Dear Straight Dope:
Why does James Bond care if his martini is shaken instead of stirred? What difference does it make anyway?
SDStaff Manhattan replies:
“Shaken, not stirred.” The very phrase conjures up images of Sean Connery, natty in his tuxedo, about to break the bank at baccarat before bedding the beautiful double agent, doesn’t it? James Bond has probably created more martini drinkers than all the gin joints in the world.
The reason the debonair Bond wants his martini shaken is that he is an iconoclast. He’s not drinking a martini at all! He’s drinking a vodka martini. There’s a difference, as we shall see. Pay close attention — we will not use the terms interchangeably but it’s easy to get confused.
Let’s start by looking at Bond’s drink. He takes vodka and gin in them. Ian Fleming gives a recipe for his Bond’s preferred libation in the first Bond book, Casino Royale (1953), chapter 7:
“A dry martini,” he said. “One. In a deep champagne goblet.”
“Just a moment. 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. Got it?”
He calls this a vesper, after the beautiful double agent from the book (n.b.: Kina Lillet is a brand of vermouth). In other appearances, Bond requests a “medium vodka dry martini,” sometimes ordered shaken not stirred. From his vesper recipe, I take “medium vodka dry” to mean he wants a “medium” amount of vodka mixed in with his gin, but who knows? Thanks to John Cork of the Ian Fleming Foundation for digging up the vesper recipe and Bond’s other (vodka) martini orders.
A traditional martini (as opposed to a vodka martini) is made with gin, dry vermouth and either an olive or a lemon peel. Nothing else. (Well, they used to make them with extra-dry white wine rather than the dry-wine variant vermouth, but we shan’t address that age-old argument here) And a proper martini is stirred, not shaken.
A vodka martini substitutes vodka for the gin (or adds it to the gin, as Bond does) and sometimes allows other ingredients. Why? Well, because martini purists such as your correspondent are snobs, whereas vodka martini drinkers are more open to experimentation and allow more variations to carry the name of their drink. But both martini drinkers and vodka martini drinkers agree that one is not the other. Bond is the only person whom I have come across who takes both spirits — I told you he was unique!
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?
This question captured the imagination of the SDSAB more than any since the great exploding mosquito dustup of 1997. It was suggested by some that even an experienced martini drinker could not tell the difference between a stirred martini and a shaken one.
It’s exactly that kind of insistence on the facts that made the Straight Dope what it is today. So in the interests of science and in the best Cecilian tradition,SDStaff Gaudere, Gaudere’s brother and I repaired to the King Cole Room at New York’s St. Regis hotel, a global center of martinidom if there ever was one, to conduct a blind taste test. There, we managed to convince Kwaku the bartender to make one proper, stirred martini and one shaken one (but made from gin, not vodka), all from the same mix. We then each closed our eyes and drank. The results were about as one would expect: martinis all over the bar and an angry bartender. But the experimental outcome was stunning: each and every one of us was able to distinguish the shaken martini from the stirred one. I pegged the stirred one even before tasting the other one. A second scientific conclusion reached that evening is that “martinis upset ulcers,” so it may be a while before your humble correspondent repeats the experiment.
Finally,SDStaff Karen notes that a study in the on-line edition of the British Medical Journal posits that shaken martinis may enhance the antioxidant effects of alcohol, making them healthier than the stirred variety. Feh. If you’re drinking for your health, have some carrot juice.
Send questions to Cecil via email@example.com.
STAFF REPORTS ARE WRITTEN BY THE STRAIGHT DOPE SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARD, CECIL'S ONLINE AUXILIARY. THOUGH THE SDSAB DOES ITS BEST, THESE COLUMNS ARE EDITED BY ED ZOTTI, NOT CECIL, SO ACCURACYWISE YOU'D BETTER KEEP YOUR FINGERS CROSSED.