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What kind of olives do you put in drinks?

Olives are a popular garnish and ingredient in many cocktails and alcoholic drinks. The briny, tangy flavor of olives can complement and enhance the flavors of spirits, liqueurs, wines, and mixers. Choosing the right type of olive is key to achieving the perfect balance, aromas, and presentation in a craft cocktail. There are many factors to consider when selecting olives for drinks, including the olive variety, curing method, size, and color.

Common Olive Varieties Used in Drinks

Some of the most common varieties of olives used for cocktails include:

  • Pitted Green Olives – Plain green olives are the most widely used olive for drinks. Popular varieties include Manzanilla, Picholine, and Lucque. They have a bright, tangy, and mildly bitter flavor.
  • Pitted Black Olives – Kalamata and Nyon olives are two of the most popular black olive varieties for drinks. They tend to be more robust, earthy, and fruity compared to green olives.
  • Picholine – A French green olive that has a firm texture and delicate, light flavor. It’s a popular garnish for martinis.
  • Kalamata – A Greek olive that has an almond-like flavor and smooth, fruity taste. It works well in bold cocktails.
  • Castelvetrano – A bright green Italian olive with a buttery, mild flavor. It’s often used in refreshing gin cocktails.
  • Niçoise – A small black olive that is cured in wine. It has a robust, wine-like taste.
  • Alfonso – A large, buttery Spanish olive that plays well in tapas-inspired cocktails.
  • Ligurian – A tiny black Italian olive with a sharp, briny flavor. It can add a salty bite to cocktails.

The variety chosen will depend on the flavors you want to accentuate in the drink. For example, Castelvetranos pair well with herbaceous gin, while Kalamatas complement deep, oak-aged spirits like bourbon or brandy.

Olive Curing Methods

The way an olive is cured and processed affects its flavor considerably. Some curing methods to look for include:

  • Brine-cured – Olives soaked in a saltwater solution. They have a firmer texture and balanced, salty taste.
  • Water-cured – Hydrated in water, then packed in salt. They are mild, fruity, and have a softer bite.
  • Dry-cured – Dried and rubbed with oil, then packed in salt. Intense, concentrated flavor.
  • Lye-cured – Soaked in a lye solution, then brined. Smooth, rich taste.
  • Oil-cured – Packed in olive oil. Buttery texture and mellow flavor.

Brine-cured green olives are the most commonly used in cocktails, as they have a nice salty punch. Dry-cured and oil-cured black olives also work well in drinks when you want a more robust, fruity olive presence.

Olive Size

The size of the olive matters both for visual appeal and how the flavor comes through in a drink. Some typical olive sizes are:

  • Colossal – Extra large olives, around 1 inch. Make a dramatic garnish.
  • Extra large – Around 3/4 inch. Provides a good mouthful of olive flavor.
  • Large – The most common size, around 1/2 inch. Versatile for various cocktails.
  • Medium – Around 1/4 inch. Add a subtle olive essence without overwhelming.
  • Small – As little as 1/8 inch. Garnish multiple for decorative look.

A good general rule is to match the olive size with the body of the drink – larger for robust cocktails and smaller for delicate or citrusy ones. Colossal olives make an ideal crown for martinis, while medium or small olives lightly garnish Margaritas or Lemon Drops.

Olive Color

The color of the olive provides both visual interest and influences how the olive’s flavor meshes with the cocktail. Some popular options include:

  • Green – Brightens up drinks with their light, grassy flavor and green hue.
  • Black – Striking contrast against cocktails with their deep purple-black tones.
  • Pitted – Remove the pit for a clean look, maintaining the olive color.
  • Stuffed – Red pimentos or blue cheese provide colorful contrast inside the olive.

Most drinks call for either a green or black olive, while stuffed and pitted olives are seen more often in martinis or other elegant cocktails. The olive color you choose can complement or contrast the tones of the drink itself.

Recommended Olives for Popular Cocktails

Here are some suggested types of olives to use in common cocktails:

Drink Recommended Olive
Martini Colossal or extra large pimento-stuffed green
Bloody Mary Medium brine-cured green or black
Margarita Small brine-cured green
Moscow Mule Lge brine-cured or dry-cured black
Gibson Pitted extra large green
Manhattan Medium dry-cured black
Negroni Small dry-cured green

The possibilities are endless when playing around with olive varieties, curing methods, sizes and colors to find the perfect garnish or ingredient to complement your cocktail recipes.

Storing Olives for Drinks

To maintain quality and flavor, follow these storage tips for olives used in drinks:

  • Keep unopened jars of olives in a cool, dark pantry. Heat and light will speed up spoilage.
  • Refrigerate opened olives, ideally in the original container. The cold preserves freshness.
  • If refrigerating in a separate container, make sure olives stay fully submerged in their liquid.
  • Add a bit of fresh olive brine or oil if needed to keep them covered.
  • Use olives within 2-3 months for best flavor.
  • Discard if olives have an off smell, color, or mushy texture.

With proper storage, olives retain their flavorful oils and stay crisp. Drain or pat excess brine before using in drinks to avoid over-diluting the cocktail.

Infusing Vodka or Vermouth with Olives

One unique way to incorporate olive flavor into cocktails is to infuse vodka or vermouth with olives. Here is one method:

  • Take a glass jar or bottle and add 6-10 olives per cup of vodka or vermouth.
  • Lightly crush the olives to release oils and flavors.
  • Store the mixture out of direct light for 1-2 weeks, shaking gently each day.
  • Sample occasionally until desired strength of flavor is reached.
  • Fine strain the infused vodka or vermouth before using.
  • Use in martinis, Bloody Marys, Vespers, and other drinks calling for olive aromas.

The olive-infused spirits add a robust, concentrated olive taste not achievable by garnishing alone. Almost any olive variety can be used, so experiment to find your perfect infusion.

Common Questions

Can you use olive juice in cocktails?

Yes, olive juice or olive brine adds a salty, tangy punch to many cocktails. Use it sparingly, as a little goes a long way. Try 1/2 oz in a Bloody Mary or olive brine washed cocktail glass for a savory edge.

What drinks use olives as ingredient?

Some popular cocktails using olives as an ingredient include Martinis, Bloody Marys, Manhattans, Gibsons, Negronis, Olive Oil Martini, Vesper, Dirty Martini, and Oyster Shooters.

What is the difference between cocktail olives and regular olives?

Cocktail olives are primarily different in that they are pitted, making them easier to eat in drinks. They also tend to be firmer in texture and packed in brine rather than oil. Any olive can work in cocktails, but those labeled “cocktail olives” are optimized for serving.

Can you eat the olive after drinking?

Absolutely! The olive is meant to be enjoyed along with the cocktail. Eat it on its own, use a pick to slide it off a stirrer, or drink it down with the last sip. Enjoying the olive is part of the overall cocktail experience.


Olives are a timeless cocktail staple that can take drinks from bland to brilliant. Whether used as a garnish, ingredient, or infusion, they impart a signature savory flavor. Choosing the olive type carefully based on the variety, curing method, size, and color allows you to perfectly complement your drink’s flavors and style. With endless options to explore, olives will continue to be a go-to cocktail enhancer for years to come.