10 Creative Ways To Make Dirty Martinis Without Olives

Renowned for their bold flavor and sophisticated appeal, dirty martinis are a timeless classic in the world of cocktails. A variation of the traditional martini, this concoction is characterized by its infusion of briny olive juice into gin or vodka, which adds a distinctive savory dimension to the drink (along with the somewhat cloudy appearance).

The origins of the dirty martini trace as far back as 1901 when bartender John O'Connor decided to add a savory twist to the drink by incorporating muddled olives and some brine from the jar. The precise ratio of ingredients can be adjusted to suit individual preferences, of course, allowing for a spectrum of flavor profiles ranging from subtly salty to intensely savory. For a dryer version, go easy on the vermouth (or simply open a bottle in the vicinity of your cocktail shaker rather than adding any).

Now, olives and olive juice have long been traditional ingredients in a dirty martini. But if you're in the mood to get creative, you can ditch the olives entirely. There are plenty of dirty martini variations that don't involve olives or olive juice, after all. Let's take a look at some of the best ways to change up your dirty martini routine without straying too far from the original intent. Here are 10 creative ways to make dirty martinis without olives.

1. Mix in some lactic acid

If you're in the mood for a dirty martini but aren't very interested in olives, it's still possible to make and enjoy the classic cocktail. In fact, some of the fanciest dirty martinis lean away from olive juice by substituting a tad of lactic acid. The bartenders at Fort Defiance in Brooklyn came up with this twist, and although the establishment closed in December 2023, we can still honor its memory with this creative cocktail endeavor.

Now, for anyone turned off by the name, don't worry: Lactic acid has nothing to do with any sort of dairy product (and the chemical is vegan-friendly, as well). Rather, lactic acid forms naturally during the fermentation process of foods like pickles or kimchi — meaning it has a savory flavor while providing a bit of a bite.

As a result, pouring some lactic acid into a dirty martini isn't all that different from using olive brine. Both provide a nice hint of acidity that helps balance the savory flavors mingling in the cocktail. You can also garnish a lactic acid dirty martini with a pickle or a few vegetables from your kimchi to switch it up.

2. Swap in caper brine

When you don't have olives and olive brine on hand, capers and their juices make excellent substitutions. Indeed, capers are a natural choice given their similarity in appearance to olives. Even renowned celebrity chef Alex Guarnaschelli uses this unconventional brine to punch up her martinis. Guarnaschelli uses a floral gin for this venture, as well, to complement the salty flavor of the capers — which are, incidentally, a type of flower bud.

For the best results, be sure to invest in quality capers (there is such a thing as sub-par ones). In fact, the smaller the caper, the better, as these pack the most amount of flavor. This happens because smaller capers are gathered early in the season — when they're at their freshest — while larger ones are left on the bush for longer, causing their flavor to become diluted. 

Additionally, be sure to grab a caper jar that's packed in brine rather than pickled. To be clear, if you accidentally buy a pickled variety, you'll still have a fine cocktail garnish on your hands. But to savor the true nature of a good caper, it's best to avoid the pickled types as they tend to diminish the caper's naturally salty taste.

3. Amp it up with MSG

Monosodium glutamate (or MSG) is a well-known flavor enhancer that's often associated with Chinese food restaurants in America. But it can also be added to various drinks just as successfully — particularly in the case of a dirty martini. Along those lines, you can make an extra dirty martini by adding MSG to the mix when preparing the cocktail.

Now, while some dirty martini recipes containing MSG also call for the inclusion of olive brine, you don't have to use that ingredient. We'd actually say MSG provides plenty of additional flavor all by itself (thank you very much). When using MSG, you'll want to dilute the flavor enhancer in water, using a ratio of 50 parts water for each part of MSG. We can't say what might happen if you sprinkle it directly into the drink, but we wouldn't recommend trying it.

To garnish the glass, go for something that aligns nicely with MSG's flavor. An ingredient that leans towards umami will work best, like cherry tomatoes or fresh corn pierced with a cocktail stick.

4. Make it healthier with chicken soup

If you're feeling a bit stuffy or just can't get over a persistent cold, why not give yourself some TLC ... and try a chicken soup martini? It may not necessarily cure your sickness, but it will certainly lift your spirits (pun intended). Plus, the concept isn't as outrageous as it seems. Folks have been putting various types of alcohol in soups, sauces, and stews for centuries, after all. Considering certain mixed drinks (like dirty martinis and bloody Marys) already bridge the gap between soup and cocktails, there's no real reason to doubt this combination.

To ensure a successful concoction, you'll want to take a trip to a specialized grocery or liquor store, or make some of the required ingredients yourself. You'll need a mirepoix-infused gin or vodka, which you'll then combine with a chicken bouillon brine, sherry, saline solution, and ice.

Finish the mixture with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil — as you might when serving soup — and garnish with anything you like to put in your regular chicken soup. A leafy celery stalk will do the trick, though you may need to adjust the type of glass to make that work.

5. Go wild with spring onion

spring onion dirty martini is more than just the cocktail garnished with an onion instead of an olive. It's the result of a process that yields a naturally sweeter martini than the traditional olive-based one (without resembling those saccharine fruit-based monstrosities you're likely trying to avoid). Spring onions are sweeter than most other types of onions, after all — and much sweeter than olives, which are as savory as they come.

