The Debunker: Is the Ideal Martini "Shaken, Not Stirred"?

by Ken Jennings

It's May, and that means only one thing to all men and women of good will: National Beverage Day on the sixth of this month! We all love a refreshing beverage, but how much do we really know about them? If you're thirsty for knowledge, take a deep, satisfying swig of Jeopardy!'s Ken Jennings, who will be debunking drink-related disinformation all month. As Alexander Pope once said, "A little learning is a dangerous thing, / Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring"!

The Debunker: Is the Ideal Martini "Shaken, Not Stirred"?

Ian Fleming's super-spy James Bond is a man of elegant tastes. Fleming's elaborately detailed prose made sure readers knew that Bond shared his preference for fast Bentleys, tailored serge suits, caviar with plenty of toast, and custom-blended Morlands cigarettes. But Bond's most famous indulgence is the martini, which he orders thirty-five times in Fleming's oeuvre. And as early as Casino Royale, he's instructing barmen to "shake it very well until it's ice-cold." Sean Connery went on to turn "shaken, not shtirred" into a much-imitated catchphrase. In 2005, it was voted one of the 100 most memorable movie quotes of all time by the American Film Institute.

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I'm not a drinker, and everything I know about cocktails comes from James Bond, so I was personally very troubled to learn that pretty much all bartenders agree: 007 doesn't know the first thing about martinis. For one thing, he usually orders his signature drink with vodka rather than gin, which would disqualify it from being a martini in the eyes of purists. But more to the point, shaking isn't a smart, in-the-know secret for martini-mixing—a gentle stir with a thin wooden spoon is standard practice for a reason. Shaking a martini melts more ice, diluting the drink and making it too cold. It also aerates the mixture, which makes it visibly cloudy and can bruise the flavor of the gin.

In 2013, a tongue-in-cheek British medical study proposed that Bond has to shake his martinis, because he suffers from alcohol-induced tremors that make stirring difficult. The researchers' close reading of the Fleming novels revealed that Bond drinks an average of 105.1 grams of alcohol a day when he's not being imprisoned in a super-villain's lair, enough to raise his risk of liver disease seven times. Using a martini shaker might just be a way of concealing from employers and enemies alike that he's a high-functioning alcoholic.

Quick Quiz: In the films, Bond's most common drink isn't a martini, but rather what French champagne?

Ken Jennings is the author of eleven books, most recently his Junior Genius Guides, Because I Said So!, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at ken-jennings.com or on Twitter as @KenJennings.