“Gin, or vodka?”
The bartender is inviting me to pick a spirit for my martini.
“Gin,” I tell him. Then, feeling a little indignant, I say, “Always gin.”
I love vodka, but it doesn’t belong in a martini. To me, a martini with gin (i.e. the OG martini) is the perfect cocktail. The botanicals of a good gin mingle so perfectly with the sweetness of vermouth, that it’s beyond me why anyone would want to swap out that flavor for the neutrality of vodka. Even more so, why would anyone shake a martini? Shaking not only messes up the aesthetic of the drink by making it frothy, but the ice dilutes the crisp, solidly alcoholic taste a martini should have. Why, oh why, would anyone order a shaken vodka martini?
The answer, my friends, is James Bond.
Shaken, not stirred is a phrase you may be familiar with, even if you’ve never read a Bond book or seen a Bond film. Somehow, the phrase just became ubiquitous, something that, despite its erroneousness, rolls off the tongue while ordering a drink. The line made its first appearance on screen in 1962’s Dr. No, when the server presents Bond with a martini via room service and says, “One medium dry vodka martini mixed like you said, sir, but not stirred.” What the server should have said is, “here’s your cruddy drink that makes no sense, but you’re James Bond, so whatever.”
While James Bond is obviously a fictional character, his preferences have had a very real cultural impact. Suddenly, vodka became slick and cool. Tom Sisson, director of the New York Bartending School said, “Up until that time in the 1960s, when you said martini, you meant a gin martini… Then Bond ordered a vodka martini…So it didn’t take that long for sales of vodka martinis, shaken and not stirred, to go through the roof.” Indeed, vodka, specifically Smirnoff (one of Bond’s original vodka favorites) became a hit in the US, growing in popularity throughout the 60’s and 70’s.
I can’t hold the vodka thing against Bond. When you consider how regularly he wined and dined with the Russians, it makes sense that he’d develop a taste for Eastern European vodka (even though having it in a shaken martini is still weird). Indeed, in the 1958 book version of Dr. No, Bond specifies he’d like Russian or Polish vodka. Fittingly, over the years, European vodka brands have taken advantage of Bond’s affinity for the stuff. As sure as the actor playing James Bond has changed, so has the vodka he’s been sipping. In addition to the previously mentioned Smirnoff, Finlandia, and most recently in the soon to be released 2015 Spectre, Belvedere.
While it’s undoubtedly strange that such a badass character would drink a kind of lame drink, it’s important to note that James Bond drank so much more than shaken martinis. In fact, he invented one of the greatest drinks of all time: the Vesper. Comprised of gin, vodka, and Lillet (similar to vermouth, but not the same thing), the Vesper (named after bond girl Vesper Lynd) is a triumph. On top of all that, James Bond otherwise drank like a fish, consuming massive amounts of various booze, including – but far from limited to – Chianti, Ouzo, Irish Coffee and Mint Juleps. In other words, James Bond drank a lot, but the shaken, not stirred martini is what’s stuck over the years.
Fortunately, we can admire a man and hate on his drinking tastes. And if you think I’m being snobby, just look at Bond himself. He’s being even snobbier and he’s ordering a bad cocktail. I think Josiah “Jed” Bartlet from The West Wing said it best:
Can I tell you what’s messed up about James Bond…Shaken, not stirred, will get you cold water with a dash of gin and dry vermouth. The reason you stir it with a special spoon is so not to chip the ice. James is ordering a weak martini and being snooty about it.
I believe that says it all.
All images courtesy of Eon Productions