Martini Olives Are a Matter of Taste

If you make a martini with an olive, choose wisely

When it comes to making a martini, the choice of olive is a matter of taste. While it may seem like a minor detail, the type of olive you select can have a significant impact on the flavors, texture, and appearance of your cocktail. Olives play a crucial role in bringing saltiness and umami to the drink, complementing the gin and vermouth. To find the perfect olive for your martini, it’s important to consider various factors, including the flavor profile, texture, and size of the olive.

The Importance of Olives in a Martini

According to Anthony Caporale, the director of spirits education at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) in New York City, olives add depth and complexity to a martini. In a booze-forward cocktail like a martini, the olives should enhance the flavors of the gin and vermouth without overpowering them. The saltiness of the olives acts as a bridge to the fruit flavors in the vermouth and the herbaceous notes in the gin or the clean flavor of vodka.

Castelvetrano olives are among the best olives for your martini
Many bartenders are partial to Castelvetrano olives / Getty

Staff Picks

When it comes to specific olive choices, bartenders have their favorites. The clear front-runner among bartenders is the Castelvetrano olive, which hails from Sicily. This green olive is known for its meaty, buttery texture and distinctive flavor. Bartenders and experts highly recommend Castelvetrano olives for their balanced flavor profile, olivey green notes, and clean finish. They are also praised for their soft brine and firm texture that holds up well even when submerged in liquid. Additionally, their small size ensures they don’t take up too much space in the glass, allowing the cocktail to shine as the star of the show.

Other olives that receive honorable mentions include Manzanilla, Spanish Queen, Frescatrano, and Cerignola. The Manzanilla olive, a classic green olive stuffed with a pimento, is favored by some bartenders for its firm, meaty, and power-packed flavor. The Spanish Queen olive is also praised for its firm texture and robust flavor. Frescatrano olives are described as briny and buttery, similar to Castelvetrano but even meatier with a nice crunch. Cerignola olives, on the other hand, offer a slightly milder flavor while still being delicious.

The choice of olive depends on several factors. Firstly, whether you are using gin or vodka in your martini. Most bartenders recommend using briny, herbaceous, or spiced olives for vodka martinis, while gin martinis pair well with subtler and softer olives. The goal is to let the herbal profile of the gin shine through without overpowering flavors. Additionally, the choice of olive may also depend on whether you’re making a dirty martini, which includes the olive brine, or simply garnishing your martini with an olive. The brine can add another dimension of flavor, while a garnish should complement the cocktail without overpowering it.

Best olives for your martini is a matter of taste
Some pros prefer Manzanilla, the classic green olive stuffed with a pimento / Getty

The Controversy of Stuffed Olives

When it comes to stuffed olives, there is some controversy among bartenders. Many argue that stuffed olives, particularly blue cheese-stuffed olives, can detract from the true flavor of a martini. However, some bartenders swear by the addition of stuffed olives, claiming that they give the martini a creamy texture and enhance the overall flavor of the drink.

Daniel Foreshene, a bartender at Seven Square at The Clancy in San Francisco, is a fan of blue cheese-stuffed olives. According to Foreshene, the cheese adds a creamy texture to the martini and elevates its flavor. Anthony Caporale of ICE takes it a step further by stuffing his own olives with a variety of fillings, including brie, anchovies, and fig jam. He matches the stuffing to the flavor profile of the liquor, creating a unique and personalized martini experience.

Regardless of the stuffing, if you choose to use stuffed olives in your martini, it is recommended to opt for larger olives like the Spanish Queen. The size of the olives allows for more stuffing and ensures that it doesn’t overpower the cocktail.

Key Considerations for Martini Olive Selection

While the choice of olive is ultimately a matter of personal preference, there are a couple of rules to keep in mind. Firstly, it is important to use pitted olives to avoid any unexpected surprises while enjoying your martini. The presence of a stone can cause problems if you’re not expecting it.

Proper storage of olives is also crucial. It is recommended to keep olives in brine to prevent them from drying out. The brine helps to preserve the flavors and ensures that the olives release their flavors into the martini, rather than absorb the flavors of the cocktail.

Ultimately, finding the perfect olive for your martini may require some experimentation. Sampling a variety of olives will help you determine your personal preference and discover the olive that best complements your martini. As Marissa Reiser, in-house sommelier at Le Moné Aperitifs, advises, “You have to find what works for you.”

Last Updated: September 28, 2022