The Martini is probably the cocktail with the most twists, tweaks, and riffs. The variations are endless. They range from changing ratios between Gin and Dry Vermouth to adding olive brine in a Dirty Martini or pickle juice in a Dill Pickle Martini. There seem to be no limits. One of the easiest tweaks on the classic recipe is the Gibson. It distinguishes itself from the original classic just through the garnish.
The Gibson cocktail follows the same approach as a Dry Martini: a combination of 5 parts Gin per 1 part Vermouth. The drink is garnished with pickled onions skewered on a cocktail pick. No olives, no lemon peel, no pickles.
However, this small addition not only affects the visual appearance but also transforms the taste of the drink. The pickled onions add a beautifully unique savory flavor to the cocktail.
The Gibson cocktail in a nutshell
Technically the Gibson is a Dry Martini - Dry Gin mixed with Dry Vermouth- without cocktail bitters and garnished with pickled onions instead of olives or citrus peels. The ratio is typically the same as for a Dry Martini, but it is subject to variation.
Evolution of the Gibson Cocktail
Today, we know the pickled onion garnish as the main feature of the Gibson cocktail. But that hasn't always been the case. The first time the iconic garnish appears in written form is about 20 years after the first mention of the drink itself.
There are many small stories about this drink and how it developed into what it is today. The Gibson cocktail we know most likely is a mix of these different creations.
Publications of possible forerunners of the drink
This narrative starts with a remark that dates back to 13th February 1898. Edward Townsend mentions the drink in a piece published in NY's The World newspaper.
In 1908, the first comprehensive recipe for making a Gibson got published in The World's Drinks and how to mix them by William Boothby. This early recipe uses equal parts Gin and Dry Vermouth and explicitly states that cocktail bitters are not part of the formula and should be left off. No mention of pickled onions here.
Tom Bullock, the inventor of the Stone Sour cocktail, also published a recipe for the Gibson in his book The Ideal Bartender in 1917. His recipe uses 1.5 parts of Gin to 1 part Dry Vermouth. No bitters and still no pickled onions.
But in the same book, Bullock also published another drink called the Onion Cocktail made with Old Tom Gin and Italian Vermouth. And this drink should be served with a pickled onion. All of these cocktails were made without bitters, though.
Other theories about the Gibson
Another famous story about the creation of the Gibson cocktail is related to Charles Dana Gibson. Charles Gibson was a renowned New York advertising illustrator and the creator of the Gibson Girl.
When he challenged Charley Connolly, a bartender at NY's Player's Club, to make him a better Martini, Connolly came up with his signature Martini recipe and added a pickled onion. Hence, the story goes, he named his creation a Gibson Cocktail.
How to make a Gibson
As you can see, historically, the ratio between Gin and Dry Vermouth varies from recipe to recipe. Today, a ratio of 5 parts Gin to 1 part Dry Vermouth is the standard for Martini drinkers.
Yet, if you're new to Martinis, a ratio of 2 or 3 parts Gin per 1 part Dry Vermouth might be more approachable. So if you try the 5:1 formula and are not happy, tweak the ratios in the recipe below a bit and give it another try.
For the Gin, I recommend using a classic London Dry Gin. Popular middle-class options like Beefeater or Bombay work great. But if you're looking for something more exclusive, you could also check out our selection of the best Gins for Dry Martini.
Of course, the pickled onion is the star of the Gibson. If you want to make this savory garnish at home, here is a simple recipe:
Making pickled cocktail onions
Making your own pickled cocktail onions is not that hard. With our recipe, you can produce a batch of cocktail onions that will last for weeks - or one week- depending on your Martini consumption.
Here's what you need:
- 1 pound of pearl onions
- 1/2 cup White or Sherry vinegar
- 1/2 cup Apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup Water
- 1/2 cup salt (preferably kosher)
- 1/4 cup Granulated sugar
- 1/2 tsp whole mustard seed
- 12 pcs whole peppercorns
- 1 sprig Rosemary
- 1 dried Pepper
- 1 cup Dry Vermouth
Start by peeling the onions. To do that, put them in a bowl and cover them with boiling water. Leave them for a minute and then drain them and rinse them under cold water.
Cut off the root and top ends of the onions with a sharp knife. Then peel off the outer skins.
Now add all ingredients except onions and Dry Vermouth into a saucepan and bring the mix to a boil. Stir continually until sugar and salt are fully dissolved.
Reduce the heat and slowly start adding the onions. Let this mix simmer for 2-3 minutes and then remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the Vermouth.
Then, once the mix cooled down, pour the onions together with the liquid into a sealable container and store them in the fridge. Let them sit for at least 6 hours before using them.
When stored in the fridge, your pickled onions will be good for up to one month.
- 2.5 oz London Dry Gin
- 0.5 oz Dry Vermouth
- 2 pcs Pickled onions skewered on a cocktail pick
- Add Gin and Vermouth to a mixing glass with ice and stir until chilled.
- Strain into a coupe or Martini glass and garnish with pickled onions.