After Manila trembled at a 6.1 magnitude earthquake last week, one couldn’t help recollecting that iconic, if somewhat ill-founded, remark of Ian Fleming’s quintessential spy, Bond, James Bond, who was notorious for ordering his Martinis “shaken, not stirred.”
Interestingly, it wasn’t 007 who originally prescribed that cocktail preparation in the films. The mysterious Dr. Julius No ordered an unstirred Martini for Bond in “Dr. No,” the 1962 debut of the series, and our man only first spoke that classic line to the airplane hostess in 1964’s “Goldfinger.” Indeed, in the very first of Fleming’s novels, “Casino Royale,” written in 1953, the fictional secret agent ordered a somewhat different version of the contemporary Martini. At the casino, he asks the bartender to prepare 3 measures of Gordon’s Gin, 1 measure of vodka, a half-measure of Kina Lillet, all ingredients shaken vigorously with ice and poured into a champagne goblet with a thin slice of lemon peel. (In some recipes, these instructions conclude with “And then shoot somebody evil.”)
Bond goes on to name his creation the “Vesper,” a tribute to his love interest in the movie, and the very first Bond girl, Vesper Lynd.
The classic Martini is much less complicated. The International Bartenders Association specifies 6 parts gin, 1 part dry vermouth, a gentle STIRRING with ice, poured into a chilled Martini cocktail glass, flavored with a squeeze of oil from a lemon peel, and garnished with an olive. In the 1920s, the gin-vermouth ratio was 2:1, but as higher-quality gins surfaced at the end of Prohibition, this ratio went up to 4:1, 6:1, 8:1 and all the way up to 15:1 (this latter ultra-dry recipe was called the “Montgomery,” in honor of the famous commander who preferred to attack only if his forces enjoyed a numerical superiority over the enemy in this proportion). In fact, the eminent English playwright Noel Coward advocated the elimination of vermouth altogether, suggesting that the drinker fill his glass with gin, and then just wave in the general direction of Italy (a major vermouth producer).
Stirring, rather than shaking, the ingredients of a Martini is simply a matter of science. The turbulent banging of ice cubes around the mixing glass dilutes the drink, produces unwanted air bubbles, and blunts its flavor, all detrimental effects that offend the sensibilities of even the least impeccable of Martini connoisseurs. While this may be apropos for frothy cocktails involving high-viscosity elements like fruit juice (think Daiquiri) and dairy products (think Brandy Alexander), the Martini requires a gentle stir to combine its elements, ideally with a wooden, rather than metal, spoon to mitigate the resultant reduction in temperature. One wants to avoid lowering the potency of the beverage and “bruising” the gin in a drink that New Yorker writer and co-author of “The Elements of Style” E. B. White so succinctly called “the elixir of quietude.”
So why would a sophisticated spy and cocktail drink genius like Bond insist on this faux pas? Perhaps he wanted to deliberately weaken his Martini while pretending to be an inebriate, yet keep his wits about him to lull his adversary into a false sense of security. Or perhaps he considered the vodka (his later preferred substitute for gin) of low quality, being distilled from potatoes rather than grain, the former having an oily taste that could only be concealed by agitated shaking. Whatever. Agent 007 may have been quite a ladies’ man, but apparently, he was no great shakes as a mixologist.
It isn’t just cocktails, but pens as well, that make a regular appearance in Bond filmography. The menacing villain Francisco Scaramanga in “The Man With The Golden Gun” (1974) assembles his weapon using a Waterman as a gun barrel. Parker Vector and Urban ballpoints plus a capped IM fountain pen are spotted in M’s desk in “Skyfall” (2012). A Parker Jotter arms a Class 4 grenade with three clicks in “Golden Eye” (1995). And in “Octopussy” (1983), Bond uses an acid-loaded sterling silver Montblanc 146 Solitaire to melt steel bars and escape from a prison in India.
(Featured image: Atop a classic Martini cocktail, a similar Montblanc 146 Solitude in blue lacquer with platinum-plated fittings has a hexagon pattern that reflects the refraction of lights and night traffic in a typical city, and is fittingly called “Blue Hour,” that magical time in between night and daylight. In “Die Another Day” (2002), the “ornithologist” Bond meets the shapely Jinx, who asks him what predatory birds do just before dawn. Not surprisingly, he intimates, “They feast like there’s no tomorrow.”)