“Shaken, not stirred.” So goes James Bond’s drink order. But according to experts, the famous, fictional secret agent is ordering his martini all wrong.
“A martini is never shaken, it is always stirred,” said Warren Bobrow, a mixologist and author known as the “cocktail whisperer.”
“If I’m drinking a really great gin,” he said, “why do I want to water it down with ice chips?” It could be, Bobrow hypothesized, filmmakers were trying to set a trend, or to make Bond a responsible drinker by having his drink diluted by ice. “Maybe they thought he would be better able to point a gun and shoot it if he isn’t blitzed,” Bobrow said. Today, the palate is conditioned to more watery drinks, explained Caffe Aldo Lamberti bartender Sara Madden. But purists want to be able to taste the alcohol. “True aficionados of martinis will want their martini stirred,” Madden said, “because shaking it waters it down significantly.”
As classic cocktails experience a resurgence, martinis are a common order, though not everyone’s definition of a martini is the same.
“In today’s generation, when they think of martinis, they have no idea what dry vermouth is,” said Mark Hershberger, another bartender at Caffe Aldo Lamberti. The classic martini recipe is a mixture of gin and dry vermouth. But many just don’t have a taste for it, said Treno bartender Jessica Acetty. “It’s very rare anyone wants vermouth in any of their martinis.” The history of the martini goes back to California in the early 1800s, said Bobrow. It became a popular drink during the gold rush, because the ingredients were accessible. Vermouth traveled well, and gin could be made locally. Ice was only for the wealthy, and didn’t factor into the cocktail at first. At a 1:1 ratio of gin to vermouth, the early martini also was a powerful drink. “It was a really great way of taking the edge off,” Bobrow said. Vermouth takes a backseat these days. Increasingly, Madden said, when people order a martini, they are looking for cold vodka served in a cocktail glass. “These days, vodka is way more popular than gin.” While gin has a distinctive flavor, derived from juniper berries, vodka serves as a blank canvas, so it can be used in a variety of drinks, a variety of ways. To the younger generation, said Madden, anything served in a cocktail, or martini, glass could be called a martini. For Bobrow, the definition is much more stringent. “There’s only one martini, and a martini is only made from gin,” Bobrow said. “Anything else is an imitation.” One of Madden’s regulars likes his glass washed with the vermouth, then emptied of the excess. Bobrow does the same before adding gin to the chilled glass, though he prefers to pour the extra vermouth into his mouth rather than down the drain. If shaken with ice, the “dirty rocks” can be served alongside the drink, to keep it cold and add flavor. “All of our martinis are always shaken,” said Treno bartender Nathan Colgate. He then serves the rocks on the side, “so they can get that last bit of alcohol.” Treno also makes vodka martinis, unless asked otherwise. “When someone comes in and asks for a martini, almost always they want a vodka martini instead of gin,” Colgate said. They shake the cocktails until they are ice cold — something customers expect — but only if it’s a vodka drink. Shaking a gin martini “bruises the gin, it ruins it,” Acetty said. Just as the method for making a martini varies, so does the presentation. As the author of “Apothecary Cocktails,” Bobrow has studied the use of cocktail ingredients as medicine, as alcohol is an effective preservative for herbs and spices. He said the lemon peel may have been a popular garnish for its health benefits, while olives, with a salty flavor, would stimulate thirst. Colgate said at Treno, they garnish the martinis with three blue-cheese-stuffed olives, while Madden drops a twist of lemon peel into the classic martini at Caffe Aldo Lamberti. Bobrow doesn’t garnish his martini. “It would just change the flavor,” he said. Hershberger’s preferred martini would be made with Hendrick’s gin and muddled cucumber, for a fresh flavor. “Everybody has their own way they prefer it, especially martini drinkers,” Madden said. So while Bond’s version may not be technically correct, when it comes to a martini, it is all a matter of preference. But one thing is certain: “There is nothing more sophisticated than the martini,” Bobrow said.