The James Bond vodka martini

Drink and drinking

“Shaken, not stirred”. Hearing those words conjures up the image of James Bond instantly, vodka martini in hand, a seductive woman beside him, and the threat of ever-present danger. It reminds us of the high life, glamour and sophistication, and also helps summon the inner 007 lurking inside.

james-bond-vodka-martini

While the vodka martini is now firmly embedded in the public consciousness as  James Bond’s signature drink, it has not always been the case. The books in particular saw 007 consuming a far wider range of drinks than just vodka martinis and champagne, ordering both gin and vodka based martinis, champagne, whisky and many other alcoholic drinks; even in the films he is more than a one drink man.

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What is in a vodka martini?

The martini is deceptively simply, comprising of just two ingredients plus garnish. The drink was originally mixed using gin and vermouth garnished with an olive or lemon peel, the vodka martini (also known as the vodkatini or kangaroo) substituting vodka in place of the gin, while variations include a splash of olive water (a dirty martini) or an onion garnish (the Gibson martini).

Vodka martini ingredients

  • Vodka
  • Vermouth
  • Olive or lemon peel garnish

The martini became popular during prohibition (1920-1933) as it was relatively simple to make illegal bathtub gin. Early martini recipes dating from the latter half of the nineteenth century contained equal measures of gin and vermouth, with the ratio being three or four parts gin to one of vermouth by the 1930s.

With the repeal of prohibition the quality of the gin improved and so the ever drier martini became popular. Some modern recipes calling for the ice to be washed with vermouth to give the merest hint of flavour.

007’s first vodka martini

In the second novel, Live And Let Die (1954), 007 goes through much of the book drinking martinis made with gin as he experiences the jazz clubs of Harlem with Felix Leiter; right at the end of the book, having defeated Mr Big,  he asks Solitaire to mix him a vodka martini, the first time the drink is mentioned in the books.

Bond’s vodka martini recipe calls for six parts vodka to one of vermouth and, although he doesn’t ask for it to be shaken, it is implied.

Shaken, not stirred

Although in Casino Royale (1953) Bond orders the Vesper to be shaken, it is only in Diamonds Are Forever (1956) and Doctor No (1958) that he requests his vodka martini is “shaken and not stirred”.

Many martini purists will tell you that shaking a martini ruins the drink, while others insist gin martinis should be stirred but it is acceptable to shake a vodka martini.

Ian Fleming’s own instructions to get a “very large and fairly good Martini” (with gin) in an English pub, written in 1956 for American tourists, specify shaking the drink (see page 93, James Bond: The Man And His World by Henry Chancellor or Talk of the Devil, a rare collection of Ian Fleming’s journalism and other writing).

Many blame James Bond for the preference of many to shake martinis, but in The The Savoy Cocktail Book (1930) by Harry Craddock, one of the most influential bartenders of the early twentieth century, all the martini recipes are reportedly shaken although I do not have a copy to check.

The truth? It is up to you how you want your drink served and to insist that there is a right way to serve a martini is simply pretentious.

You can read more about James Bond’s drinks here

Photo: “Martinis at the Russia House” by Tom Thai used under licence CC BY / caption added to original

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