“Shaken, not stirred, will get you cold water with a dash of gin and dry vermouth. The reason you stir it with a special spoon is so not to chip the ice. James is ordering a weak martini and being snooty about it.” – Jed Bartlett, The West Wing
A classic rejoinder to an even more classic line. In actuality, however, Bond’s martinis should indeed have been shaken rather than stirred. Because they weren’t martinis at all.
A proper martini contains gin and vermouth, traditionally in a 4-to-1 ratio, with a twist of lemon peel and/or an olive. Purists prefer them stirred, not shaken although, like the current Bond (which, incidentally, is better than the original) I don’t really give a damn. Technically, a shaken martini, which will have a slurry of ice crystals floating in it, is referred to as a Bradford.
Alas, whereas the Bond of Casino Royale — both the 1953 novel which introduced the character and the 2006 film which rebooted the franchise — drank Vespers — a drink of his/Ian Fleming’s invention containing “Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel” — the Bond of the earlier films drank what are properly referred to as vodka martinis which, as the name implies, substitutes vodka for gin.
As to the shaken, not stirred, controversy, an old piece at The Straight Dope explains nicely.
There are three main differences between a martini (or a vodka martini) which has been stirred and one which has been shaken. First, a shaken martini is usually colder than one stirred, since the ice has had a chance to swish around the drink more. Second, shaking a martini dissolves air into the mix; this is the “bruising” of the gin you may have heard seasoned martini drinkers complain about–it makes a martini taste too “sharp.” Third, a shaken martini will more completely dissolve the vermouth, giving a less oily mouth feel to the drink.
In a vodka martini, cold is key: a vodka martini that is not ice-cold tastes like lighter fluid. So you shake them. The experience of a traditional martini is more dependent on it being smooth and on not ruining the delicate flavors of the gin. Ergo, one stirs it. Simple enough, no?
Now, I don’t mind vodka martinis. While I decidedly prefer the traditional variety (sans the olive, unless my wife’s with me to eat it) a vodka martini is a perfectly refreshing cocktail. But because Bond, especially Sean Connery’s Bond, defined cool for so many, the vodka martini essentially became the martini. In many bars and restaurants, you will be served a vodka martini unless you actually specify gin. And that, I submit, is just wrong.
Further, this travesty has spread beyond martinis. The other evening, my wife ordered a Tom Collins, another classic cocktail that’s just perfect for summertime. It was made with Absolut vodka rather than gin. Truly a travesty.
My personal favorite, and also that of Stephen Green (ironically known as the VodkaPundit) is made with Bombay Sapphire gin, dry vermouth, and a lemon peel. As to the amount, Christopher Hitchens passes along a superb mnemonic: “martinis are like breasts: One is one too few, while three is one too many.”