Eric Tecosky remembers what it was like in the Dark Ages of bartending. The improvising. The frustration. The questionable hygienic practices.
It all came to a head whenever he was called upon to make a dirty martini – a martini that was turned salty and a bit murky with the addition of some brine from olive jars.
“Dirty martinis were never my favorite drink to make,” Tecosky said. “We’d take the olives out of the jar, put them in a tray and dump some brine on them. When someone ordered a dirty martini we’d put our hands over the tray to act as a strainer and pour a little bit into the martini glass.” Yuck!
Things improved a bit when Tecosky got into the habit of putting the brine into a squeeze bottle instead.
But one night in the middle of a busy shift at his bar, Tecosky got into a real pickle.
“The squeeze bottle was empty. The olive tray was empty. There was a jar full of olives and no brine. I had to get another jar. It’s hard to open jars when your hands are all wet and you’re multitasking. It took me 10 or 12 minutes to make a drink that should have taken 45 seconds.”
Afterwards, the proverbial light bulb flashed above Tecosky’s head.
“I thought, ‘Why has nobody bottled olive juice?’ That started it all.”
A short period of research led Tecosky to the conclusion that the product didn’t exist. He set out to be the first.
But getting a bunch of olive brine isn’t as easy as you might think.
“Every time I called an olive farm, they said no. Turns out nobody grew enough olives to supply me with the juice. I also found out that there really aren’t that many giant olive farms in the U.S.”
Tecosky came close to giving up. “I didn’t want to import any olive brine from Spain,” he recalled.
Finally, he struck gold. Well, brine. “Literally the very last call I made was to a farm in California. It turns out they were also the largest olive importer on the West Coast.” They had brine to spare.
Tecosky spent several months at the facility (he won’t divulge its name or location, fearing imitators). Finally, after playing with endless variations, he got a mixture he liked.
“I didn’t want to change the basic formula too much; I just wanted to maximize that salty olive goodness,” he said.
By using high-quality olives and drawing the brine directly from the large barrels where they’re placed before being jarred, Tecosky got the taste he wanted. “You get more of an olive front and a salty finish, rather than really salty with a bit of olive at the end.”
The product took off like wildfire when it was introduced in 2005. “Literally the first piece of press that I got, within days I started getting e-mails,” Tecosky recalled. “People would say, ‘I have five jars of olives in my fridge with no brine in them. Do you sell this stuff retail? I’m desperate!’”
Dirty Sue Premium Olive Juice costs $5.99 at Total Wine & More for a 375 ml. jar. Tecosky recommends using at least half an ounce of it in a martini. “That’s the least amount you can use to give it the right flavor.”
Tecosky is branching out into other garnishes. “I’ve just launched a line of hand-stuffed olives and jalapeno-stuffed onions.” But his next big project is another maligned cocktail, the Bloody Mary.
“Finding the right formula for that will be a real challenge. It’s a saturated market already. There are a lot of decent Bloody Mary mixes out there. But, in my opinion, there isn’t a great one yet.” He laughed. “That’s where I come in.”