This is another martini with a name to titillate. It is also the subject of fairly widespread confusion.
Many people believe that a Filthy Martini is simply a Dirty Martini with the addition of a particularly high volume of olive brine. This is incorrect.
A Filthy Martini is basically a Classic Martini which has been garnished, not with olive or lemon peel, but with a pickled caperberry. There is no olive, nor olive brine, to be seen.
Of course, a drink that contains so many units of alcohol is always likely to cause disarray. Even well-known gin brands get it wrong. Nonetheless, this will hopefully clear up some of the miscommunication and help promote the Filthy Martini to its place of rightful recognition.
It is a Highly Underrated Martini.
A caperberry is the fruit of the Caper Bush (Capparis spinosa). The bud of the bush is the widely consumed caper and a caperberry is one such bud which has grown to succulent maturity.
Caper plants are endemic to the Mediterranean and grow well in semi-arid climates. Both capers and caperberries are frequently salted or pickled for export to countries where they do not grow naturally (such as Northern Europe).
They are salty-sour and regularly served with seafood and salads. Capers are one of the constituent ingredients of tartare sauce.
The texture of the caperberry in particular is firm and fleshy on the outside and soft on the inside, with an array of satisfying, crunchy seeds. When bitten, they burst open to release a pungent miniature explosion, like a sharp pop of acid vegan tobiko around your mouth.
The pickling process brings out a savoury, mustard-like aroma which cuts well into the juniper and citrus of a martini, or stands bold, proud and alone in a Vodka Martini.
Given that the caperberry is pickled, the flavour of this martini is very comparable to the Gibson Martini. It is the texture of the garnishes that differentiate the experience of both martinis from one another.
Caperberries are normally pickled with their stalk attached, which removes the need for serving this garnish with a toothpick.
The sharpness of a pickled caper or caperberry makes it a particularly good accompaniment to fried seafood such as calamari or fritto misto, so a Filthy Martini would be an excellent choice of aperitif before such a dish. It also goes very well before or with seafood tempura.
How to Make a Filthy Martini
The process of making a Filthy Martini is very similar to making a classic martini. It can be served with either gin or vodka.
- At least six hours before you intend to drink the martini put a bottle of gin or vodka plus the relevant number of martini glasses (ideally conical glasses, with a size/volume of around 100-130ml or 3.4-4.4 US fluid ounces) in the freezer.
- When it’s time to serve, take the glasses from the freezer.
- Pour vermouth into the glass to taste (usually around 2-15ml or 0.5-3 teaspoons).
- Top up with the gin or vodka – around 80-120ml or 3-4 US fluid ounces, depending on glass size/preference.
- As an optional extra, you can add a teaspoon or two of the caperberry pickle brine.
- Add a single picked caperberry and use it to stir the drink, before dropping it into the glass as a garnish.
- Serve, potentially with more caperberries on the side.
There is very little known about the origins of the Filthy Martini or how it gained its name.
However, with many elements of a classic martini originating from the Mediterranean region, and practical reality that preserved foods in brine or pickle make a convenient and long-lasting garnish for bartenders to rely on make it an unsurprising addition to the martini repertoire.
What is perhaps most surprising is why the Filthy Martini is not more commonly served and enjoyed.
Capers and caperberries have been consumed for millennia, having been documented by Pliny the Elder and consumed by the peoples of many ancient civilisations. They have even occasionally been considered an aphrodisiac. Therein perhaps lies one of the potential origins of this drink’s name, but we can only wonder.