What to Order: The Vodka Martini, Shaken or Stirred?
“Shaken, not Stirred.” The complex history of James Bond’s cocktail preference. Whether you’re a hardened bartender of 20 years, or a greenhorn trying to wet his whistle in the cocktail scene, everyone is familiar with the vodka martini, shaken not stirred.
Made famous by Ian Fleming’s James Bond series, the vodka martini always seems to be ordered by the titular double-O Agent when either coming in from a fresh kill or when he is just heading out to perform a fresh kill. Curiously, in the cinematic debut of Dr. No, Bond doesn’t even order the drink. Instead, Bond is offered the drink twice, once by a waiter who offers a “medium dry vodka martini…mixed… but not stirred,” and again by the titular villain, Dr. Julius No. In fact, Bond doesn’t get around to ordering it himself until the 1964 hit Goldfinger, finally saying the phrase that has become synonymous with cocktail newbies and the rolling eyes of bartenders everywhere, “Shaken, not stirred.”
Indeed, walk into any bar and say “Shaken, not stirred” and the least you’ll get is the bartender shaking his/her head as he/she casually delivers a small lecture about the inferiority of your mixing preferences. “Shaking dilutes the alcohol, and taste,” your bartender will say, as they change your drink order to stirred and make you feel bad. Congratulations, you’ve just been inducted into an age old debate that has had cocktail purists and Bond enthusiasts arguing for the past 50 years. But why have this debate? Is it better one way or the other? Does Fleming have his reasons for shaken not stirred?
For cocktail connoisseurs, one rarely shakes a cocktail, leaving the exercise to drinks that include fruit juices, or any other thick and flavorful mixes. Shaking ensures that all the heavy stuff going into a drink is thoroughly mixed and broken-down with the ice balancing the drink. On the other hand, stirred concoctions are meant for drinks made with distilled spirits and light mixers. These are your manhattans, negronis and martinis. To shake these drinks would be a grievous sin many bartenders would argue, since you violently introduce air molecules that ruin both the *sigh* clarity and texture of a drink. And of course, shaking the ice breaks it down introduces more water into the drink. So, as bartenders usually say, ordering a martini “shaken, not stirred” gives you a watered and cloudy version of a drink.
So why would –or perhaps how could- noted drinker and author Ian Fleming make such a faux pas in his novels? Was Bond just sporting some weak sauce and being snooty about it? Well, as these things usually go, there are several theories, from Fleming’s own personal preferences to historical and literary explanations for Bond’s supposedly inferior choice of cocktail mixing.
Personally, Fleming, a gin drinker himself, believed that stirring diminished the flavor and the texture of a drink. Fleming’s preference for gin could also have something to do with the choice of shaking the cocktail. Gin, having a stronger flavor than vodka, would perhaps be better served with a watering down. Lastly, as many know, shaking the cocktail gets you the drink faster, which is all the better reason to choose the slower stirring method.
Further reasons pop-up the more you read about “Shaken, not stirred.” One argument talks about impurities in the distilling processes of vodka during the time of Fleming’s writing. Back then, Bond’s preferred Polish and Russian vodkas would often leave an oily film if stirred, so Bond appropriately asked for the drinks to be shaken. Another theory suggests that alcohol was simply stronger back in the day, but there is little evidence of this being entirely true.
Of all the excuses, none are more interesting than the literary interpretations. Practically, Bond could be deliberately having his drink shaken so that no body poisons his drink while mixing it.
However, this doesn’t really hold weight if the bartender is one of the henchmen, as we have seen in the Casino Royale film. Another theory is that Bond deliberately wants his drinks to be watered down while making it appear as if he is getting thoroughly sauced. After all, deception is the name of the game. The most interesting theory suggests that Fleming intentionally has Bond get the order wrong, deliberately showing Bond’s lower-class roots as he tries to fit in an upper-class society, a theory suggesting OO7’s deception extends to more than just espionage.
Arguments aside, the vodka martini is only one of the many drinks that Bond orders. Throughout the books, he is more apt to drink Bourbon whiskey than martinis, while in film his choice of alcohol tends to align with whichever advertiser has bought out the product placement for the movie. And of course, he is not above the occasional flute of Bollinger or Dom Perignon.
But if we are to talk about Bond and Cocktails, perhaps we should go with an original creation of Fleming’s, which first appeared in the Casino Royale novel. In it Bond orders a cocktail consisting of “Three measures of Gordon’s (gin), one of vodka, half measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel.” The drink itself is later named the Vesper, for the only woman that Bond has ever loved. Unfortunately, even if you do order a Vesper at a bar it is not the original. As cocktail historian Anastasia Miller claims, due to a change in Lillet’s production, the original Kina Lillet was discontinued for a fruitier, less bitter flavor. While you can find substitutions, the Vesper, much like the character, is a bitter memory, never to be held or enjoyed. What does this mean for the actual debate over “shaken, not stirred?” Well for one, the Vesper is a drink consisting of both gin, vodka and flavored wine, so perhaps shaking it would be more applicable here. The creation of this drink doesn’t really transfer well to a catchphrase though, so most likely the ingredients might have gotten dropped for the for catchier, “Vodka martini. Shaken, not stirred.”
The choice of shaken not stirred seems to come down to preference. So, here’s what you do if you are still doubtful on the subject. The next time you go into a bar, order two martinis, shaken and stirred. Try them both and see which you prefer. If you like stirred, then you are among the many bartenders and mixologists who have long tried to argue against 50 years’ worth of Hollywood misinformation. And if you like the shaken, then you are in a crowd that includes Ian Fleming and a fictional super-spy. And hey, that’s not bad crowd to be in either.
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Sources: Gates, Christopher. “Why You Can’t Drink The Original James Bond Martini.” Maxim.2015; Dr. No. London: MGM Home Entertainment, 1962; Fleming, Ian. Casino Royale, Vintage Classics, 2016; Craddock, Harry. The Savoy Cocktail Book. Pavilion Books, 2011; Lycett, Andrew. Ian Fleming: The Man Behind James Bond. Turner Pub, 1996.Written by Kevin Marchand Photography by Daniel Craig in “Skyfall” - Everett Collection
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