No one claims certainty on the origin of the classic cocktail, the Martini. Equally, no one is really sure how olives ended up as the garnish of choice. A few stories exist.
In Gold Rush California, a pub owner in Martinez, California, Julio Richelieu is said to have dropped an olive in the bottom of a glass before pouring in gin and vermouth and serving it to a miner. This story often holds up as the real origin of the Martini but without a flux capacitor-powered DeLorean, we’ll never know.
Others place the olive’s origins on the other side of the North American continent, specifically at the Knickerbocker Hotel in New York City. Patrons to the bar around the year 1911 are said to have begun placing olives in their London Dry Gin-Noilly Prat Vermouth-Orange Bitters drink concocted by the hotel bar’s head barman Martini di Arma di Taggia. We refrain from the bitters today, but the the olive remains a staple. Still, however hard the Big Apple and Arma di Taggia believers may try, the history of the martini surely began before the 1900s.
Still another story places the olive’s debut in Paris, plopped in the drink by a Syrian barman who decided to add a taste of home to the already popular Martini cocktail in the 1920s. The barman’s descendant told the American public radio, NPR, about his grandfather’s attempt at imbibition immortality explaining that there are a lot of families with the surname “Martini” in Northern Syria and that he believes his relative created the Martini. Again, doubtful, but entertaining.
Whatever it’s origins, the martini’s olive adornment comes in many varieties from those stuffed with garlic to red pepper to cheese. A few drops of olive brine even replaces vermouth in a dirty martini. Martini connoisseurs like to pop an olive in their mouth with the first sip and let the remaining two rest on the toothpick soaking up the gin.
Now, an inventive Dorset-based gourmet food company Olives Et Al helps you avoid the wait for the olives to bathe in alcohol. They have begun selling olives preserved in gin or vodka to accommodate your martini. The company describes its oily product as “slightly naughty” and advises its customers to “eat responsibly” as they are alcoholic.
For the perfect species of olive for its branded “Neat & Dirty Olives”, the company has chosen the Nocellara olive from Sicily which is steeps in either Lemon Infused Vodka or Gin or Orange Infused Gin. We would recommend a citrus-led gin for your Martini base for the citrusy olives to complement. Our Gin of the Month Burleigh’s comes to mind.
We may never know where and when the first olive was dropped in a martini glass. But at least we’ll always be able to trace the origins of alcoholic olives back to the UK.