“But the typical American cocktails, such as the dry martini and the even drier Gibson, have probably done more to set both sex and gastronomy back than anything since the Reformation, and almost everything wrong with the American attitude towards seduction can be found in drinks such as these.”
Mimi Sheraton, The Seducer’s Cookbook
Alright, so I know all about the dry martini (although in my view both neither sex, nor gastronomy have been set back too much by such a sublime cocktail). But what even is a Gibson?
Well, it turns out that a Gibson has the same gin-dry-vermouth foundation as a dry martini. But instead of the lemon of the dry martini, a cocktail onion is substituted.
The story behind the drink
What’s the story behind this drink…who was Gibson and why the onion exchange?
As with many cocktail histories there is more than one version.
Version one – the most likely
The earliest version tells of a man in the late 19th century by the name of Walter Gibson, hailing from San Francisco. This was pre-007 days, and Gibson preferred his dry martini stirred and not shaken (go to my post on making the perfect dry martini – link at the bottom – to find out why he was right).
He was also of the belief that onions were good at warding off colds. So he asked the barman at The Bohemian Club (his local) for the with-onion version. Go to The Spruce site for a much more detailed version of this.
Version two – the most mooted
The most widespread version gives the credit to Charles Dana Gibson, an illustrator and later editor of Life. He was on the opposite coast, in New York, hassling a different barman regarding his vagaries, this one being in the Players Club. “Improve this!”, he commanded, indicating his dry martini, and the barman obliged by the simple substitution.
Version three – the most practical
There are various versions of version three….. but they all hinge on individuals who were wanting to disguise the water they were ordering as a dry martini, and who wanted to easily identify their virgin drinks from their companions’ more dangerous tipple.
Where to get someone to mix one for you
Go to The Gibson in London. They don’t just offer onions here…. there is a huge range of pickled vegetables dropped into a range of bizarre and adventurous cocktails.
How to mix a Gibson
Yes, indeedy. The Gibson is not a drink for the faint-hearted.
- You fill a shaker with ice, and add six parts gin to one part dry vermouth.
- Then you stir, strain, and garnish with the onion.
This post is dedicated to Matthew Gibson.
For a detailed post on how to make the perfect martini cocktail, follow this link.
In the classic Hitchcock film, North by North West, Gary Grant’s character, Roger Thornhill, has just ordered a Gibson – below you can enjoy watching him draw strength from it as he indulges in some fairly brutal flirtatious sparring. It’s a great film – I hope this wets your appetite to watch the whole thing.