Classic Cocktail: The Gibson

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.


  • 2 1/2 ounces gin (sub: vodka)
  • 1/2 ounce dry vermouth
  • 1 or 3 cocktail onions, for garnish

In a mixing glass filled with ice cubes, pour the gin and dry vermouth. Stir well and strain into a cocktail glass.

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.”

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