Shaken Not Stirred – The Vodka Martini

This article is by guest writer David T Smith of Summer Fruit Cup.

Vodka martini

I have been putting off writing about the Vodka Martini, the most prominent of Bond’s drinks and a cocktail that gave birth to the most famous bar instruction of all time: “Shaken, not stirred”.

The Vodka Martini is a variation on the original Dry Martini, which, in turn, is descended from the Manhattan. The Martini was originally made with sweet vermouth, but, around the turn of the last century, it became more popular to drink it with dry vermouth. The first reference to the Dry Martini can be found in How To Mix Fancy Drinks from 1903.

Bond orders his Martini medium-dry and shaken, not stirred. The dryness of a Martini is in reference to the ratio of Gin to vermouth, so a Martini with equal parts vodka and vermouth is much wetter than a drink which is one part vermouth to ten parts vodka.

Whilst no official scale for Martini dryness exists, medium-dry is usually seen as four or five parts vodka to one part dry vermouth.

The Vodka

Throughout the books and films, Bond has been known to drink a variety of different vodka brands, from Smirnoff in the Connery Years to Absolut in the 80’s and Finlandia in Die Another Day, but a consistent favourite in both the literary and film versions of James Bond is Stolichnaya.

Stolichnaya Vodka originates from Moscow and was founded in early 40’s, although a trademark for the name was granted in 1938. By the 50’s, Stolichnaya became known as a vodka of quality, winning various accolades, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that it became widely available in the US, thanks to a reciprocity distribution agreement with Pepsi.

Stolichnaya Red – The standard Stolichnaya, this is bottled at 40%ABV; a good all-round vodka that’s excellent for sipping and cocktails alike.

Stolichnaya Blue – A high proof version of Stolichnaya Red bottled at 50%ABV. It’s higher in strength, whilst still being smooth, which makes it an excellent fit for making a 1950s style Vesper.

Stolichnaya Gold – A premium version of the red label with the added infusion of tormentil (a type of rose). This doesn’t really add any flavour, but affects the texture of the vodka, increasing its smoothness.

Stolichnaya Elit – The jewel in the Stolichnaya Range, this is made using a patented freezer filtration system where the vodka is chilled down to -18°C, which increases the density of the liquid and removes the impurities of the spirit by freezing them to the side of the tank.

My favourite of these is the Stolichnaya Gold, because I think, at less than £20 a bottle, it is the sweet spot between price and quality, not just in the Stolichnaya Range, but in vodka in general.

The Vermouth

Bond’s Martini uses Dry Vermouth (also known as French-style), which consists of dry white wine infused with herbs, fruit and spices, and is fortified with grape alcohol. Popular brands of Vermouth include Martini Extra Dry, Noilly Prat Dry and Dolin.

Having tasted a wide range of Dry Vermouth, my favourite is Dolin, with Noilly Prat as a pretty close second. Vermouth has a tendency to oxidise and become sour after a few weeks, so keep the bottle tightly sealed and, if possible, refrigerated.

The Method

Bond likes his Martinis shaken, much to the chagrin of many a bartender and cocktail snob.

So what is the difference?

Method #1 – Stirring

The vodka and vermouth are stirred in a mixing glass with ice.

Pro: Flavours of the ingredients come through more, and there’s a crystal-clear purity to the poured liquid.

Con: It cools less quickly, is less rounded and more smooth, due to lower dilution.

Method #2 – The Diamond Method

A chilled Martini glass is rinsed with vermouth and then vodka is poured in straight from the freezer.

Pro: Exceptionally cold, the viscous vodka adds a great texture and lovely smoothness to the drink.

Con: There’s no dilution whatsoever and so this is rather potent.

Method #3 – Shaking

The vodka and vermouth are shaken with ice in cocktail shaker.

Pro: Colder, softer and exceptionally smooth, due to the increased ice-melt and aeration of the drink by the shaking; this also chills the drink and takes the edge off of the alcohol.

Con: The extra dilution somewhat hides some of the flavours of the ingredients.

So which is best?

I think that this is very difficult to judge, but I have found that I, personally, prefer my Gin Martinis to be stirred, allowing the complex botanical flavours to come through, and my Vodka Martinis to be shaken, where the vodka is all the better for being ice-cold.

The Taste

So that’s the theory, now it’s time for the practice.

Stolichnaya Gold Martini

Superb. Ice cold and super smooth, with a little grainy warmth at the end, this is a really good Martini and is easily worthy of the world’s most famous secret agent.

For an extra special drink, I mixed a Martini with Stolichnaya Elit.

Stolichnaya Elit Martini

Simply superb, this is one of the best vodkas for a Vodka Martini. It chills down nicely and stays cold for a long time. It is also exceptionally smooth, with a little wisp of the complexities of the vodka coming through: grain, vanilla, and chocolate at the very end.

So what is the “perfect” Martini recipe?

A tough question, but I think this one is very good.

40ml Stolichnaya Gold / Elit

10ml Dolin Extra Dry Vermouth

Add ingredients, with plenty of ice, to a cocktails shaker.

Shake hard until a light frost forms on the outside of the shaker.

Strain into a pre-chilled Martini glass.

Garnish with long, thin slice of lemon peel.

My advice for you is to experiment with all of these factors and make your own decision; you are the one who has to drink it, after all, and you shouldn’t let anyone tell you what’s right or wrong about your own drink. Bond certainly wouldn’t care, and neither should you.

More info on James Bond’s drinks here

David T Smith runs the blog Summer Fruit Cup, looking at all things related to drink and drinking. Topics covered include tasting and reviews, cocktail history and vintage bar-ware.

The opinions expressed in the article are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the website owner.

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