Pickled Cocktail Onions Words by Michael Curcio / Recipe by Will Witherow
I JUDGE A BARTENDER by a few very straightforward criteria, and it would be fair to say how well they execute a dry martini is one of them. Read enough of my cocktail commentary and you will know that my reverence for the martini is unsurpassed. If cocktails were a dress code, the martini would be black tie. It is formal and refined with well-defined guidelines but lends enough latitude for personal taste. Some people prefer it dry with a healthy amount of vermouth and a dash of orange bitters (as I do). Some prefer a lighter and more citrus forward cocktail made with Lillet or vermouth blanc. This month’s cocktail column is geared toward those who like a savory and brine forward “dirty” martini, which is normally achieved by dumping some olive juice in the mix. I’ve never cared much for this version, but one spring day I sat down at Witherow’s bar and he made me a believer in the dirty martini’s first cousin—The Gibson.
Traditionally, the Gibson is a martini with the olive or twist garnish substituted with a pickled cocktail onion. But the Gibson I had that afternoon last May was on the next level of taste and creativity. Witherow’s secret to the Garden Gibson is his herb infused dry vermouth and scratch cocktail onions. The preferred gin for this recipe is Hendricks—which is very juniper forward—but is also known for its citrus and floral notes, with a blended Bennett and Carter-Head distillate that is infused with (amongst other things) cucumber and Bulgarian rose. You will note the balanced 50/50 proportions of this cocktail—this is not a Winston Churchill martini (a glass full of chilled gin). Undeceive yourself of the notion that vermouth does not belong in a martini—it does—and so do bitters for that matter. Unless you work for British Intelligence or a front company called “Universal Exports,” stir, don’t shake, this cocktail. The first taste of any martini or gibson should be ice cold, so use thermodynamics to your advantage and chill your glassware. This is a great drink to mix as a welcome cocktail for your first patio cookout of the spring.
The Garden Gibson
• 1 ½ ounces gin (preferably Hendrick’s)
• 1 ½ ounces garden infused vermouth (see recipe
• 3 dashes celery bitters (preferably Bitter Truth)
• cocktail onions for garnish (see recipe below)
1. Combine gin and vermouth in a cocktail mixing glass. Add ice then stir until well chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add bitters and garnish with two or three pickled pearl onions.
For the Garden Infused Vermouth:
• 750ml dry vermouth (Dolin Dry is great)
• 1 fresh mint leaf
• 2 sprigs of fresh dill
• ½ medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
• peel of 1 lemon
1. Mix all ingredients in jar. Seal and cover. Steep for four days at room temperature, shaking daily. Strain and bottle.
For the Cocktail Onions:
• 1 cup apple cider vinegar
• ½ cup water
• 1 tablespoon kosher salt
• 1 tablespoon sugar
• 1 teaspoon coriander seed
• 1 cup pearl onions, root ends trimmed then scored
with an ‘X’.
1. Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add pearl onions cooking until barely tender (6 to 8 minutes). Drain and rinse under cold water. Remove skins and rinse again. Transfer the onions to a small bowl or pint-size jar.
2. Combine all ingredients except onions in a small pan and simmer over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Pour the vinegar mixture over the onions. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours before using.
Michael Curcio is the co-founder and owner of Bo & Ivy Distillers located in northeast Washington D.C. and Will Witherow is the beverage director at Live Oak Del Ray located in Alexandria, VA. You can find Curcio at boandivy.com or @bo_and_ivy_distillers, and Witherow @liveoakdelray.