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Shaken and Stirred: How to Mix a Martini

Posted on November 13 2015

A recent article published in the New Scientist suggests that the perfect martini should be “stirred, not shaken” with a thin piece of wood rather than a metal cocktail spoon. In an emergency, a pencil would do the job!

This startling revelation stems from the fact that wood is a poor conductor of heat, as apposed to metal objects, the use of which could dangerously raise the temperature of the tipple when stirring. But, what about the famous catchphrase, “Shaken, not stirred”; did Fleming get it wrong?

During the period in which Fleming wrote his novels, ordering a “martini” meant a gin martini … and gin martinis should not be shaken, following the theory that the gin would be “bruised” and the ice would dilute the drink. Bond, however, orders a “vodka martini”. Much of the vodka at the time was produced from potatoes and tended to carry an oily residue, which could be dissipated when shaken vigorously, hence Fleming’s correctly detailed instructions to the barman. The later introduction of higher-quality grain vodka removed the need to do so.

The classic vodka martini is made by combining vodka, dry vermouth, and ice in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass. The ingredients are chilled, either by stirring or shaking, then strained and served in a chilled cocktail glass. The drink may be garnished with an olive, a “twist” (a strip of lemon peel squeezed or twisted), capers, or cocktail onions (with the latter referred to as a vodka Gibson).

The “Vesper” or “Vesper Martini” is a cocktail that was originally made of gin, vodka, and Kina Lillet. It was invented and named in the 1953 novel, Casino Royale.

“A dry martini,” [Bond] said. “One. In a deep champagne goblet.”
“Oui, monsieur.”
“Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?”
“Certainly, monsieur.” The barman seemed pleased with the idea.
“Gosh, that’s certainly a drink,” said Leiter.
Bond laughed. “When I’m … er … concentrating,” he explained, “I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink’s my own invention. I’m going to patent it when I can think of a good name.”

 The Cocktail Cuff perfectly accompanies a Vodka Martini

The novel goes on with Bond telling the the barman, after taking a long sip, “Excellent … but if you can get a vodka made with grain instead of potatoes, you will find it still better,” and then adds as an aside, “Mais n’enculons pas des mouches” (English: But let’s not bugger flies – a vulgar French expression meaning “let’s not split hairs”). 

Bond eventually calls it the Vesper, after the novel’s lead female character, Vesper Lynd. A Vesper differs from Bond’s usual cocktail of choice, the martini, in that it uses both gin and vodka, Kina Lillet instead of the usual dry vermouth, and a lemon peel instead of an olive. Although there is a lot of discussion on the Vesper, it is only ordered once throughout Fleming’s novels and by later books Bond is ordering regular vodka martinis, though he also drinks regular gin martinis.

It is said that Fleming was inspired to write in detail about the martini during the hours he spent penning notes for Casino Royale in the cocktail bar at Duke’s Hotel in St. James’s; arguably still the best place in London to order the drink.

Duke’s vodka martini consists of Potocki Vodka (Polish), which has been chilled in a freezer at very low temperature for a minimum of 24 hours. Three drops of extra dry vermouth are put into a cold martini glass, followed by the Potocki. Next, the waiter slices off the peel of a fresh, organic, Sicilian lemon, squeezes a few splashes of the lemon oil into the glass, rubs the peel around the edge of the glass and drops the peel into the concoction. The key here is that the vodka is ice cold, so no ice cubes are used. Also, it is not shaken OR stirred!

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