Martini Garnishes

Mondrian Martini
Mondrian’s Martini by Barnaby Conrad III, 1992

In this post i want to explore a key part of the Martini that is sometimes an after-thought but can be a deal breaker: the garnish.

Traditionally there are 3 to choose from:

          • Olive (with the Dirty variation)
          • Lemon Twist
          • Cocktail Onion (for the Gibson)

But that’s where there the consistency ends for each bar person will approach the garnish differently.

Every Martini is always unique which is what it so special, even with the same ingredients and maker, and with the variants on the garnish, gin, vermouth etc, the permutations are endless.

I find that a reassuring thought.


But they’re there for a reason: to impart the finishing taste note to the Martini, that 5% to the mix of complexity that affects the nose before the first sip, the final sip that gives you the lingering note.

Without them the Martini looks very naked indeed and there something a bit barbaric about drinking without one. The garnish should delight the eye and completes the picture and sets up the anticipation of a great Martini experience.



I’ll get to the point. You want plain plumb green Sicilian style. Not the pimento filled little ones in a jar.

Some will skewer the olives and lay them across the glass (my least favourite style), or rub the lemon on the rim and squeeze the oil (apparently) before dropping into the glass.

Some get dropped from a great height, others are placed with great care and show.

(Worst Martini I ever had was served on ice with black olives. Really. No, I didn’t drink it.)


Pipped or otherwise it doesn’t really matter though.  I really like those bars (like Lily Blacks in Melbourne) that give you a nice little crystal saucer for your pips: civilised.

You’re after a clean pure olive flavour, free of oiliness. As the cocktail warms you’re going to get more of the olive taste, and it shouldn’t get in the way of the Gin or Vermouth but still be pleasant.

I’ve been naughty and played with anchovy or blue cheese filled green olives, and there’s a time and place for those, one is usually enough though.

I prefer to pour my mix over the olives to get the infusion going rather than drop them in, and in bar this trend of putting them on skewers is both silly and dangerous. You only then have to pull them off and place them in the drink yourself. Annoying.

A toothpick will do nicely I don’t need something in my eye thanks.

Tradition says an odd number of olives is best for luck, never even.

One of my favourite Frank Sinatra yarns is that if he was keen on a dame he’d offer his Martini olives. If she took them it was a done deal.

Getting Dirty

Now, this is an acquired taste, but once you ‘get it’ its one you’ll go back to time and again when you want that briny salty hit.

It can be a tricky one to pull-off, too much brine from the olive jar and you’ll end up with a taste similar to Sydney Harbour. So I’d shoot for a quarter of teaspoon into the mixer and what you should get is a slightly cloudy, salty to the taste Martini but you still get the other flavours of the Gin etc coming through.

Northside CentinisLemon Twist

The other classic garnish adds spice and literally zest to the Martini.

Its a very different cocktail to my mind.  If the olive takes a back seat, the lemon is much more forward and so keep that in mind when you order and the gin should be chosen to match.

Gin wise, Bombay Sapphire is a classic match, WestWinds Sabre and any of the spicer styles that won’t be overwhelmed in flavour by the citrus. But if you choose a more flavoured Gin you may have too many things going on in the glass taste wise.

I’ve also found it rare to get a decent lemon twist, often it’s not pretty to watch the bar person carving away, but when its done its a thing of beauty.

I chose the lemon twist for the Northside version of the Centini to give the cocktail a hint of summer freshness and we used backyard lemon’s for a local touch to cut through the strong spirit taste of the Gin used. (pictured ).

It also made an appearance in the Vesper Martini for James Bond.

GibsonCocktail Onion

A personal favourite, and I’ve been known to bring my own jar to the bars I like because they never seem to have them.

Fans of Mad Men will know Roger Sterling drinks his Martini’s this way using Vodka.

You make your cocktail normally, but simply substitute cocktail onions.

It adds a savoury dimension to the Martini, and its not ‘oniony’ at all, and the final sips are a delicious full-flavoured experience. Try it!

I like mine with a fuller flavoured Gin like Beefeater or Plymouth and go easy on the Vermouth, drier is better in this combination.

Orange TwistOther Garnishes

Without straying into more exotic territory of gimmick Martini’s other options can include orange rind with a dash of Lillet Blanc.

I’ve had also Thyme or Sage leaves to bring out certain botanicals in the Gin that worked quite well.

But i draw the line at the Appletini!