Learn Martini Terminology

The martini is probably the world’s most well known cocktail. The “martini glass” is a synonym for the standard cocktail glass. Did you know? A martini glass is ever so slightly different, from a standard cocktail glass. The martini is the world’s most personalize-able cocktail. There is a whole phraseology available to the bar patron, allowing them to dictate exactly how they would like this simple, two or three, ingredient drink prepared.

These words and phrases, to the unknowing, can seem like a secret code, used by only those that have been entered into some special martini club. This is not true, yet this jargon will put some off from ordering a martini at the bar; less they look like fool. It is also terminology that every good bartender should know. Martini drinkers can be rather particular about their cocktail. If a bartender can make it right, their new patron will quickly fall in love with them. Being able to produce martinis that exactly fit the customer’s desires is something a bartender should pride themselves on.

Whether you be a martini drinker, a bartender or any other employee in a restaurant, there is always a reason to know the variations of the martini and the terminology which goes with it. Here they are in all their glory!

Shaken or Stirred?

Martinis were almost all stirred until Ian Fleming’s famous spy, Bond, James Bond, shook up the martini world by ordering his “shaken, not stirred.” Shaken is now the preference. “Shaken or stirred?” is the second question a bartender should ask their bar patron, after determining which type and brand of liquor a they would prefer.

Straight Up or On The Rocks?

This question is directed at the martini purchaser. However, “Straight Up or On The Rocks?” is often neglected by many bartenders, because straight up service is automatically assumed due to its popularity. When served straight up the cocktail is prepared and strained into a chilled martini glass.

When served over rocks the martini is prepared and then strained over fresh ice. Unrelated to the two, some patrons will ask for “the rocks on the side” meaning they wish the bartender to pour the rocks they shook or stirred the martini with into a separate glass and serve them alongside the martini.

Olives or a Twist?

The question of garnish is the last one. You should expect to be asked for olives. Bar olives are only kept behind the bar for the purpose of martini service. A twist indicates a twist of lemon peel. A good twist should be long and have little to no white pith on it. The lemon peel is twisted slowly, as to not break it, but firmly above the drink, in order to express the oils across the surface of the drink. It is then run around the rim of the glass and dropped into the drink.

Following are terms that experienced martini drinkers will use in order to direct their bartender as to their personal martini preferences. The bartender does not ask the guest if they’d like the drink prepared any of these ways, it is up to the guest to inform the bartender of their preference.

Dry, Extra Dry, Bone Dry and Wet

These four terms deal with the amount of dry vermouth in the cocktail. The trick to remembering them is that the terms mean the opposite of what you would expect them to mean.

  • Dry – Less vermouth, usually around half the amount you would usually put in your martinis.
  • Extra Dry – No dry vermouth at all.
  • Bone Dry – A rinse of dry vermouth for the glass. But none in the cocktail.
  • Wet – Means adding extra dry vermouth. This is usually 50% more but up to double the amount.

Dirty, Extra Dirty, Filthy

These terms refer to the addition of olive juice to the cocktail. This is sometimes in the place of vermouth. Some bars will still include a dash of vermouth, sometimes keeping the whole pour. The olive juice used is that which your olives come in.

  • Dirty – The addition of olive juice, equal to half the amount of vermouth usually used. If vermouth is still used it is usually used in equal parts to olive juice.
  • Extra Dirty – Double the amount of olive juice as in dirty, often entirely taking the place of the vermouth. Although, some still add a splash of vermouth.
  • Filthy – Even more olive juice than found in an extra dirty martini!

Other, Less Common, Terminology

There’re three martini variations rarely called for across the bar, however they’re always worth knowing just in case a patron arrives at your bar and surprises you with one.

  • Gibson – A Gibson Martini is a martini, typically a dry martini, garnished with a pickled onion. This garnish is the defining factor of the Gibson Martini and, other than maybe being dry, it differs in no other way to a regular martini.
  • Perfect – Equal part sweet and dry vermouth. No extra vermouth is added. The amount currently used is divided equally between the two products; instead of it being just one.
  • Sweet – Swap out the dry vermouth entirely for sweet vermouth and voila! You have a sweet martini.

Each martini drinker is discerning in their own belief of how their martini should be made. If you can master the martini and its many variations then you’ll win your martini drinkers over very quickly. On this point it is worth noting that each bar will have a different ratio to which they make their martinis. Ensure that your bartenders know and stick to your regimen, unless asked to deviate by the customer. This will ensure that there is always consistency of product being passed over your bar.


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Benjamin Michael Beddow

Food and Beverage Professional

As a food and beverage professional for over ten years, Ben has spent most of his time behind the bar, giving him a broad and in-depth knowledge of all things drinkable and drink related. Now, as a traveling freelance writer exploring the gastronomy, drinks, and food service industry of the world, Ben has taken his knowledge and experiences to the world wide web to share with others. The love for the trade never dies and Ben can still be found running around restaurants and slinging drinks in ski resorts in the USA during the winter season.

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