License to Killjoy

Did James Bond Want His Martinis ‘Shaken, Not Stirred’ Because Of An Alcohol-Induced Tremor?

James Bond’s famous catchphrase “shaken, not stirred” may have stemmed from his inability to stir his drinks due to an alcohol-induced tremor affecting his hands, researchers reveal in a new, tongue-in-cheek medical report.

Such a tremor would be likely in a spy who drank more than four times the recommended limit of alcohol throughout his missions, they said, writing in a special Christmas issue of the BMJ — a lighthearted edition of the medical journal that includes real research.

As the HuffPo notes, this is not serious (though this has gotten a lot of play and not all articles make this observation), but I’m going to be a killjoy anyway and apply Betteridge’s Law: the answer is no.

It’s not because of the silliness of applying medical analysis to a frikkin’ fictional character, or that the fictional data is anecdotal in nature, or even that the fictional empirical evidence says no, because Bond was a crack shot with his pistol. It’s because Bond was ordering the drinks, not mixing them himself. A tremor is moot.

But there’s more to this. One version I read (and unfortunately I can’t find the link to the specific article, but several versions are out there) included a description that a properly mixed martini would be stirred, and with a thin wooden spoon, rather than a metal one which would raise the temperature of the drink. This is baloney, but probably a case of right answer, wrong reason. The reasoning is wrong, because the drink is mixed with ice, so the final temperature is going to be the same — probably the temperature of the ice cubes.

I say probably because this is most likely not the case like where you have a pure water/ice mixture, which stays at 0 ºC because of the phase change going on. In the drink you will have a mixture or alcohol and water, and the freezing point will be lower. For a 50/50 mix, the freezing point will be -32 ºC, and the ice is probably warmer than that — freezers don’t generally get that cold. (dissolving things in water lowers the freezing point, and this is a colligative property, meaning it depends on how much stuff you have dissolved. It’s why putting salt on ice tends to melt it if you’re near 0 ºC: there’s always a little water, and when the salt dissolves the solution freezes at a lower temperature, which allows the ice to melt)

If the final temperature is independent of the spoon type, then what’s right about this? The metal spoon will absorb more energy from the solution, so while the final temperature is unaffected, this will tend to melt more of the ice, and that will water down the drink. From a thermodynamic standpoint that is more likely why you want to use a wooden spoon. Some years ago there was an episode of the West Wing where the president was complaining about “shaken, not stirred” in the context that shaking makes the ice chip, and small chips won’t get strained out when you pour the drink, which also has the effect of watering the drink down.

All of this reminds me that my parents used to complain about “shaken, not stirred” when we’d see these movies on TV. My dad was a bartender at one point, and the complaint (from both) was that shaking would bruise the alcohol. I knew enough science to know that this could not be literally true, but I never got an explanation of what “bruising” really was; I assumed that it was a euphemism for something undesirable and left it at that. Now that the internet exists, I can find something calling itself the martini FAQ and see that this is a matter of aeration.

Another addendum to this is that the link I can’t find had in it a link to some martini information, in which it was claimed that a dry martini had a lot of dry vermouth in it, but claimed that recently this had changed to mean very little (or no) vermouth. Well, that doesn’t jibe with the bartender joke I know where someone asks for a dry martini and the bartender asks how dry they want it. To which the customer responds, “Just whisper ‘vermouth’ over the glass.” That joke is probably older than I am, so no vermouth = dry is not a recent trend.

2 thoughts on “License to Killjoy

  1. Dry vermouth is white, sweet vermouth is red, but a dry martini has very little dry vermouth in it. You’re right about that, for a really dry martini you just wave the bottle over the glass a couple of times.

    I remember reading that shaking a gin martini increased the anti-oxidants in the drink. I doubt Bond was concerned over that. Shaking makes a colder martini, but also one that’s a bit more diluted, so it’s difficult to see why Bond preferred it to stirring. You’d think he’d just order straight gin from the freezer and pop an olive into it. “Pure, not diluted” seems a more Bond-like choice.

  2. I have had martinis – dry, vodka and even a vesper or two – in a few swanky london bars (the sort that if he were real JB would frequent) and many of them do not serve ice in the glass nor shake with ice and strain; everything is just kept very cold with a dedicated cold box for liquids, glasses etc. However, in the canonical description of a vesper it is most certainly shaken with ice very thoroughly and by someone else.

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