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The elixir of quietude

How to shake (or stir) up Bond’s signature drink
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First Published: Fri, Oct 26 2012. 04 45 PM IST
Photo: Thinkstock
Photo: Thinkstock
Updated: Fri, Oct 26 2012. 05 01 PM IST
Martinis should always be stirred, not shaken, so that the molecules lie sensuously one on top of the other.
—Somerset Maugham
Martinis are the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet.
—H.L. Mencken
James Bond dressed well enough but he was an ass on the topic of cocktails.
Martinis are better suited for pipe smokers than action heroes, at least the good ones are. The classic martini contains four elements: gin, dry vermouth, ice and olive(s). Everything in its preparation depends on the quality of the gin.
The debate over whether to shake or stir depends on the character of the main ingredient. Placing either gin or vermouth into ice will cause it to melt. This results in the final drink being one-quarter water, which is desirable. Water is the unseen agent that melds gin and vermouth. When the martini is stirred, there is less water; when it is shaken there is more. Gins of a lesser rank are improved by water. Aficionados also claim that shaking “bruises” gin, which is true if the contention means changing the taste.
Sean Connery poses for a publicity shot in 1968. Photo: Bettmann/Corbis.
Classic martinis are garnished with one or three olives. Some argue that a twist of lemon complements the flavour of gin, which is generally, but not universally, true. Lemon in a stellar brand like Hendrick’s is jolting. Olives have a subtle brine flavour that doesn’t interfere with a great martini. They also have the advantage of being edible, which is what distinguishes a garnish from a decoration, even if the garnish acts as an infusion. Dirty martinis can be made with extra brine but this is powerful stuff, and often tossed in to mask flaws in the gin.
Legend has it that three olives were always served with martinis at Lusardi’s bar in Manhattan, a mafiosi hangout. Serving a martini with two olives meant that the customer was in danger from someone else in the room. In some places, the distance between a stiff one and a stiff was very short. However, two was viewed as desirable in other circumstances.
The Gibson—a martini garnished with two pickled onions—was named after the Gibson Girl, a late 19th, early 20th century feminine icon. She was tall, slender, and of ample bosom, hence two onions.
If you’re fortunate enough to get your hands on a bottle of Leopold’s, Hendrick’s, or No. 209, follow these directions. First organize tools and ingredients: cocktail shaker, stirring spoon, fresh ice, gin, dry vermouth, olives. Martini glasses should be stored in a freezer and removed when the drink is ready to be poured. Fill half of the shaker with ice; pour in two-thirds of an ounce vermouth; stir for 20 seconds to coat the ice, then discard (in gins like Beefeater, Tanqueray and Bombay Sapphire, omit this step and leave the vermouth in). Pour two jiggers of gin (3 ounces) into the shaker and stir for 20 seconds. Strain into a chilled martini glass; martinis are traditionally garnished with olives in odd numbers, so one or three; never two.
Good martinis aren’t for getting hammered. That’s what body shots on spring break are for. Martinis are served at the grown-ups table where calmer heads prevail. They were, after all, referred to by E.B. White as “the elixir of quietude”.
James Bond, for all of his derring-do, never quite got that.
Oxblood Ruffin is a hacktivist, writer and flaneur.
Write to lounge@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Oct 26 2012. 04 45 PM IST
More Topics: James Bond | Martinis | Gin | Ice | Vermouth |