Shaken v. Stirred

Seth MacFarlane will probably do a good job hosting the Oscars, although he’s bound to rub some people the wrong way. Indeed he’s already started, with this little jibe at James Bond.

Not that anyone really objects to poking fun at Bond, of course (especially during the Brosnan era). But the joke hinges on the idea that real martinis are always shaken, as Bond prefers, rather than stirred. Which is crazy talk. A prescriptive attitude toward food and drink is usually a bad idea — who am I to judge another person’s abiding love for deep-fried Twinkies? — but when it comes to martinis, it becomes time to lay the truth on folks. And the truth is: stirring is clearly preferable to shaking. (I used to be more agnostic on the question, but age has conferred wisdom.)

The problem is that, while the superiority of stirring is widely accepted amongst the cognoscenti, many silly reasons are put forward therefor. The most common is that shaking “bruises” the gin, as if gin were the kneecaps of a spirited youngster. As far as I know, there is no evidence that this actually happens (corrections welcome). More plausibly, it is claimed that shaking dilutes the martini with water. This does make sense, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing; you would have to shake for a really long time to dilute the liquor noticeably, and a small amount of water can help release the flavors of a spirit. The real reason stirring is better is simple: shaking introduces tiny bubbles into the martini, giving you a cloudy drink. It’s a matter of looks, not of taste; the perfect transparency of an ideal martini can only be attained by stirring. (And any competent stirrer should have no trouble bringing the drink to the appropriate temperature. To wit, very cold indeed.)

Of course, James Bond prefers a vodka martini, which every right-thinking person recognizes as an abomination. And he wears dive watches with formalwear. So why was anyone ever tempted to follow his lead on anything at all?

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29 Responses to Shaken v. Stirred

  1. Doc c says:

    Some would say that the beauty of a well shaken martini is that those tiny bubbles introduced into the libation do not change the favors, but do impart a capacity for the alcohol to be more rapidly absorbed, and thus give it more of a kick. Try it with a Bombay Sapphire martini, and you may find the evidence for God that has thus far eluded you. You will definitely find your natural surroundings more pleasant.

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  2. Ali Binazir says:

    Thermodynamically, the only way that ice can chill a drink is by melting a little. Enthalpy for the fusion has to come from somewhere, the martini is the closest neighbor, and thus it is chilled by providing some of the necessary 0.33 kJ per gram to melt ice. So if shaking or stirring chill the drink, they do it by diluting it. Shaking may involve slightly more melting, since there’s more contact surface with the metal shaker, but I’d expect the difference to be negligible.

    Never understood the bruising thing either. Or why any sensible human would willingly put gin in his body, for that matter.

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  3. As long as Gin is used.. says:

    A nice summary of Martini-related issues can be found at:
    http://www.rdwarf.com/users/mink/martinifaq.html#shakenstirred

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  4. Badengineer says:

    A gin martini should be cold and perfectly clear. Shaking makes it cloudy and since most bars use crushed ice you also get small bits of ice in the drink. Might be okay for vodka martinis, but not gin. In any case, thanks for setting this straight.

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  5. Ciaran says:

    “Thermodynamically, the only way that ice can chill a drink is by melting a little. ”

    That’s clearly untrue. Ice at -5 degrees could heat to -1 degree without melting and that heat would have to come from the drink.

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  6. doc c says:

    I am getting some incredible useful ideas from this. Thanks to all. My main lesson is that I have a lot of martinis to try so I can figure out which “ought” I should subscribe to.

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  7. meichenl says:

    Ian Fleming intended for Bond to be boring and unsophisticated, which was the origin of both shaken martinis and the generic name. The movies changed his persona.

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  8. Jimbo says:

    There’s an old joke which says that if you’re ever lost in the Australian outback, you should just start mixing a dry martini. Somebody will show up to tell you you’re doing it wrong.

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  9. Mike D says:

    Hear hear!

    I spent some time bartending shortly after college, and went to bartending school to learn the craft. They were pretty adamant that a martini is better stirred than shaken.

    In my own experience, there’s an obvious sign a martini has been poorly made, along with the cloudiness: slivers of ice floating on the top. If I see them, I send it back!

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  10. Bob F. says:

    As I understand it, one of the reasons Bond prefers vodka martinis is that one of the early investors or advertisers of the franchise was a vodka producer.

    And Bond is basically asking for a slightly weaker drink and being snooty about it.

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  11. Gizelle Janine says:

    Yeah. Gin used to be my drink of choice at some point. You’re actually right, but a lot would say its just preference. At my old age I’ve become more of a wine drinker. It’s a good thing having a friend that sells the stuff because then we can support both of our habits. Knowing about French red wine helps too.

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  12. Gizelle Janine says:

    Note: Never mouth the words Pinot Noir to a French wine salesman. You’ll get the “Stupid American” look. :D

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  13. Chris Echo says:

    So that explains my own predeliction for vodka martinis. (it could perhaps be the terrible taste of gin, but I prefer to think of it as my own fantasy of living in a Bondian world. complete with 9 lives, a far fetched sex life, and, of course, a vodka martini–stirred, indeed, not shaken, to create a nuanced difference between my idol and myself).

