Is "Dirty Martini" The New "Everything Bagel"?
Move over "bourbon-flavored," there's a new taste trend poised to take over.
Last week, over in my other life as a chronicler of TikTok recipe trends, I cooked a dish called Dirty Martini Pasta and wrote an article about it. “This is like, if you took a dirty martini and made it into a pasta,” says the TikTok creator @legallyhealthyblonde, who created the Dirty Martini Pasta recipe that’s gone somewhat viral.
“I know I’m not the only one obsessed with dirty martinis and obsessed with pasta, and so I am trusting this is going to find the right people,” she says. I agree. As I explained in my article:
When I first saw that a recipe for dirty martini pasta was trending on social media, my immediate thought was: Why didn’t someone think of this before? After all, people love dirty martinis and they love pasta…
Just like everything bagel seasoning or bourbon-flavored stuff, “dirty martini” has become a super popular flavor descriptor for food beyond cocktails. We’ve seen the rise of dirty martini salads and dirty martini deviled eggs, for instance. So dirty martini pasta just makes sense.
Dirty Martini Pasta, despite a catchy name, has its basis in classic pasta flavors—olive, lemon, garlic, parsley, oil, butter (click here for the recipe). The only element that might make an Italian mad is the optional crumbling of blue cheese, or perhaps de-glazing the saucepan with gin. Yet the Dirty Martini Pasta is likely less offensive to Italians than my own arugula-pumpkin-seed-Manchego pesto that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.
In any case, Dirty Martini Pasta came on the heels of my recent visit to Jerez, a couple weeks before, where my friend and I found ourselves using the tasting note “dirty martini” to describe certain fino and manzanilla sherries we encountered. Tasters often speak of sherry as having a “briny” or “saline” character, and olives are considered a classic pairing with fino sherry. So why not describe it as having “notes of dirty martini”? Maybe changing the way we talk about sherry could help its popularity among Americans? (Not holding my breath).
But I’m thinking bigger about dirty martini as a flavor. Are we possibly a few short steps from seeing “dirty martini” as the next conceptual flavor trend? Think about how everything bagel seasoning now pops up in, well, everything from hot sauce to ice cream to salmon recipes.
I could even see dirty martini taking over the space currently occupied by the “bourbon-flavored” phenomenon. We live in a world where you can find bourbon-flavored toothpicks, bourbon-flavored maple syrup, bourbon-flavored cigars, and bourbon-flavored Dr. Pepper. My colleague Susannah Skiver Barton wrote about this trend, which she calls “Creeping Bourbon Effect,” for this newsletter back in January. As Barton writes:
Why is this happening? The bourbon boom, of course, has everyone scrambling for a piece of the pie. But more insidious, and powerful, is the changing palate of the bourbon drinker, which now demands more robust flavor (and often concurrent higher proof) than that which was offered in the past. This may be part of a broader shift toward more flavorful food and beverages generally, reflected in the 21st-century ubiquity of foods that would have been unusual by most Americans’ standards even a generation ago: sriracha, queso, kale chips.
Dirty martinis certainly meet that 21st century demand for more robust flavor. As with everything bagels and oaky, sweet bourbon, the taste of olive and its brine brings a divisive flavor that has both lovers and haters.
Among the mixology crowd, there’s generally been a vague sense that the dirty martini is sort of…well…not what Cocktail People drink. It’s not trashy or declassé, per se. It’s not in the same category as, say, the Long Island Ice Tea or Fuzzy Navel or Appletini. But still. I don’t know if the dirty martini gets more side eye than the espresso martini, but it definitely gets side eye.
Part of this, I believe, is because contemporary dirty martini drinkers tend to make their martinis with vodka rather than gin (which, I’m sorry, is still a foul in my book). But I guess that’s why they need the olive brine, to give it a little flavor. To recap: A martini calls for gin. I’m honestly a little irritated I still have to state this after all these years. But I guess I can empathize with Italians getting mad about pesto.
Still, if it’s made with gin, I believe dirty martini can still claim status as a “classic.” It has a history. According to the Oxford Companion to Spirits & Cocktails, adding olive brine to a martini has been around since at least 1901, served with muddle olives at the bar of the famed Waldorf Astoria.
Though he didn’t call it a “dirty martini,” Franklin Delano Roosevelt loved using olive brine in his martini. Roosevelt “was reported to have splashed a bite of brine in his drinks at the White House,” writes Robert Simonson in his book, The Martini Cocktail. “Because of this, many have called FDR the author of the dirty martini.” Legend has it that he poured dirty martinis for Stalin and Churchill at the Yalta Conference in 1945 as they discussed post-war Europe. A sketchier legend claims Stalin actually put the idea into Roosevelt’s head.
In any case, I don’t really have a recipe for dirty martinis. Just add a half-ounce of olive brine to your preferred martini. I think it works better in a more gin-heavy martini with, say, a 5:1 gin-to-vermouth ratio. Obviously you want to garnish it with a healthy number of olives. (Possibly on Alicia Kennedy’s new jeweled martini pick!)
Surely someday soon you’ll be able to buy a dirty-martini-flavored toothpick—along with dirty-martini salad dressing, dirty-martini ice cream, and dirty-martini-scented candles.
Oh wait. A dirty-martini-scented candle already exists.
Nowadays, in Europe, it's almost impossible to get a Dry Martini version that's actually not a Dirty Martini. Unlike in the US, no one actually drinks Dirty Martinis here so it may be the one case of a 'classic' cocktail becoming popular in spite of no one actually making the classic version ever. And some of those 'Drys that are actually Dirties' are actually much better than a 'classic' Dirty Martini. Most are merely content with not being worse than a Dirty Martini. The bar for this is obviously low.