Monday, 27 January 2014

James Bond & the martini

The ‘Vesper' vodka martini made famous by James Bond was only mentioned once. It was his pick-me-up of choice when “concentrating” at the casino before dinner. 3 measures of gin, 1 of vodka and half a measure of Kina Lillet at tea-time.

'A dry martini,' he said. 'One. In a deep champagne goblet.'
'Oui, monsieur.'
'Just a moment. 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. Got it?'
'Certainly monsieur.' The barman seemed pleased with the idea.
'Gosh, that's certainly a drink,' said Leiter.
Bond laughed. 'When I',' he explained, 'I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold, and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink's my own invention. I'm going to patent it when I think of a good name.'

Casino Royale, Chapter 7: Rouge et Noir

It's a look that screams concentration

A martini of any kind is all in how you make it. From the temperature of the drinks to what glass you serve it in. Bond’s usual martini isn’t the Vesper, but a plain “medium dry” martini, usually with vodka, but almost as often without. The standard drink, since 1933 and the end of prohibition in America, is mostly gin with a little vermouth and a couple of olives as garnish. There’s a lot of variation in what the terms mean, but ‘medium dry’ is usually not much vermouth, ‘dry’ is none or almost none and ‘very dry’ is absolutely none at all, essentially just cold gin

When Ace wrote the song he was being awfully civilised.

Early versions before and during prohibition were half and half, probably because the gin needed flavouring.

The vermouth used is the dry kind, so it’s confusing that more dry the drink is said to be the less vermouth is in it.

A vodka martini either has a shot of vodka added, usually about a third as much as the gin, or can replace the gin entirely, and is a relatively recent invention dating back to the 1940s and 50s. Martinis of just gin and vermouth date back to the 1890s. Some folk entirely eschew the vermouth, as did Noel Coward who described the ideal martini as "filling a glass with gin then waving it in the general direction of Italy".

How terribly witty

If someone offers you an ‘old-fashioned’ martini they might not be talking about the 19th Century version and might mean gin on the rocks served in an ‘old-fashioned’ glass, or ‘lowball’ glass tumbler. Not to be confused with the cocktail called an 'old-fashioned', of course.

A ‘dirty’ martini includes a splash of brine from the olive jar.
No jokes about enjoying a 'dirty vesper', please.

The Vesper was a rule-breaker but only appeared in Casino Royale, published in 1953, when adding vodka would still have been a new thing. Martinis are generally stirred (a shaken martini is called a Bradford) as the tiny bits of ice that break off in the shaker cloud the drink, and the extra strength of Gordon’s gin in the 1950s (47%/94-proof, as opposed to today’s 40%/80-proof) would have been slightly diluted by the melting ice particles. It’s possible Bond wanted it diluted as he was “concentrating”, but he did order 4 shots of spirits in one glass, so then again, maybe not. Today lemon peel is fairly common, but traditionally the garnish would have been olives.

Sinatra says use only 2 olives:
"one for you, and one for the beautiful gal that’s about to walk in the door"

Shaking gets the drink colder than stirring will, essential for a vodka martini to taste right. Also the vermouth is dissolved more completely and, if the vodka is made from potatoes rather than grain, it will disperse the oily residue that forms. Stirring the drink takes longer and Fleming believed it diminished the flavour, although it’s widely thought the smooth delicate flavours of gin are spoilt by shaking.

And if the flavour is a bit off just add more product placement Smirnoff.

Shaking breaks down more of the hydrogen peroxide, increasing anti-oxidants and aerating the gin, ‘bruising’ it and giving it a slightly sharp or bitter taste, which Bond seems to have wanted because he "watched as the deep glass became frosted with the pale golden drink, slightly aerated by the bruising of the shaker". 

Bond chills his fingers in ice all day so he can hold his glass in a manly way.
The pale gold colour mentioned above comes from the Kina Lillet, a fortified white wine no longer available but possible to approximate in the mix with Lillet Blanc and Angostura Bitters. Gin and vodka are both clear and vermouth is either pale or red. The red is usually sweet not dry and isn’t used in martinis.

In the books, Bond drinks a total of 19 vodka martinis and 16 ordinary martinis. As we all know, he prefers them shaken, not stirred and first says the immortal catchphrase himself in 1964’s Goldfinger. The first person to say it on film was Dr No in 1962. In 1967’s You Only Live Twice, Henderson mistakenly stirs the drink and Bond, too polite to correct his host, says the drink is perfect.

Two famous gin connoiseurs heading to the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, and the moment I became a staunch Royalist. God bless her.

Martinis of any kind aren’t his usual drink though. In print, Bond drinks a total of over a hundred whiskeys, usually bourbon like creator Ian Fleming who used to finish off a bottle of gin a day until his doctor advised him to switch to bourbon for his health. 

Jimmy Page has always been very health conscious

In the films Bond favours vodka or champagne – Bollinger or Dom Perignon. When ordering wine he often chooses Chateau Mouton Rothschild and has a good enough palate to drink a glass of sherry and tell the vintage of the wine used to make it, as he does in Diamonds Are Forever.

A palate that can still appreciate a £350 bottle of Krug while smoking 70 custom-made extra nicotine cigarettes a day.

The name ‘martini’ is itself confusing, possibly originating from the name of Martini vermouth that appeared on the market in 1863, the vermouth being named after Alessandro Martini, one of the co-founders of the distilleria that produced it. Or it may be a contraction of the name of a town in California, Martinez, where some claim the drink was invented. It’s also possible it was first mixed or popularised by someone called Martini.

Some points to you if this was your answer.

These days anything in conical stemware is likely to be called a martini or at least have –ini tagged on the end of its name. None of these things are martinis, and the confusion probably comes from the glass used. A proper martini glass has a large wide bowl that is fully conical all the way down, while the more common ‘cocktail glass’ is smaller with a narrower bowl rounded at the bottom. 

Bond was clearly too polite, or distracted, to complain about this glass.

As with all stemware, the glass can be held without the drinker’s body temperature affecting the drink. The width of the bowl is important as it allows the subtle aromatics to reach the nose more easily. For this reason martinis are also served in champagne coupes, while champagne is now rarely served in anything other than a flute as modern tastes prefer dryness and bubbles over the sweetness popular in the 1930s when the coupe was in fashion and the end of prohibition meant champagne flowed freely in the clubs and in towers.

And legally you could pour alcohol all over the floor for yourself again. 

In case you were wondering, Bond, one of the most famous fictional Englishmen of all time, never drinks tea.

On the first night the girl had brought him tea. Bond had looked at her severely.
‘I don’t drink tea. I hate it. It’s mud. Moreover, it’s one of the main reasons for the downfall of the British Empire. Be a good girl and make me some coffee.’  
The girl had giggled and scurried off to spread Bond’s dictum in the canteen. From then on he had got his coffee. The expression ‘a cup of mud’ was seeping through the building.

Goldfinger, Chapter 5: Night Duty

Ah, Roger. You never lost it.

So what's the fuss about martinis? Isn't is just gin when it comes down to it? I'm not a drinks expert, never worked in a bar, don't even drink much these days, but I do appreciate elegance and style, and the martini has those things when done right. As someone once said:

"I'm not talking a cup of cheap gin splashed over an ice cube. I'm talking satin, fire and ice; Fred Astaire in a glass; surgical cleanliness, insight.. comfort; redemption and absolution. I'm talking MARTINI!"

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