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  14. Tony Rz says:

    Anything that makes you hap, hap, happy, to a point of course.

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  15. I don’t know anything about martinis, but this old video by John MacIntyre concurs: http://johnemcintyre.blogspot.com.au/2009/10/martini-video.html

    BTW, I attended my first cocktail party this New Year’s Eve, which was hosted at my parents’ place and inspired by a friend having been a drinks waiter. Herewith a photograph of the menu http://outerhoard.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/new-year-cocktails.jpg (my choice: column 3 row 4).

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  16. Crapbag says:

    James Bond killed the dress watch, you say?
    Good. Dress watches are for your grandpa at his own funeral.

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  17. Phil P. says:

    My brother mixed a martini for me many years ago. After one sip, I walked out to my car and poured in the gas tank. It doubled my mileage and cleaned the engine valves to boot! That’s all that a martini is good for.

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  18. Gizelle Janine says:

    Phil P: I agree with that one. Gin is a horrible drink. Martini’s I never understood. I had one once in my whole life, a Gibson. The worse of the worse in the martini world. I drank it really thinking it might be yummy, but then spent an hour trying to look like I wasn’t drinking gasoline and lighter fluid.

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  19. Brett says:

    POPPYCOCK! poppycock I say! Gin is the gentleman’s drink. In my opinion, anyone who doesn’t understand gin or a 12 year pappy van winkle with 1 rock, or a shot of pure filtered and chilled water, likely gets their wine from a spigot on the side of a box.

    dress watches for your grandpa you say! http://cadencewatch.com/math-science-watches# suck on that.

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  20. David Yerle says:

    Nothing to do with this post, but I just saw you mentioned in this article (http://arxiv.org/abs/arXiv:1212.0953) by Andreas Albrecht and Daniel Phillips. I found their arguments compelling, except for their “placing bets on digits of pi needs quantum randomness” claim which seemed a bit strained. Since you are the one who came up with the example, I wondered what your take was on the whole thing.

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  21. Crapbag says:

    “I drank it really thinking it might be yummy, but then spent an hour trying to look like I wasn’t drinking gasoline and lighter fluid.”

    An insult!
    To gasoline and lighter fluid.

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  22. Sean Carroll says:

    David, I agree it’s a bit strained. I think I get what they are trying to say, but there may be a better (although less grandiose) way of saying it. I hope to have more to say about probability in the next few weeks.

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  23. Phil P. says:

    Poopycock you say? Those are strong words! But I won’t begrudge you your fondness for gin, though I don’t understand it. The only spirit I imbibe is an occasional brandy, preferably a cognac or armignac. Unlike gin, brandy is best slightly warm. A gentleman should swirl it in the palm of his hand until the brandy warms to near body temperature, which brings out the aroma and softens the taste. To do that, you should serve no more than an inch of brandy in the snifter; anymore is simply too much for the hand to warm. A good bartender will run the snifter upside down under hot water to warm the glass to give you a head start on warming the brandy

    Now how do I get this spigot into my box of wine …

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  24. Gizelle Janine says:

    Crapbag: Yeah well, if I knew I’d get problems for liking wine and not Gin, I would have shut my mouth. I’ll defend Gin this once though since I might get something thrown at me for no good reason: Gin is a great drink, and Martinis are a classy drink that’s for sure. I wont drink any kind of martini except a dry gibson. I’ve had so much Gin in one lifetime I’m pretty much done at this point. And you can’t get any better than farmhouse gin, complete with large clumps of dust.

    Phil P: Like I said, can’t compete with a good Burgundy. :D

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  25. Phil P. says:

    Gizelle: You mean Pinot Noir? :-) (ou Gevrey-Chambertin?)

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  26. Gizelle Janine says:

    Phil P: There are special places in french hell for people like you, good sir. If you really want to know look at my coaster(s). *20-something-year-old grin*

    Believe me, there’s nothing wrong with Blackstone, either. :D

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  27. BobS says:

    Gin is the proper ingredient for a martini, no doubt about it. Vodka is not a martini, nor is anything with fruit juice.
    When it comes to Bond, my cocktail of choice is the “Vesper” – 3 parts gin (90+ proof), 1 part vodka, and 1/2 part Lillet blond.
    Using crushed ice is a disaster since you want to minimize the amount of water, and those little chips in the drink. I shake mine, because I think it chills the martini faster and thus with less melt-water. I recommend that you shake until your hand holding the shaker begins to hurt from the cold.
    I also believe that the proper proportion of gin to vermouth (dry, preferable French), is 3 to 1. Old fashioned, I know.

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  28. Shad says:

    Sean,

    I knew there was a reason I liked you!

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  29. Albanius says:

    I have long thought Fleming got it backwards:
    abstracting from the martini, wouldn’t our hero, after an intense confrontation,
    be stirred rather than shaken?

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