Classic Gibson Cocktail

Gibson cocktail with cocktail onions in a cocktail glass

 The Spruce Eats

Prep: 3 mins
Cook: 0 mins
Total: 3 mins
Serving: 1 serving
Yield: 1 cocktail
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
183 Calories
0g Fat
2g Carbs
0g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 1
Amount per serving
Calories 183
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g 0%
Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 6mg 0%
Total Carbohydrate 2g 1%
Dietary Fiber 0g 0%
Total Sugars 0g
Protein 0g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 1mg 0%
Iron 0mg 0%
Potassium 15mg 0%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

The Gibson is a savory cocktail that every gin lover will want to taste. The simple twist on the classic gin martini has been around for over a century, and the recipe is incredibly simple. You may even know it already.

The difference between a Gibson cocktail and a ​gin martini is the garnish. Both drinks are made with gin and dry vermouth, but instead of the martini's olive or lemon twist, the Gibson is garnished with a cocktail onion. This simple change gives the drink a different undertone, transforming it from a briny olive to an earthy, light onion flavor. It's fascinating, and you may just prefer this recipe over the other.

"The Gibson is one of the very few cocktails that is named specifically for its garnish. Pickled onion kisses the combination of gin and vermouth with incredible sensitivity. The acidity pierces the minerality with a tinge of umami that prepares the palate for the next sip. Brisk, briny, bracing." —Sean Johnson

Classic Gibson Cocktail Tester Image
A Note From Our Recipe Tester


  • 2 1/2 ounces gin

  • 1/2 ounce dry vermouth

  • 1 or 3 cocktail onions, for garnish

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for classic Gibson cocktail recipe gathered

     The Spruce Eats

  2. In a mixing glass filled with ice cubes, pour the gin and dry vermouth.

    Gin being poured into a small pitcher with ice cubes

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  3. Stir well.

    Cocktail ingredients being stirring in the pitcher

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  4. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

    Cocktail being strained from the pitcher into a cocktail glass

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  5. Garnish with cocktail onions. Serve and enjoy.

    A couple of cocktail onions added to the cocktail glass

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  • As with the gin martini, use a premium gin and vermouth and adjust the ratio to suit your taste.
  • It's customary to use either one or three cocktail onions for the garnish. It's an old bar superstition that an even number of onions or olives is bad luck.
  • Cocktail onions can be found in jars at most grocers, typically right next to the olives.
  • Make pickled onions and create a custom Gibson garnish. Be sure to select small onions that are no more than 1 inch in diameter.

Recipe Variations

  • Switch from gin to vodka if you prefer.
  • Similar to the dirty martini, a small amount of onion brine creates a dirty Gibson. Use about 1/2 ounce (more or less to taste) of brine from the cocktail onion jar.

How Strong Is a Gibson?

The martini and the Gibson are identical in everything except the garnish, so they are also the same strength. When made with 80-proof gin using the recipe's ratio, this drink weighs in at a hefty 31 percent ABV (62 proof).

Does Vermouth Go Bad?

Vermouth is a fortified wine, not a liqueur, so it does not have the long shelf life of distilled spirits. Once open, it will go bad after about three months, though you may start to notice a stale taste after the first month or so. Refrigerate open bottles of dry vermouth and get in the habit of writing the open date on bottles to ensure all of your martinis taste great.

Why Is It Called a Gibson Cocktail?

For many years, the standard history of the Gibson cocktail attributed its creation to the 1930s. It was said that magazine illustrator Charles Dana Gibson asked Charlie Conolly at New York's Players Club to make "something different." Conolly used a cocktail onion to garnish a martini, and the resulting drink came to be known as a Gibson. Another version places the drink's creation 40 years earlier. In a personal email to me, Charles Pollok Gibson relayed a family story that says his father's great uncle, Walter D.K. Gibson made the first Gibson sometime around 1898 at the Bohemian Club in San Francisco.

The Real Gibson Story

Here is Charles' account of the Gibson family story:

"The story goes that W.D.K. Gibson objected to the way the bartender at the Bohemian made martinis. He preferred them stirred and made with Plymouth Gin. He also believed that eating onions would prevent colds. Hence the onion. In his version—which I've not seen in later bar books, a twist of orange was held over the glass so that a bit of the oil would fall on the top. The original Gibson—as with all martinis—was also sweeter before the First World War, with about a 1/4 ounce vermouth.

"W.D.K. died in 1938. I remember that here in San Francisco... my grandfather and all the old crowd spoke of the Gibson as being created here and by Walter Gibson, who was the brother-in-law of the "Sugar King," J.D. Spreckels. The first reference I have seen to it in a bar book was in one printed about 1911. ...during Prohibition [Walter's] wife, whose sister was Lillie Spreckels, insisted that the gin be prepared specially at home lest an inferior quality slip in. Alas, I have no idea what her recipe was."

There are a couple of references that back up this story. An interview with Allan P. Gibson was published by Charles McCabe of the San Francisco Chronicle in the 1970s about his great uncle and the Gibson. This interview can now be found in McCabe's book "The Good Man's Weakness" (Chronicle Books, 1974). Additionally, the Gibson cocktail appears in William T. Boothby's 1907 book, "The World's Drinks and How to Mix Them."