A Stirring Defense of James Bond’s Shaken Martini

Moviestore collection Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo
Moviestore collection Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo

Contrary to conventional drink-snob wisdom, Bond doesn't order a subpar martini when he orders it with his signature flourish, shaken, not stirred. In fact, Bond was ordering his martini the right way. Anyone who wants to drop an "Actually..." anytime 007's beverage of choice comes up should read on to find out why the nay-sayers need a license to chill on the beauty of the shaken martini.

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Vodka versus gin is crucial for understanding shaken versus stirred

There’s a camp of gin-purists who argue that shaking gin "bruises" it, which is really just the addition of air bubbles into the drink (which happens when you shake it); gin-lovers say it lends the martini an unpleasant bite. But relying on this argument to criticize Bond's martini is bunk, because Bond's drink was vodka.

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James Bond was not a gin man, so gin-related arguments against his order are null & void

While Bond was originally a gin drinker in Ian Fleming's novels, the spy's movie version has been vodka and always shaken from the very first movie, Dr. No (1962). Additionally, while novel Bond started with gin, it's not his preference. In all of Fleming’s writing, Bond orders 19 martinis with vodka and 16 with gin. And 19 > 16. Advantage: vodka.

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Shaking a vodka martini means it’s colder

On The West Wing, Jed Bartlet says, “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.” But as everyone knows, vodka tastes better when it’s very, very cold. When you stir a martini, you don’t disturb the ice, but you also don’t distribute it throughout the drink. Some argue that a shaken vodka martini is therefore a colder martini, and that shaking is thusly a better method.

Anthony Humphreys 

Shaking a martini is much faster than stirring 

While a shaken martini isn’t as pretty (the shaking makes the coloring murky), it’s ready faster and has a distinct, slushier texture. In any case, Bond in any bar has one eye on a shady dealer and another on a woman who may or may not be trying to kill him -- speed is essential.

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To shake a vodka martini mixes the non-ice ingredients better

An unshaken vodka martini, especially those made from potatoes, can taste oily; in the 1960s, nearly all vodkas available were derived from taters. (Bond does say he prefers grain vodka in Fleming’s novel Casino Royale [1953], in the same scene he watches "the deep glass became frosted with the pale golden drink, slightly aerated by the bruising of the shaker”). To aerate a vodka martini this way distributes the oil from the vodka, and better dissolves the vermouth.

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A shaken martini may have more antioxidants than a stirred one

According to a study in The British Journal of Medicine called “Shaken, not stirred: bioanalytical study of the antioxidant activities of martinis,” a shaken martini has more antioxidants. And while the only "antioxidant" most Bonds would care for is a hilariously named femme fatale, it's a nice little bonus.


When you order a shaken martini, you’re ordering performance art

As Chuck Klosterman points out in Eating The Dinosaur, when Tropicana lost their iconic straw-in-an-orange logo, its buyers were outraged and wrote so many letters of complaint that they brought it back; Klosterman argues that these people were, to some extent, buying the art on the carton. We talked to Lehigh Professor John Gatewood, a man who’s written about martinis in sociology, and he says, “I definitely think that aesthetics is a big element in consumer choices in general,” and adds that the acoustic and performative elements of your bartender shaking your drink is likely a large part of the appeal. Bond's a playboy and a showman -- it's natural his order would reflect that.

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One of the most influential cocktail books ever lists the martini as shaken

Harry Craddock, head bartender at the American Bar in London’s Savoy Hotel, and author of said super important tome, The Savoy Cocktail Book (1930), drank and made martinis shaken at the Savoy Hotel in London from 1920-1938. While Fleming often hung out at the American Bar, it wasn't likely during Craddock's time, and scholars, including Andrew Lycett who wrote The Man Behind James Bond, think Fleming's actual inspiration came from another London bar at The Dukes Hotel.

Regardless of the exact inspiration, it's clear that the famous author and many reputable drinkers of that age had their martini preference: shaken.

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Saying “shaken, not stirred” signals both know-how and toughness

Lowell Edmunds, a Harvard-educated Classics professor who has also written exhaustively about the martini, says that the way Bond orders his cocktails speaks to a “toughness and deliberate insensitivity.” In essence, as gin was thought to be a delicate, bruise-able drink, to order one with vodka was to reject the daintier spirit.

Gatewood went on to say that ordering a drink this way displays that “[Bond] has discriminating ability -- connoisseurship -- as well as knowledge of the usual way a bartender would make the drink." Bond is indicating that he’s a veteran drinker, and like anyone who is an expert of a discipline's rules, knows how to break them. An order that brash can come from ignorance or absolute mastery -- if you're talking about a man with a license to kill, we'll lean towards the latter.