The Quintessential Question
James Bond created much confusion over the quintessential question of whether a martini should be shaken or stirred. Many of us recall seeing Mr. Bond — forever the embodiment of suave sophistication — give detailed instructions to bartenders on how he likes his martini served. But the Bond fans out there will quickly note that 007 interchangeably enjoys his martini shaken and stirred, both in the novels and films. He also goes back and forth between gin and vodka, and famously orders a cocktail that includes both gin and vodka in Casino Royale. (The drink was eventually named a “Vesper” after Bond girl Vesper Lynd.)
History provides little guidance as to whether martinis were intended to be stirred or shaken. Some women’s magazines from the 1900s recommend stirring homemade martinis, while the classic Savoy Cocktail Book from 1930 recommends shaking the gin.
In our humble academic opinion, a gin martini should be stirred and never shaken. Shaking gin breaks the complex botanical compounds that are carefully extracted in the distillation process. Exposure to air, which comes from vigorous shaking, further breaks the molecules and allows them to escape.
To put it non-scientifically for the humanities majors among us, a stirred gin martini tastes better.
Don’t believe us? Try tasting the difference for yourself. A few years ago, we did a blind tasting with a bartender friend who doubted shaking or stirring made a difference. We did a side-by-side tasting with exactly the same measured ingredients. One cocktail was shaken, one was stirred. Our friend agreed: You can taste the subtle difference.
If you’ve invested in a more premium gin that boasts carefully foraged botanicals to enhance its flavor, don’t risk destroying them with violent shaking. Even so-called well gins have hints of juniper, angelica, and coriander and are worth a taste comparison to make up your own mind for shaking or stirring.
At Duke’s Bar in London, where Ian Fleming allegedly created the character of James Bond, martinis are always respectfully stirred, never shaken. Duke’s offers a selection of pre-chilled gins from their subzero freezer that are poured directly into a martini glass containing a hint of vermouth and dashes of bitters. Their technique refrains from even the slightest bruising of gin.
When making a martini at home — which is our favorite way to enjoy gin — we chill our gin by gently stirring it over ice with a splash of vermouth. A simple swirl for 30 seconds keeps the gin’s botanicals intact. Serving with a simple garnish allows the gin to have top billing.
We recently have started to eliminate the stirring completely, pouring the gin and vermouth over ice into a shaker and letting it rest. Once the condensation forms on the outside of the shaker, we pour the liquid into a chilled martini glass. The pouring action allows the gin and vermouth to mix. We refer to this technique as a “rested martini.”
Should gin ever be shaken? There is a time and place for nearly everything, including shaking gin. Some gin cocktails with creamy, foamy consistencies are infused with egg whites or fruit juices. In these creations, gin is not the main attraction but one of many ingredients contributing to the drink’s taste profile.
So while Mr. Bond and his followers enjoy their shaken vodka-gin concoctions, we’ll keep sipping our unbruised, botanical-heavy gin martinis.