To prepare this dirty martini variation, it's best to opt for an unflavored vodka so the tangy flavor of the spring onions can fuse with the alcohol. Simply combine a 750-milliliter bottle of vodka with 1 pound of spring onions, then let them sit until the infusion is complete (about 12 hours or so). Letting the vodka and onions sit for longer than 12 hours may be going overboard, though, and you might end up getting more than you bargained for in terms of tang.

Once your vodka infusion is done, you can prepare a dirty martini as you normally would (minus any olive-based ingredients). Garnish this creative cocktail with pickled ramps for a fresh, seasonal effect.

6. Change it up with broth

A broth isn't likely to make your martini healthier (there's not much it can do with all that alcohol swirling around). Yet a broth may be the ingredient your dirty martini is missing since it will make the cocktail tastier. The salty profile of this liquid makes it an excellent mixer for vodka or gin, as both alcohols pair nicely with savory ingredients. And while you can use any type of broth with either of these spirits, some work better than others.

A lighter chicken broth is best suited for clear spirits like gin or vodka, for instance, while a hearty beef broth goes best with, say, a mellow and caramelized bourbon. Vegetable broth, meanwhile, can be applied to practically anything (which is good news for vegetarians). You don't need to make homemade broth for this cocktail to turn out well, either, and a quality store-bought version will do just fine. Just be sure you use broth, not stock. The latter tends to be darker and thicker and may cause your cocktail to resemble those mud-based concoctions you'd make as a kid. Since broth is lighter in color and texture, it won't interfere with the purity of your drink.

Furthermore, this is a quick and easy recipe to put together. Simply combine vodka or gin with your preferred chicken or vegetable broth and ice (adding a whiff of vermouth is optional), and enjoy.

7. Pour in pickle juice

If you reached into your pantry for a jar of olives to fortify your martini and only came up with pickles? You may be in luck. In fact, you may be about to discover your favorite new type of dirty martini: one that's made with pickle juice and garnished with pickles in place of olives.

Now, if swapping in pickles for olives seems like wadding into unfamiliar territory, it's actually much simpler than you're imagining. And while some recipes call for the utilization of olive brine in addition to pickle brine and pickles, you can easily skip that part. There's still plenty of flavor remaining in an olive-less, pickle-forward dirty martini. You may want to incorporate a dash of orange bitters in this dirty martini, as well — a traditional martini ingredient seemingly forgotten by many.

Additionally, although this cocktail appears more clean and clear than other dirty martinis, you won't be disappointed. There's plenty of filthiness going on between the brine and booze, after all – especially if you garnish your cocktail with both pickles and cocktail onions.

8. Play around with tinctures

A tincture is a concentrated herbal extract made by soaking fruit, vegetables, or herbs in alcohol. But it may also be just what your dirty martini needs to fill in any gaps in flavor remaining after the removal of olives and olive brine (particularly when talking about a savory-flavored tincture).

The fun thing about this ingredient is that there are countless varieties of tinctures and plenty of flavor options to consider. We suggest playing around with various ones to see what pairs well with gin or vodka, like allium or MSG-flavored tinctures. You can also involve tinctures in several different ways, such as adding them to a finished cocktail or putting a few drops in your cocktail shaker with the rest of the ingredients.

Bear in mind, though, that a little goes a long way with tinctures. In fact, it may be best to treat a tincture in a similar manner to bitters, as a few drops can go a long way.

9. Spice it up with pickled jalapeño brine

Dirty martinis are famous for bringing the umami factor to the table. But they can be just as adept as vessels for spiciness — and a pickled jalapeño dirty martini pulls off both in one neatly packaged drink. Now, you can certainly make a jalapeño-based dirty martini by simply replacing olives with jalapeños (and the corresponding brine). Yet there are other paths available to create a top-notch jalapeño dirty martini.

In fact, you may even want to consider a bevy of additional ingredients alongside the essential pickled jalapeño brine. For example, combining jalapeño brine with pink gin, Lillet blanc, grapefruit juice, honey syrup, and maraschino liqueur can lead to a cocktail that stands firmly in the dirty martini realm. Granted, the sweet components in this drink might seem a bit disorienting when talking about a dirty martini. So if it seems too sweet for you, feel free to leave out the heavy-duty sugary stuff.

Even if you're skeptical, we suggest giving this particular jalapeño dirty martini recipe a try. The mixture of sweet, savory, and spicy can make for a fun night. Don't forget to garnish this cocktail with a jalapeño slice or two -– and make sure all your drinkers are forewarned.

10. Sprinkle it with black pepper

Whether you're making a dirty martini with olive brine or a preferred substitute, a pinch of freshly grated black pepper will lead to an even dirtier sip in your cocktail (and give it a welcome extra bite, as well). For the best results, go with fresh peppercorns rather than a pre-ground bottled container, as fresh-ground pepper has a more powerful and decisive taste.

Now, you can either grate the pepper directly into your martini or use it to coat the rim of your glass. You can also go in an entirely different direction and infuse your alcohol with fresh pepper. To do this, place some black peppercorns inside an air-tight bottle with your favorite gin or vodka. After letting them meld together for a few days, use your newly-infused spirit to craft a dirty martini. Keep in mind: The fresher the pepper, the stronger the flavor. In other words, be sure to taste your concoction as it sits, or you might end up with a liquor so strong that it's nearly undrinkable.