Sunday, 6 April 2014

More on the shaken not stirred debate

Recently I was flicking through a copy of The Curious Bartender: The Artistry and Alchemy of Creating the Perfect Cocktail (2013, Ryland Peters and Small) by Tristan Stephenson, a drinks industry consultant and pioneer of the molecular mixology movement.

Turning to the section on the Martini, I noted the inevitable reference to James Bond, but was also interested to read a passage quoted by Stephenson from The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto by Bernard DeVoto published in 1948. The extract indicated that the debate about whether a Martini should be shaken or stirred had been a long-running one even before Ian Fleming began writing the James Bond novels.

In the extract, DeVoto dismisses as a superstition the claim that the Martini (in this case one made with gin) must never been shaken. The ingredients, he contends, are “stable, of stout heart,” and it does not matter whether they are shaken or stirred. The idea that shaking bruises the gin is, in DeVoto's view, “an absurdity.”

Tristan Stephenson does not disagree with this, and goes on to list the benefits to the drink that shaking brings. Shaken Martinis can be made quicker than stirred martinis. Shaking increases aeration, which helps release flavours and makes the drink feel lighter. The cloudy appearance of the shaken Martini slightly alters the drink's taste and aroma. In addition, Stephenson publishes a graph to illustrate how shaking reduces the temperature of the cocktail quicker than stirring does, and keeps the drink cold for longer with no further dilution. James Bond is not so incorrect after all.

The notions that shaking bruises the gin and that one should never shake a Martini are highly successful memes. They are widespread in popular culture (even beyond the world of cocktails), they have longevity (evidently pre-dating Bond), and have survived largely unchanged. That these ideas continue to be perpetuated is to a very large extent down to the success of the James Bond novels and films. As long as James Bond orders his Martini 'shaken, not stirred', the debate about the best way to make the drink is likely to run for a while longer yet.

Related post: Shaken or stirred: the debate continues

For more information on James Bond's Martini, I recommend The Complete Guide to the Drinks of James Bond by David Leigh.


  1. I don't know why this "argument" continues, at the end of the day it is down to personal preference and there can therefore be no right or wrong answer.

    Like it shaken? Go ahead.

    Prefer it at room temperature? Your choice.

    Don't like the way I mix my martinis? Too bad, leave me in peace and I'll enjoy it on my own.

    Thanks for the link to my book, much appreciated.

    1. You're absolutely right - it's personal choice, and however the martini's prepared, that's the right way. This is, though, an argument that will run and run. The idea that Bond's wrong is so well established, that any mention of shaken or stirred will bring counter arguments from know-it-alls! Mind you, that's not necessarily a bad thing. In a way it's all part of the Bond phenomenon, helping to keep James Bond alive in popular culture.

  2. The funny thing about the meme is that it doesn't exist over here. I've had the conversation with both Catalans and Italians who repeat the "I don't just like James Bond, I want to BE james Bond" (to the amazement of my other half), but when I've ordered martinis (gin and vodka) in Barcelona they have always asked me if I want it shaken or stirred.

    When I ask it to be served like James Bond, they have always asked me how that is. There is a possible explanation for this as the films I've seen dubbed into Spanish reverse the line, so Bond's Spanish martinis and stirred, not shaken.

    I'm not sure why this is, as Spanish editions of the books don't make this mistake (on the few occasions it actually occurs), so presume it was an error in translating early on that has persisted.

    1. Very curious. So no one winces in Spain when Henderson asks Bond, "That was stirred, not shaken?" in You Only Live Twice?

      It's very plausible that the 'stirred, not shaken' form began as a translating error. It's very interesting that it has persisted. This would suggest that the 'stirred, not shaken' form expressed in one film was copied in the next, and so on, slowly becoming the dominant form. Evidently there has limited exposure to the 'shaken, not stirred' meme, reducing the chance that a correction would be made.

  3. Actually I don't know about YOLT as I haven't seen it in Spanish, but certainly all the Pierce Brosnan films have it the wrong way round. However an earlier film (perhaps Goldfinger, certainly Connery) had it right!


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