The Gibson cocktail is another one of those mixed drinks with more history than actual ingredients. It is generally made from gin and vermouth, and while we don’t know its actual origins, we know a lot of theories. There has been found the oldest written account of the Gibson, in The World’s Drinks and How to Mix Them. The book was first published in 1908 and it was written by William Boothby. Although nowadays this cocktail is garnished with pickled onions, in his book Boothby says that although one shouldn’t use bitters to prepare it, one can add olives.
Thus, by the earliest definitions of cocktail in The Balance and Columbian Repository from 1806, this drink can also be called a “bittered sling”. If one were to respect the traditional definitions, then the Gibson cocktail is rather a sling, and not a perfect cocktail. The recipe is just as unclear as the history; among other recipes from before the Prohibition era, neither mentions adding bitters, and they don’t add the pickled onions either. Thus, these recipes either garnish with citrus twists, or with no garnish at all. The Gibson cocktail recipe as we know it today doesn’t appear until the late 1930s.
As for the persons who actually invented the cocktail, there are as many of them as there were recipes. One of the more popular stories says the inventor was Charled Dana Gibson, or at least the one who led to its discovery; apparently, he had challenged Charley Connolly, a bartender, to improve the Martini recipe. A funnier story mentions an American diplomat by the name of Gibson who, in order to avoid the awkward situation of explaining he was a teetotaler at dinner parties, would ask the staff to pour water into a Martini glass and to garnish it with a pickled onion in order to find it among olive-garnished Martinis.
Other accounts mention that the only difference between the Gibson and the Martini was the fact that the first was much drier, but as people’s taste for dry drinks increased, the only remaining difference between the drinks was the pickled onion. We will never know who actually invented the Gibson cocktail, but we can offer you the present official recipe, as presented by the IBA:
Both ingredients are poured into a shaker filled with ice; they are well shaken, and then strained into a chilled martini glass. You add a couple of pickled onions, either freely or in a toothpick, and your drink is ready for serving.