If you make a martini with an olive, choose wisely. As one of precious few ingredients in the drink, the type of olive you select will affect the flavors, texture and, of course, appearance of your cocktail.
Olives bring salt and umami to cocktails, explains Anthony Caporale, director of spirits education at Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) in New York City. In a booze-forward drink like a martini, you want them to complement, not overpower, your gin and vermouth.
Gary Wallach, who oversees the food and beverage program at the Arlo Soho in New York, agrees. “The salt is a bridge to the fruit flavors found in vermouth, and the herbaceous notes in gin or bracing flavor of vodka,” says Wallach.
When it comes to specific olive choice, the clear front-runner among bartenders is the Castelvetrano, a green olive from Sicily known for its meaty, buttery texture and distinctive flavor.
“When making my dream martini, there are always Castelvetrano olives involved,” says Marissa Reiser, in-house sommelier at Le Moné Aperitifs and former sommelier at restaurants including Per Se, Lilia and Marea. “They always deliver.”
Castelvetranos’ balanced flavor profile is another big draw.
“Instead of a salt bomb, you get these olivey green notes you’re hoping for, with a great progression of flavor and a clean finish,” says David Branch, general manager at The Violet Hour in Chicago.
Others praised Castelvetranos’ soft brine as well as their firm texture, which doesn’t get mushy after the olives are submerged in liquid. Plus, due to their smallish size, Castelvetrano olives don’t take up too much real estate in the glass. “With the Castelvetrano, the cocktail is the star of the show and the garnish is an accent, instead of the other way around,” says Branch.
Some bartenders prefer Manzanilla, the classic green olive stuffed with a pimento, in martinis. Others cite Spanish Queen olives, which are “firm, meaty and power-packed with flavor, more than a typical green olive,” according to James Harvey, lead bartender at Viceroy Snowmass.
Honorable mentions go to Frescatrano (“briny and buttery like Castelvetrano, but even meatier and with a nice crunch,” says Mary Bartlett, cofounder of Future Gin) and Cerignola (“a slightly milder flavor, while still being delicious,” says Adam Montgomerie, bar manager at Hawksmoor in New York).