Saturday, 2 March 2013

Shaken or stirred - the debate continues

“No one has ever stirred a Martini. That's not how you make a Martini.” When Seth MacFarlane, in a commercial for the 2013 Oscars, berates Pierce Brosnan's James Bond for suggesting that a Martini could be stirred (assuming that MacFarlane didn't mean to say 'shaken'), he joined a long-running debate about how James Bond's favourite tipple (at least in the films) is prepared. The argument is at least as old as the film series itself, and to an extent is perpetuated by a confusion about different types of Martinis.

One of the earliest references to Bond's Martini outside the Bond books can be found in Booth's Handbook of Cocktails and Mixed Drinks, by John Doxat and published in 1966. Doxat writes, “I don't know if he was the first, but James Bond Esquire caused some consternation in the world of the Dry Martini when he asked for a 'Dry Martini – shaken, not stirred.'” He continues that the opinion of all but a fringe group maintains that a dry Martini must be stirred. Brusque shaking “bruises the gin”, although interestingly Doxat dismisses this view as an affectation.

But by 1966 Bond had ordered more than dry Martinis (that is, a Martini made with gin). The film of Dr No (1962) saw Bond take a vodka Martini, while Bond consumes a dry Martini in From Russia With Love (1963) and Goldfinger (1964). Both types of Martini, though, were 'shaken, not stirred'. In the books, the frequency of gin and vodka Martinis is more evenly divided though the series, though crucially in Dr No (1958), which introduces the phrase 'shaken, not stirred', his Martini is made with vodka.

The difference between Martinis is critical. While a conventional dry Martini tends to be stirred, it is generally acceptable to shake a vodka Martini. This distinction is made in more recent cocktail guides. James Bond is referenced in Mittie Hellmich's Ultimate Bar Book (2006), but only under 'Vodka Martini'. The guide recommends that the cocktail is shaken. The section dealing with dry Martinis makes no mention of Bond, and also specifies that the drink is stirred. Similarly, in Jeremy Harwood's Cocktails, a Collins Gem guide published in 2004, James Bond is credited with popularising the vodka Martini. Those making the drink are told to remember the essential precept: 'shaken, not stirred'.

So although Bond is 'correct' to order his vodka Martini 'shaken, not stirred', he goes against the bar-tending community by extending the instruction to dry Martinis. He has, of course, Ian Fleming to thank for that. As David Leigh reminds us in his Complete Guide to the Drinks of James Bond, Fleming wrote an article containing instructions on how to order a Martini in a pub, stipulating that the ingredients (including gin) be shaken vigorously.

The view that Bond is wrong to order his Martini 'shaken, not stirred' is a 50-year old meme that shows no sign of abating. But it is a debate, along with repetition of the order through the film series,
which has helped to ensure that Martinis of whatever type are closely associated with James Bond. The Martini section of any book of cocktails is likely to include a reference to Bond, while the word 'Martini' itself instantly conjures up an image of James Bond in many minds. 

Indeed, the association is older than the film series. The advertisement below for fashion by Courtelle, modelled in the advert by James Bond, was published in the Daily Express in May 1961. It asks readers, “How do you see James Bond? Sipping vodka Martini – ice-cold, stirred, not shaken (sic) – on the fronded terrace on a distant sea-girt Government House?” The advertisement shows that not only were Bond and the Martini synonymous by 1961, but that the phrase 'shaken, not stirred' had escaped the pages of the novels as a meme and began to have resonance in popular culture before Dr No hit the screens.

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