Galliano Espresso Martini Competition

Created by my friend Dick Bradsell in the 1980s, the Espresso Martini has become one of the world's most popular cocktails. In partnership with Galliano Espresso, we challenged U.S. bartenders to create a riff on Dick's contemporary classic. Now we have a winner!

1st Stage (closed 16-July-23)

American bartenders registered their interest to take part by answering, 'What does the Espresso Martini mean to you?' Their answers helped decide the 100 bartenders invited to progress to the next stage.

2nd stage (closed 31-August-23)

Bartenders selected from stage one were invited to create a riff on Dick's original Espresso Martini and submit their recipe to include at least 1/2oz (15ml) Galliano Espresso Liqueur and a photo to Difford's Guide.

Entries & judging

It's the simplicity of the Espresso Martini that's part of its broad appeal and has led to it being served in bars around the world, while also lending itself to numerous variations. Originally vodka-based, riffs have tended to use vodka and be shaken with the foamy head generated by shaking espresso coffee being part of this cocktail's DNA. Of the 100 bartenders invited, 91 submitted their Espresso Martini recipe and vodka proved to be in the minority with tequila and mezcal being standout preferred ingredients.

Surprisingly, many of the entries were stirred rather than shaken with freshly brewed, cold brew, or even coffee concentrates omitted as bartenders took a more purist view on what a "Martini" should be.

From a flavour perspective, spice was affirmed as being on trend with chili liqueur, fresh chili, cinnamon and nutmeg all featuring strongly.

The Galliano team and I reviewed the recipes submitted and I made and tried the cocktails that stood out for me. Each cocktail was scored out of 100 points: 60 points for the recipe, 20 points for story about the recipe submitted, 10 points for the cocktail's name, and 10 points for sharing via @gallianococktails on Instagram.

The Winner

Nicole Salicetti from New York City with 'Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go' wins a three night stay in London during London Cocktail Week!
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Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go
Glass: Coupe
Garnish: Using a duster ball, lightly sprinkle Chocolate-orange Java salt over 1/3 of cocktail
Method: SHAKE all ingredients with ice and fine strain into chilled glass.
1.5 oz. (45ml) Blanco tequila
1 oz. (30ml) Espresso coffee
0.5 oz. (15ml) Galliano Espresso
0.5 oz. (15ml) Oloroso sherry
0.25 oz. (7.5ml) Citrus oleo
3 dashes Mole bitters
3 dashes Orange bitters
5 drops 80:20 saline solution
Nicole says: "I happened to learn that the Espresso Martini was one of George Michael's favorite drinks. He is one of my all-time favorite artists and another major hit out of Great Britain. Wake Me Up Before You Go Go, a hit by Wham!, encapsulates the spirit of the cocktail as Dick Bradsell was inspired to create the original while he was frequently requested for a drink that would 'wake me up but keep me properly buzzed' (to paraphrase). I decided to use tequila as the base spirit because it pairs so perfectly with the notes that also go perfectly with Espresso, keeping the nod to the original Difford's recipe, I used lemon peel as well as orange to add the essence of expressed peels. Using sherry really helped dry this cocktail while the saline rounds it out and the use of both orange and mole bitters truly tie together every ingredient and together they all make Galliano Espresso shine!"


The quality of entries was so high that the Galliano team decided to also award two runners-up prizes of $250 - which go to Jonathan Stanyard from Seattle for his cocktail 'Cafe de Jerez' and Mike Rosenthal from Nashville for his cocktail 'Free to Rome'.
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Cafe de Jerez
Glass: Sour or Martini/Coupe
Garnish: Coffee beans
Method: SHAKE all ingredients with ice and fine strain into chilled glass.
1 oz (30ml) Galliano Espresso Liqueur
1.5 oz (45ml) Spanish Brandy – preferred with Italian
1.25 oz (37.5ml) Fresh espresso coffee
0.50 oz (15ml) Salted vanilla syrup
1/8 oz (3.75ml) Olive oil
1/8 oz (3.75ml) Balsamic vinegar
Jonathan says: "I love the espresso martini and finding different ways to make it more complex. I even started the crazy idea of putting parmesan cheese on top of an espresso martini. For this recipe, I focused on the Galliano Espresso liqueur, which has flavors of dark roasted coffee, bitter chocolate, and burnt nuts. These bold flavors pair very well with dates and raisins, so I used a Brandy de Jerez. My ex-bar manager introduced this brandy style to me, and I have always been intrigued by the solera method that bodegas use to create these complex brandies. These brandies are aged in ex-sherry casks, giving the brandy dried fruit, vanilla, and oak notes. This combination of the Spanish brandy with the Galliano Espresso liqueur is perfect.

