Beverages, Recipes

Gibson Cocktail Recipe (An Easy Classic)

Are you tired of overly sweet, fruity, decadent cocktails? If so, the Gibson cocktail might be the change you need. 

It’s dry, not at all sweet, and actually pretty savory. 

Gibson Cocktail Recipe (An Easy Classic) featuring Gibson Cocktail on a Tall Glass Garnished with Cocktail Onions

The Gibson is a variation on the traditional gin Martini. And like the Martini, it’s been around for over a century and is still going strong. 

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Its dry, savory flavor has a lot to do with that. However, it doesn’t hurt that it’s also insanely easy to make. 

You only need dry vermouth, gin, ice, and the traditional Gibson garnish. (Spoiler alert: It’s not a lemon wedge!)

History of the Gibson Cocktail 

There are all kinds of stories about the Gibson cocktail’s history. (That is often the case with these popular, classic recipes.)

However, one such story was published in the San Francisco Chronicle in the 70s. I won’t recount the entire story here. But I will hit the highlights. 

Legend has it that a man named W.D.K Gibson frequently visited the Bohemian. Unfortunately (or fortunately), he wasn’t a fan of the way the bartenders there made Martinis. 

He insisted you cannot shake, you must stir, a good martini. (More on that later.) And he believed eating onions would keep people from getting sick. 

So, this led to the creation of the stirred Martini with an – you guessed it! – onion garnish. A pickled onion garnish, to be specific. 

They named the drink the Gibson after the man who inspired it. And the rest, as they say, is history. 

Top Glass View of a Gibson Cocktail With Cocktail Onions

Ingredients 

The Gibson is a simple mixed drink. You only need the garnish, some ice, and two ingredients! 

  • Gin- Select a high-quality gin with a flavor you enjoy. Remember, this drink has only two ingredients, so you WILL taste the gin. If you choose a brand you don’t like, you won’t enjoy your cocktail either. 
  • Dry Vermouth- Remember to pick up dry vermouth, not sweet. The most notable distinction about the Gibson is its dry, almost savory flavor. Sweet vermouth will ruin that. 
  • Cocktail Onions- While most cocktails use citrus fruits or olives, the Gibson has a cocktail onion garnish. Make your own by peeling pearl onions and placing them in a jar with white vinegar and a pinch of sugar. Let them sit in the fridge for a week before using them. You can also find them in the store on the same aisle as the olives.
  • Ice Cubes- Add plenty of full-sized ice cubes to your mixing glass. Avoid shaved or crushed ice, which can melt and dilute the drink. 

How to Make a Gibson Cocktail

Follow these steps for mixing the perfect Gibson cocktail: 

1. Combine. Add a generous amount of ice to a mixing glass. Then, pour in the gin and dry vermouth. 

2. Stir. Stir – not shake! – the ingredients until the drink is chilled. 

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3. Strain. Strain the drink into a chilled cocktail glass, leaving the ice behind. 

4. Garnish and serve. Add the traditional cocktail onion garnish, and serve. Enjoy!

Close Up of a Gibson Cocktail in Glass with Cocktail Onions

Tips and Variations 

Here are a few tips and variations you can try: 

  • Chill your glassware. Place the glasses in the freezer about 30 minutes beforehand for an icy cold cocktail.
  • Swap out the onion. Though cocktail onions are traditional, they aren’t for everyone. Substitute grated lemon peel for a citrusy twist.
  • A note on making your own onions. The longer the onions pickle, the more pronounced the flavor. But even after 2-3 hours, they develop a sharp bite that complements the gin’s botanicals. Still, they taste better if they can pickle for about a week. 
  • Add some onion brine for more flavor. The cocktail onions are surprisingly subtle for onions. Some people prefer a bolder, more pronounced onion flavor in their Gibson. If this sounds like you, add 1 to 1.5 teaspoons of onion brine to the drink. Be careful, though. The brine is much more potent than you might realize. Add very little at first and then add more to suit your tastes.
  • Use an odd number of onions. This is more of a silly superstition than anything else. However, legend says using an even number of onions (2, 4, etc.) is bad luck. So, always add a single onion or three onions. 
  • Replace the gin with vodka. While this drink is technically no longer a Gibson, it tastes great, too. It’s also a better option for those who want a milder alcohol flavor. 
Savory Gibson Cocktail in a Wine Glass with Cocktail Onions on a Skewer for Garnish on a Silver Serving Tray, Alcohol Measurer Beside

A Martini Should Be Stirred, Not Shaken

At least according to W.D.K. Gibson, anyway! 

As mentioned, the Gibson is a variation on the Martini. And while many Martinis taste great when shaken – ask James Bond! – the Gibson is best stirred. 

Then again, some bartenders insist ALL Martinis should be stirred, not shaken. They claim you should NEVER shake drinks made entirely of alcohol. 

So, I suppose it’s really a matter of preference. 

Avoid the cocktail shaker for this recipe and get a mixing glass instead. If you stir long enough (and vigorously), it’ll get as cold as it would from shaking.

Gibson Cocktail