The dirty martini of craft beer

Bitter Bros conjure Javier Plascencia's briny brew idea

A glass of the dirty martini with olives inspired Martinez, at Restaurante Caesar's.
  • A glass of the dirty martini with olives inspired Martinez, at Restaurante Caesar's.

I’ve heard brewers compare what they do to making soup, chili, or other kinds of cooking, but it’s not often you’ll hear a chef concur. “Brewers, they’re like cooks,” Javier Plascencia tells me, “they have really good palates.”

One of Mexico’s best-known chefs, Plascencia has at least as many fans on this side of the border. But on this night, we’re speaking in Tijuana, at Caesar’s restaurant, most famous for inventing the Caesar salad. The old school steak house is hosting the launch party for the celebrity chef’s latest foray into brewery collaborations, an unusual new beer dubbed The Martinez.

Caesar’s Restaurante Bar

Avenida Revolución 1059, Baja

Plascencia’s family owns Caesars, and its dirty gin martini serves as chief inspiration for The Martinez. “The dirty martini is one of my favorite cocktails,” Plascencia explains, “Whenever I have a really good dinner, I always start with a dirty martini. It’s a classic drink. A lot of the younger generations don’t know about it, but it’s very food friendly, especially with seafood.”

The chef thinks in terms of food pairings a lot. If you attend a dinner at his Valle de Guadalupe outdoor restaurant Animalón, for example, each course may be paired with a different type of alcohol: local wine, sour beer from San Diego, or maybe a barrel aged stout.

But cocktails don’t work as well during multi-course meals, for practical reasons. “It’s a lot of booze,” Plascencia says, so you can only drink a couple martinis before feeling alcohol’s effects. But if you make a beer that tastes like a dirty martini, he reasons, “you can drink more with the same aftertaste.”

Working with him to make this happen were breweries from both sides of the border. From the San Diego side was Bitter Brothers Brewing Co., which makes sense given that cofounders Bill Warnke and Monica Andresen both come from the food service industry. The beer was actually made in Ensenada, at the brewery Cervecería Transpeninsular, beginning with its blonde ale recipe as the base beer.

“This really is a neat borderless collaboration,” says Transpeninsular owner Collin Corrigan. He and Bitter Brothers head brewer Tyler Tucker explain that getting beer to taste like a dirty martini proved interesting work, owing to olive brine. A dirty martini uses brine out of an olive jar, but that didn’t bring enough flavor to the beer, so they looked to the source.

“We were able to procure some olive brine from olive farms in Tecate and Ensenada,” says Corrigan, “That really gave it that final saltines and olive flavor it needs.”

“Just enough of that salty slickness,” agrees Tucker, who tracked down the types of botanicals used by Beefeater Gin, the spirit used in Caesar’s martinis. To ensure all these adjunct flavors shine through the beer itself, they added little hops, and used a clean fermenting yeast. But they also needed to reduce malt flavor, so they used the same sort of amylase enzyme used to brew the currently popular style of Brut IPAs.

“We used enzymes to take out all sugars,” explains Tucker, “so it’s bone dry.” At under five-percent alcohol, the resulting bone dry beer, spiced like a dry martini, made dirty with olive brine, comes off resembling the cocktail inspiration, pairing exceptionally well with seafood bites being served at the restaurant.

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