We interrupt our regularly scheduled classic cocktail series to pay tribute to one of the most famous drinkers in pop culture – James Bond.
VODKA Martini, shaken not stirred? You’re killing me, man!” That was the horrified reaction of our bartender of the day, Arsenio Mariano, better known as Ash, when I asked him to make James Bond’s signature cocktail during our special 007-themed cocktail session.
You see, Ash takes his martinis very seriously. To him, a martini must always be stirred, and he would rather be beheaded by a steel-rimmed bowler hat than make a shaken martini, vodka or otherwise. However, I argued, the shaken vodka martini has such an iconic status in the Bond universe that it would be remiss of me to ignore it completely.
But more on the vodka martini later. Alcoholic drinks have always been a regular feature in both the Bond novels and films. The British spy is especially fond of champagne (specifically Bollinger, though he has mentioned other champagnes before in the films), wine, and has also ordered a wide variety of cocktails throughout both mediums.
In Skyfall, he will be ordering a beer for a change, a Heineken to be exact. While many Bond purists have cried foul over the idea of a man as sophisticated as Bond drinking a lager beer, I for one reckon that as an Englishman, it’s only natural that Bond would reach for a beer from time to time. And hey, at least Heineken is a pretty decent beer.
Anyway, for the purpose of this article, we’ve decided to focus more on the cocktails that Bond has ordered throughout the 14 novels that Fleming wrote, as well as the 22 movies that have been released so far. While researching for this article, I realised that many of the drinks that Bond imbibes in both the books and novels are mainly classic cocktails, many of which I’ve already covered in past columns, especially through the current ongoing classic cocktail series.
One Bond drink that IS definitely shaken is the Vesper, the drink he makes up on a whim in Casino Royale by specifically instructing the bartender to mix “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 thin slice of lemon peel”.
It’s rather hard to get this drink right though, especially since Kina Lillet (a French aperitif wine) is no longer in production (it is now known as either Lillet Blanc or plain Lillet), and it is nigh impossible to find a bottle of the spirit anywhere in Malaysia.
“Without the Lillet, it’s quite pointless to make a Vesper, because a lot of the main characteristics of the cocktail come from the Lillet,” said Ash.
From experience, I found that the combination of gin and vodka also gives the drink a lot more character than the normal martini; but as Ash mentioned, the Lillet does add a much more aromatic dimension to the drink, and is also less dry than normal vermouth.
Although in the movies Bond seems to favour vodka over any other spirit (probably because of product placement deals that has featured brands such as Stolichnaya, Smirnoff, Absolut and Finlandia so far), he actually does drink other spirits in the novels, such as gin (which is almost always Gordon’s) and whisky.
Speaking of whisky, 007 actually drinks Scotch and soda a total of 21 times in the novel (according to an article by About.com), and is also partial to an Old-Fashioned as well.
The latter – which is made with whisky, sugar, ice and a dash of orange bitters – is a classic cocktail that is considered one of the most macho cocktails a man can drink, which makes it perfect for a man like James Bond, who orders it a total of four times in the books.
While whisky hardly warrants a mention in the films (though he is seen holding a glass of it from time to time), there is one drink that IS in the films but is absent from the books – the mojito that Bond drinks while on assignment in Cuba, in the 2002 movie Die Another Day. Yes, it’s the only instance in both the books and movies that Bond drinks a mojito, but hey, he’s drinking it with the smoking hot Halle Berry, which makes it okay. The drink takes its place in the list of “Drinks that Bond drinks but not enough times to make it a classic”, which includes others such as the Stinger (a slightly feminine cocktail that appeared in the Diamonds Are Forever novel), Black Velvet (stout and champagne), and the Americano (Campari, sweet vermouth and soda water), which was actually the first drink Bond orders in the Casino Royale novel, even before the Vesper and vodka martini.
Ash also suggested we add his favourite cocktail – the Negroni – to the list. Mentioned in Fleming’s short story Risico (in which Bond investigates a drug ring in Italy), the drink is actually a variation of the Americano, but with gin instead of soda water; and is a powerful concoction that manages to combine the bitterness of the Campari with the complexity of the gin. Considering its striking ruby red colour as well as the strength and masculinity it exudes, it is surprising that Bond doesn’t drink it more often in the films.
Then again, it is pretty hard to top a classic cocktail like the martini, and even though Bond seemingly prefers a vodka martini to the more classic gin martini, that preference doesn’t diminish the class and sophistication that the drink portrays.
Intriguingly, unlike in the films, James Bond doesn’t exclusively drink vodka martinis in the novels – he also orders gin martinis on a regular basis (19 in total, to be exact) – and he certainly didn’t seem to show a preference for shaken martinis over stirred ones.
Still, no round-up of Bond drinks would be complete without a vodka martini, shaken not stirred. After some cajoling, we managed to strike a compromise with Ash by asking him to make two vodka martinis – one shaken and one stirred – on the pretext of wanting to tell the difference between the two.
There are two main differences between a shaken and a stirred vodka martini – firstly, the shaken one is much colder (shaking the drink with ice means the spirit comes into contact with the ice more), and as a result, the flavours of the drink are also fairly muted. The shaken martini is also cloudier than the stirred one, which makes the latter look a lot more presentable as well. After trying the two side by side, I can safely say that this will be the last time I’ll be ordering a shaken martini, because it was just so weak and diluted when compared to the classic stirred one.
So, the next time you go to a bar and want to pretend to be James Bond, just bear in mind that a shaken vodka martini may not taste as good as a proper stirred one. Oh, and if you see Ash lurking behind the bar, it would probably be safer to order a Heineken instead…
The name is Cheang. Michael Cheang. And he’s always wondered why it took so long for James Bond to start drinking beer.