass add olive
* a couple drops orange bitters are in the old recipe books if you want really classic
kathleen L. May 23, 2018
Never shake a beautiful martini....let it rest in the ice for a while then stir and stir, strain and sip. Chips of shaken ice dilute and altar the martini when you shake it. That’s a vodka drink thing.
Sharon January 14, 2019
I prefer mine shaken, thank you very much.....