If you’re a fan of James Bond, you’ll know that the “shaken, not stirred” line was a signature of the series all the way until Casino Royale, in 2006. Daniel Craig’s Bond casually remarked, “Do I look like I give a damn?” While the producers of the franchise were poking a bit of fun at themselves, the whole distinction between shaking and stirring often puzzles novices of Bond films (and martinis, for that matter). So, today we’ll attempt to explain why it might matter.
Shake shake shake
So, why do we shake some drinks?
A few reasons:
The principal effects of shaking a cocktail (apart from having it look and sound cool, and be very much in the behavior of “what is expected”) are:
- If the recipe includes fruit juices, syrups, egg, or any form of dairy, it thoroughly mixes and emulsifies the different liquids. If you don’t shake, the flavors will separate out and you’ll have one funky cocktail.
- Shaking produces more ice melt because of the rapid movement and chipping of ice in the shaker. This leads to a dilution of the drink, which is desirable in some cocktails, but not others.
- It chills the drink, a lot. As a rule of thumb, you shake a cocktail until the metal shaker is almost uncomfortably cold in your hands.
- The drink will appear cloudy, not clear. This means the ingredients are properly blended and aerated.
When to Stir
Here’s where it gets interesting. In several Bond novels Ian Fleming uses the line, “stirred not shaken” which is much more in keeping with the idea of Bond as a well-traveled, cosmopolitan man.
The decision to stir certain cocktails is as much about chemistry as it is about tradition. Generally (with a few exceptions), booze-forward cocktails should be stirred. Here are a few reasons:
- Less dilution – shaking introduces more water (and shards of chipped ice) into your drink. When you order a Martini or Manhattan, you expect something strong and full-flavored, not watered down. Since you’re trying to avoid over-dilution when making the cocktail, these drinks are generally served in martini glasses, coupes, or in a small rocks glass, none of which would contain ice.
- Won’t “bruise” the spirit – This gets into the weeds a bit, but when you shake a more delicate or floral gin, the “top notes” dissipate. What this means for you is the light, fresh botanical notes become dulled.
- Mouth-Feel and clarity – If the cocktail is meant to be clear with a silky mouth-feel, you stir. Shaking emulsifies the liquid, leading to a cloudy and aerated drink. Great for some cocktails, but not all.
So, Martini, Shaken or Stirred?
A true, traditional Martini is a booze-forward, clear gin cocktail with vermouth. Two ingredients with floral top-notes, and no juices, syrups, eggs, or dairy. By the criteria listed above, a true Martini should definitely be stirred, not shaken.
You’re going to start with ice – if you plan to shake, you can put your ingredients in a shaker. If not, in a glass is fine. Then add 2.5 ounces (more or less) of gin or vodka, depending on your preference. Add some dry vermouth.
Now, it can get a bit confusing here. If someone says they want a “dry” martini, does that mean they want more dry vermouth? No. It’s actually the opposite. In this case “dry” means “not too much vermouth” – often just a splash rinsed around the glass and then dumped out. A “wet” martini means more vermouth, (0.5 to 1 oz.) and this is historically how martinis were prepared. Rule of thumb: the liquid ingredients should add up to 3.5oz., or you risk overflowing your glass. So, a wet martini means more vermouth, and therefore less gin.
Martini Variants – More Confusion
Enter the Vesper… This is the original James Bond martini variant, invented for the 1953 book Casino Royale:
“A dry martini,” [Bond] said. “One. In a deep champagne goblet.”
SHAKE IT. Why? This is an exception to the “don’t shake your boozy gin drink” rule. The Vesper works best ice cold, and it helps ensure the vodka, gin, and Lillet are blended thoroughly.
- A few important takeaways from all this…Ian Fleming and the Bond franchise have made a royal mess of the martini. Is a martini made with gin? Vodka? Both?? Shaken? Stirred? Damn it, 007, stick to saving the world’ and let the bartenders do their job.
- Generally, it’s a safe bet to shake drinks with fresh ingredients, and stir drinks that should be very booze-forward.
- If all else fails, why not make 2? Shake one, stir one, and taste the difference side-by-side? In some cases, it won’t matter much. Now you have two drinks. You know, for science.
If you want to go beyond simply choosing shaken or stirred, you can add “Up,” “On the Rocks,” “Dirty,” and/or “With a Twist.” Up notes that you want your drink served in one of those familiar martini glasses (which should be pre-chilled). On the rocks means that you’ll get the drink in a tumbler over ice. Dirty, you’re adding olive brine and generally garnishing with an olive or three. With a Twist refers to the garnish we spoke about above – it means you want a lemon peel instead of the traditional garnish, which is an olive.
However you want to try your martinis, we have both gin and vodka here in the Tasting Room, and will be happy to make them however you would like.