Charles Dickens walks into a bar and orders a martini.
The barman says, “Olive or Twist?”
Way back at the start of this blog I made a brief comment about Twist vs. Olive in a post entitled, appropriately enough, “Olives or Twist“. It was one of my first posts and very short. The time has come to elaborate a bit on this important question.
First of all let me point out that olives or twists are each more more than simply an ‘adornment’, despite the provocative title I’ve chosen above. Either adds a bit of flavor nuance, aesthetic balance, and beauty to the Martini. And in the case of the olive some additional texture.
I’ve previously pointed out that Vermouth turns chilled Gin into a Martini (Does Vermouth Matter? ). The twist or olive takes the Martini to the next level of elegance.
Reading through the (limited) literature there appears to be a friendly verbal war on this subject. There are supports on both sides of the argument that adamantly defend their positions. Olives are traditional cry the one side. Twists are more elegant counter the other side. Olives provide a hint of salt that brings out the flavors. Twists add a bright festive color to the Martini. Olives are a delicious and provide a small snack. I have to agree with that last point.
If you haven’t already decided which is for you, try a Martini both ways. Though not at the same time. Ultimately the question of a twist or olive is one of personal taste, it’s up to you.
Personally I go with a twist; I prefer an herbal emphasis in my gin and the citrus seems to complement that better than olives. If you prefer a more floral gin (Nolets) I think a twist would also better compliment that profile.
If your preference is a twist, there are several choices yet to be made. Lemon or Lime? Think or wide? Curlicue, spiral, or bit of peel.
Lemon vs lime is also a matter of personal taste. Lemon is traditional but I find the Lime to be just a bit less tart and a bit sweeter. Also Lemons are ubiquitous, there is always a lemon or two at the bar. Limes are more rare, which may be another reason why I like that option when available.
The ‘thin vs wide’ decision is typically not yours, unless you are making your own Martini at home or office. But when you’re ordering at a bar or lounge the barkeep will provide you with his or her standard offering. You can ask for the twist to be created per your specifications and desires of course. And, of course, your results with that request may vary.
The professional mixologist has a number of tools from which to create a twist. First and most common is the knife. But she could also use a vegetable peeler or channel knife, which may also be referred to as a Citrus Stripper.
Personally I like the channel knife. It takes a bit of practice but will (eventually) produce beautiful long clean spirals of thin citrus peel. With practice a sharp paring knife will also make nice clean spirals, though not as thin as with the channel knife. If you are making your own twist do try and minimize any pith left after cutting it from the Lemon.
Let’s also take a look at what a twist is not. It is not a wedge. Yes, I have had my Martini served with a wedge of lemon thrown in as a ‘twist’. That is clearly the work of a beer slinger and not a professional barkeep. I did not order a second Martini and left that establishment asap.
Closely related is the “stripped wedge”. This is when the bartender takes a pre-cut wedge from his collection and then rips the lemon meat out of the rind and then puts the remaining triangular piece of rind in the Martini. This is not a proper twist. While it may sort of look like a twist I have two problems with it. First, and most importantly, this stripped wedge will certainly have way too much pith which could add bitterness to the Martini. Second, it’s just lazy.
(You can find additional Martini making annoyances at “Martini Making Pet Peeves“.)
If you chooses olives, then the first decision is how many? One, Three, Two? I read somewhere that, at least according to one ‘expert’, three olives is the proper number. Furthermore you never serve a martini with two, or four, as this considered bad luck.
Personally I think that’s nonsense. However, there is something aesthetically pleasing about a martini stem with an odd number of olives; one or three neatly skewered on a mini-scimitar laying alluringly in the Martini stem. If you want more than 3 olives in your Martini, then go for it. It’s almost lunch that way. But serve them on the a side plate so as not to detract from the visual appeal of the Martini.
Another decision regarding olives it what type. The traditional Martini olive is the large green Spanish olive stuffed with pimento. Acceptable olive variations include olive size; large vs. colossal, Spanish vs Greek vs California , stuffed vs un-stuffed, or even un-pitted.
Another acceptable olive would be a pickled onion, which is really just a white olive that masquerades as an onion. Technically that makes your cocktail a Gibson, not a Martini. But I digress.
Unacceptable olive variations include black olives, grey olives, micro-olives (you’ve seen them) and olives stuffed with blue cheese, garlic, jalapeno, Gorgonzola, anchovies, wasabi, chicken gizzards, or anything other than pimento. These are NOT to be used in a Martini. Especially blue cheese! Any cretin who puts blue cheese stuffed olives in a martini should be shot, hung, quartered, and shot again. But hey, that’s just me.
Now if I could find Spanish olives stuffed with caviar, I might go for that.
The above Dickens joke, and so many more, can be found on the Martin Jokes page.