The cocktail is made with the freshest espresso, giving the pillow-like froth. Salt is very complementary to bitter flavors. I blended salt and vanilla in a simple syrup to amp up the umami notes and provide a little body. When I think of espresso, I think of its origin in Venice, Italy, and I wanted to honor that. The last touch is olive oil and balsamic vinegar, reminding me of an Italian table essential. For the cocktail, the olive oil provides a luscious texture, while the vinegar adds a touch of acid and balances the sweetness in the cocktail. I usually express lemon oils or drop a peel in the tin for a regal shake, but this addition of vinegar was a match made in the glass.

The Galliano Espresso liqueur carries the weight of the drink, but the other major player in this Espresso Martini is the Brandy de Jerez. Since the brandy brings fond memories and is essential in the recipe, I call this cocktail Cafe de Jerez."
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Free to Rome
Glass: Nick & Nora
Garnish: Lemon twist, 1 mint leaf, and 3 drops of toasted sesame oil
Method: SHAKE all ingredients with ice and fine strain into chilled glass.
1 oz (30ml) Galliano Espresso
1 oz (30ml) Chilled fresh espresso
1 oz (30ml) Bourbon (80 proof)
0.5 oz (15ml) Amaretto
0.25 tsp (1.2 ml) Olive oil
0.1 oz lemon oil (spritz glass before straining)
Mike says: "This martini was inspired by an experience I had while traveling in Rome with a friend. As the somewhat blurry story goes, we indulged in a fabulous multi-course feast accompanied by a cocktail (or three), and afterwards, I wanted to keep the party going, so when my friend decided to go back to the hotel, I made my way to a neighborhood cafe for a night cap. When I stepped in the door, the operatic music stopped (it didn't actually stop, but it sure felt like it).

It was clear that I was out of my element at this local watering hole. Everyone around was sipping digestifs, limoncello, espresso, & wine, and I was... not. Initially, I felt like a Branzino out of Mediterranean water, but as the story goes, I struck up a conversation with the canoodling couple at the end of the bar. Next, the three of us joined the elderly group of gentlemen in the corner. Within an hour, the whole place was singing songs and sharing social media handles. It reminded me that sometimes the best nights are the most unexpected ones.

The next morning, I recapped my epic night over a perfect double espresso accompanied with some biscotti regina (sesame lemon cookies), and two Tylenol.

This espresso martini stems from the experience of bringing people together in a foreign environment and exploring with an open mind. In personifying this drink, I played the part of the bourbon (the brash American connector of strangers) surrounded by the Italian locals (amaretto, olive oil & really good lemons) and finished (or recapped) with toasted sesame & espresso. The flavors seem unrelated at first, but funny enough, they come together and dare I say, blend seamlessly. I named it the "Free To Rome" to remind me to continue to explore and get out of my comfort zone, because you never know when an epic night is in store."

The prize

  • A three-night trip to London during London Cocktail Week.
  • A bar tour around London with Simon Difford and the Global Galliano Ambassador, Marcin Cebula, including venues where Dick Bradsell used to work.
  • Free time to enjoy the city and its bar scene during London Cocktail Week.
  • London Cocktail Week wristband.
  • Winning cocktail featured on Difford's Guide, our social channels and newsletters
Galliano Espresso Martini Competition image 1
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