Martini connoisseurs will tell you that the olive is often just as important as the type of gin used when making a martini. Different olives are used for different types of martinis, such as dirty or dry; but even in regular martinis, the type of olive used can change the cocktail entirely. No matter the variety, olive freshness is crucial for a good martini.
Traditionally, martinis were sweet and garnished only with a little lemon. Today, the bitter martini garnished with an olive has gained in popularity. Manzanilla olives are the most common martini garnish. They are pitted and usually stuffed with pimento or garlic. Bartenders have their own opinions about which brand is best. A great green olive substitute to the traditional green manzanilla is the French picholine olive. These torpedo-shaped olives are marinated in coriander and herbs de Provence. American picholines, on the other hand, are marinated in citric acid. These are also good in a martini but provide a very different flavour than the French version. Cerignola olives offer a sweet alternative to the other salty and bitter green olives and make a great garnish for a martini heavy on the vermouth.
Darker-coloured olives ripen longer on the vine before they are picked and cured. The darker the olive, the longer it remained on the vine. The most common dark olive garnish is the Greek kalamata olive. These olives are very salty and full of flavour. An alternative to the kalamata is the slightly more expensive, French nicoise olive. Nicoise olives are much smaller than kalamata olives and are characterised by their sour taste. Black olives are usually used in dirty martinis, which combine gin, vermouth, and a tablespoon or so of the black olive juice.
Stuffed olives add a new spin to the common martini. Not only do they affect the flavour of the martini itself, they soak up the gin and vermouth and become a tasty, liquor-filled treat. There are countless varieties of stuffed olives. Some of the best olive stuffers with martinis are jalapeño, Gorgonzola cheese, garlic, anchovy, cream cheese, blue cheese and almond.
Caper berries are a great substitute for olives. They are approximately the same size but are milder in flavour. Caper berries come from the same bush as capers, have a light caper flavour, and are brined in vinegar. As bartenders become more creative with their martinis, however, so do they with the garnishes. One martini bar has martinis garnished with a miniature Snickers bar or Hershey's kiss. Bartenders garnish fruitier martinis with apple slices, orange slices, watermelon cubes, or fresh strawberries. The number of martini garnishes is limitless.