THE LAST SHOT of the day, on a film set, is called “the martini.” This is not named after some hip Italian auteur or piece of obscure equipment — no; it actually is named after the drink, because when you are on the last clapper of the day, “The next shot is out of a glass.”
They could have called it the “margarita” or the “piña colada,” I suppose, but neither of those would have evoked the pure nature of the martini: the cocktail’s cocktail, the ultimate film industry drink. Because, after all, it’s what James Bond drinks … shaken, not stirred.
Well, sort of.
The “classic” martini recipe is 2:1 spirits (gin or vodka) to vermouth, plus an olive or lemon twist. Elsewhere , I have discussed the machoism/masochism that has crept into this recipe, where among some men (Mad Men, British bombardiers, Winston Churchill, my grandfather), the proportion of vermouth, the weaker spirit, is reduced down to a mere whisper, so I will not reiterate that here. Suffice it to say: A glass of gin or vodka with garnish is not a particularly good drink, nor is it really an actual martini. The vermouth (or whatever fortified spirit you include) is meant to balance the harshness of the straight spirit, and to leave it out is to simply drink a largish chilled shot of booze with a pickle in it.
The martini probably is named after the quintessential vermouth Martini & Rossi, although there is a theory (which I think is a bit of a stretch, frankly) that the drink was invented in the 1800s at a hotel in San Francisco, where it was named after the nearby town of Martinez. It is hard to pin down what actually constitutes a martini in real life, though, because recipes can contain gin or vodka, or even some other spirit; and various kinds of vermouth, or no vermouth at all; or some other combination of liqueurs and spirits — tiny changes and iterations running on to the point of madness.
Case in point: the very first Bond recipe as written by Ian Fleming in the first Bond book, “Casino Royale,” and as dictated by Bond to his bartender: “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 slice of lemon peel. Got it?”
This drink, you will notice, contains quite a lot of gin, and no vermouth at all, and is arguably different enough from a classic martini that it’s just a different drink entirely. It is generally called a “Vesper” martini, after the very first Bond girl, Vesper Lynd, and Fleming (via Bond) seems to have invented it.
Lillet is a French fortified wine very like vermouth, although it differs in that it does not contain wormwood like vermouth, and does contain liqueur. The specific Lillet product Bond ordered in the book, Kina Lillet, was a quinine-infused version that no longer exists. Most modern versions of the Vesper substitute Lillet Blanc, which is the company’s oldest current aperitif, although because the current version is fruitier and sweeter, with far less quinine, arguably it goes down far more smoothly than Bond’s original tipple (though, if you want to approximate the original, add some bitters, like Angostura).
As for that “shaken, not stirred” business: Shaking a drink results in more friction on the ice cubes and, therefore, more melting, which some people (like this MIT biologist) claim “bruises” the alcohol but makes the drink colder, which improves the taste of vodka considerably. A shaken drink is also slightly weaker (the fine people over at Gizmodo went into granular detail on this), a point that bartenders will never fail to point out if you order your drink that way.
But why, you ask, would Bond choose to drink a weaker beverage? When you’re a spy on the clock trying to outwit dastardly supervillains at the gambling tables, it helps to have your wits about you. In subsequent books and films, Bond ordered many simple dry vodka martinis this way, a fact that even his enemies seem to know. On celluloid, it is a villain who first orders a vodka martini “shaken, not stirred,” in 1962’s “Dr. No,” wherein the eponymous bad guy calls up this beverage and serves it to Bond.
So next time a bartender sniffs at you for ordering your martini shaken, just give him a Connery-style wink, and ignore him. He has no idea what kind of world disaster you might be averting, and if it’s good enough for Her Majesty’s Secret Service, it’s good enough for anyone.
(For a rundown of everything that 007 tippled, check this out.)