He likes his suits to be bespoke Tom Ford, his watches Omega, and his vodka to be Belevedere. Daniels Craig’s occupancy as James Bond continues this week with the release of SPECTRE. I am going to confess straight away that I am a huge Bond fan. I collected all the magazines as a child, I have a raft of collectable model cars and all the books; I even bought all the VHS tapes of the movies that when put together created a long, flowing mosaic of the most successful British film franchise. It is fair to call me super-fan. Now in his twenty-fourth mission on the heels of Skyfall, a film that grossed a billion dollars at the box office, we’re gagging for the gadgets, the villains and of course the girls.
Bond for me has always been the archetype of British style. Whether it’s his designer suits, gorgeous timepieces, or sleek cars, the man has oozed a style that I believe every man should emulate. His mild manner and charm with the ladies is almost as legendary as the Aston Martin DB5 he drives, yet it his drink of choice that is the real legend. I honestly think it drove me to my love affair with alcohol. The iconic catchphrase, first uttered in the distinctive Scottish tones of Sean Connery in Goldfinger in 1964, gets me more excited than a pre-pubescent tween at a Justin Bieber concert. “vodka martini, shaken not stirred.” It has to be the most recognisable phrase in movie history.
Now I love pointless research. You know my sort – people who research such intellectual nuggets as the average penis length in ancient Egypt. Don’t ask why, because I really don’t know. But needless to say, when I discovered an article that detailed how many units of alcohol each incarnation of James Bond had quaffed on screen, it was the perfect concoction of 007, pointless research and alcohol, my three favourite things. It was revealed that Craig is the booziest Bond, knocking back twenty units of alcohol per film, while Timothy Dalton sups a mere four and a half – come on Tim, my blood alcohol level on any random Tuesday is higher that.
Altogether the Bond actors consumed a total of sixty-eight on-screen units, a number that is significantly dwarfed by an In Good Taste editorial meeting. However, avid reader, I’m going to let you in on a secret, a secret most bartenders have known for a long time, and one that will be very upsetting: James Bond is a terrible, terrible drinker.
It’s true. The hero of many people up and down this great country, and the world over, drinks like a fifteen-year-old with a bottle of White Lightning on a park bench in Sheffield. It’s honestly shameful, and, what’s more, irritating for people in my profession because of the barrage of ill-fitting dinner suit-wearing morons we’ve had to serve a vodka martini to, uttering “shaken not stirred” with an idiotic grin on their face thinking we’ve never heard the joke before.
So I’m here to tell you that James Bond’s most iconic drink is a lie. Devastating I’m sure, but it’s a god awful drink, and I implore you never to order it in any half-decent cocktail bar, as you will be incessantly mocked. If you’re smirking to yourself, don’t worry – I am very well aware that the Vesper was the absolute original Bond beverage, and it is one of the best cocktails ever devised. For the purposes of this article I’m sticking to his trademark film franchise drink.
However, all is not lost. You can’t get a more classic cocktail than the martini. It truly is the marker of a good barman; like the Old Fashioned it puts to the test ability to balance flavour, chill and not heavily dilute. Tt’s nowhere near as easy as it looks. The preparation and process are to some almost ritualistic in nature, caring about every detail from glass to spirits, to ice quality; it really is the daddy of cocktails and mother of all tasks to concoct.
There is only one martini and I’m sorry James, it’s all about the juniper juice; gin is the perfect spirit for a martini according to a raft of cocktail bibles dating back to the pre-Prohibition era. For many, if you serve a vodka martini you haven’t really made a martini at all. For me your gin of choice should always be a London Dry one. You want a balance of citrus flavours with savoury tones, but also a heavy juniper note. I personally use Bombay Sapphire, but for a moral floral choice I would recommend Beefeater London Dry, or for a more mellow, subtle martini, Plymouth is very good. It’s all about experimenting to find one to your taste, and it’s not a bad way to spend an afternoon.
The pairing of your gin to vermouth is just as important as choosing your gin, and it drives me insane when a bar uses a cheap throwaway bottle. Your fortified wine choice should be steeped in botanicals, just like your gin – it’s the reason they pair so well. You can go either French or Italian in origin, but always dry: Cocchi Extra Dry is a popular bartender’s choice, but again, experiment to find one that suits your palate.
So you’ve picked your spirits, and now comes the hard part – how much of each are you supposed to use? This is where the terms “wet” and “dry” come into use. Put simply, the more vermouth you have, the “wetter” the drink is. The traditional gin-to-vermouth ratio for a “wet” martini is a 2:1, whilst for dry it’s 4:1, giving you a very heavy juniper flavour. There have been plenty of arguments over which version of the drink is better – in all honesty it doesn’t really matter; it’s a personal choice. I like nice dry martinis. Winston Churchill only needed the vermouth to be in the room as the drink was being made, which, when you come to think about it, means World War Two was fought by a man who drank ice cold gin with a lemon peel in it.
Now, Mr Bond, this is your biggest sin. Forget seducing all those innocent women and the countless men you’ve killed – those who shake a martini should have a special place in hell reserved for them. Shaking any cocktail will of course chill it much better than any stir, yet a drink stirred thirty-five to forty-five times, as I was taught, produces a much clearer and more potent cocktail. It’s official, James Bond drinks a weak, extra cold martini. Oh the shame!
I only learnt a few months ago that the original martini recipe called for orange bitters. I was as shocked as you, but if you trace the martini’s history from the Marguerite, it was first seen in print in 1896 with a formula of gin, vermouth and orange bitters. It adds a completely different depth to the drink and a very unusual favouring. I’ll leave that one for you to make your mind up.
Once all stirred and chilled, and served into an appropriate sized glass (you don’t want one too large as it will have warmed to room temperature by the time you finish it) you should garnish with a light lemon twist, it shouldn’t be too heavy so that it sinks to the bottom of the glass and turns the drink too acidic as you near the end; this is often the reason people are put off.
The martini, like its most famous drinker, will remain a classic and will be on every decent cocktail menu right around the globe. James may drink a pansy version, but in the end, its beauty truly lies in its paradoxical rigid flexibility. So experiment, but the next time you’re in a dinner suit checking yourself out in the mirror at reception pretending to be James Bond – because in all honesty who hasn’t – by all means order your martini but please don’t order like the original gentleman spy.
Now if Q could make an instant hangover cure…
The Classic Dry Martini
- 4 ounces of Bombay Sapphire London Dry Gin
- 1 ounce of Cocchi Extra Dry Vermouth
- 1 dash orange bitters (optional)
Slowly combine all ingredients into a mixing glass, constantly stirring the mixture with high quality ice. Stir 35-40 times until the mixture is chilled, strain into a chilled martini glass, and garnish with a lemon twist.