Why Alton Brown Garnishes Martinis With Caper Berries

Think of a classic cocktail menu: Negroni, Manhattan, Old Fashioned. There's a martini on the list too, right? Of course there is. It's a timeless, straightforward combination of gin and vermouth, per BBC. From there, folks dress it up with all sorts of garnishes and infusions like orange bitters, lemon juice, espresso liqueur, or — perhaps most famously — olives and olive brine. Now, with the latest martini twist, is the chef behind the controversial margarita recipe that incited major fan backlash: Alton Brown. Brown is an eight-time author and two-time James Beard Award winner. The chef's Food Network career has spanned nearly 20 years, during which he spent 14 years as the host and head writer of the show "Good Eats" (which won a Peabody award).

So, what's the secret ingredient for Alton Brown's go-to martini facelift? Introducing: caper berries, the new, perhaps unexpected savior of your tried-and-true (and, perhaps tired) martini game. According to MasterClass, caper berries come from the caper bush, which also grows the salty capers many lox bagel fans know and love. Caper berries are what capers turn into if they're left to continue growing a little longer before harvesting, but they both typically come jarred the same way in grocery stores. 

Primarily grown in Spain, Morocco, Greece, and Italy, caper berries complement smoked fish, pasta dishes, pizzas — and, according to Alton Brown, martinis.

Caper berries add dimensionality to martini flavor

"Good Eats" might've ended in 2012, but in Brown's latest YouTube venture called "Quarantine Quitchen" (aka "QQ"), the chef sings the praises of the caper berry. "Caper berries have really become [my] martini garnish of choice," Brown raves in an episode released in September. "Olives are too olive-y and lemon is a little too citrusy." Esquire agrees and suggests substituting olive brine in your martini recipe for caper berry brine. This simple swap, says the outlet, made for a "less bright" sip than olive brine and lends a "more complex flavor" to the classic martini. The caper berry is packed with edible seeds and what MasterClass describes as a "bright" and "briny" flavor. Unlike salty capers, caper berries have small attached stems and are much larger (about the size of an olive or a table grape).

Admittedly, while caper berries might take your cocktail to the next level, they do come with a price increase. At a Whole Foods Market in Brooklyn, NY, a 10.6-ounce jar of Frescatrano Olives runs for $6.99, compared to a 4-ounce jar of Organic Caper Berries for $4.19. Still, martini mixologists looking to "mix things up" may find that this new garnish is well worth a couple of extra bucks.