As far as I can recall, the Dirty Martini (a regular Martini with a dash of brine from the olive jar) is the first cocktail I ever had. I seem to remember someone pushing one in my hand when I was a bit short of my 21st birthday. It was on the rocks, a bit cloudy and salty. But hey, free Martini! My first legal Martini came later that year, with the release of a James Bond film and a bar within walking distance of the movie theater. That cocktail considerably improved the experience of Tomorrow Never Dies.
Some say that Franklin Delano Roosevelt toasted the end of Prohibition on December 5, 1933 with a Dirty Martini, his first legal drink in years. Some say it was just a Martini. It's hard to say for sure, but if you're interested in the topic you can read this article about FDR in Modern Drunkard Magazine, which contains quotes from the president's family and associates regarding his martini preferences.
Arguing about the specifics of cocktail history is usually a pointless endeavor, since so much of it has devolved into legend and myth. We have more hard data about the Roman Empire than we do about such topics as where and when the Martini was invented. While most of this hazy history has to do with the fact that few people at the time felt such topics were worth recording and publishing, let's be honest and point out that all of these crucial events occurred in bars with people who were drinking and decided to mix a few ingredients. A police officer often can't get a coherent story out of five guys about what happened at the bar 30 minutes ago; now try to pin down events of 100 years ago. (Wine history is much more solid due to property/tax/church/inheritance records.)
Back to the cocktail at hand... The essential problem of the Dirty Martini is that you'll run out of olive brine before you run out of olives. Recently I received a sample of Dirty Sue Martini Mix, a bottle of olive brine that makes it easier to make Dirty Martinis without leaving your poor olives high and dry. $6 for a 375mL bottle, and with the below recipe, you can get 17 drinks from one bottle, more if you lighten up on the olive juice.
2½ oz. Gin or Vodka
Dash of White Vermouth
¾ oz. Dirty Sue
Pitted olive, no pimento
Stir with ice and strain into a martini glass, garnish with the olive.
I tried it both with gin and vodka, and this is a rare time when I'll come out in favor of the vodka version. With gin there's just way too much fighting for your palate's attention.
Dirty Martinis are, by their very nature, more salty than a regular Martini. Thus, they're better suited to drinking on their own, perhaps slowly over an afternoon. (If you find it too salty, add an ice cube or two until the dilution softens the drink.) Cocktails often go well with the sort of salty appetizers and hand food of a party, but if your drink is already salty you're going to lose your desire for prosciutto and Kalamata olives and even certain cheeses.
Still, there are those times when I have a huge craving for olives, but don't have any in the house. Having a bottle of this on hand will be a great temporary substitute, and I know enough people that are crazy about Dirty Martinis that it will be great to take along to the next party. I also applaud the makers of Dirty Sue for using real olives in this product--so many bottled drink mixtures are nothing but corn syrup and citric acid with artificial coloring. This product is by no means a cheat, just a convenience. If you want a different twist on your Martini routine, grab a bottle of Dirty Sue in the store or via Amazon.com.
Saturday, raise a glass to the 76th Anniversary of the Repeal of Prohibition. It doesn't even have to be anything with alcohol in it. Celebrate the freedom to choose.
Photo of FDR ©1937 Life Magazine. He's drinking wine, not a cocktail, but do you think you'll ever see a future photo of a sitting president (no pun intended) drinking and smoking?
Note: I received this bottle of olive juice as a sample. All other ingredients in the cocktail were my own.