I can’t say I’m surprised Daniel Craig has switched to a dirty martini for the latest James Bond escapade — but I am disappointed.
Oh, James. It’s an improvement on Heineken, I suppose, but I can’t help feeling Bond should be incorruptible. And he’s supposed to move with the times too.
There’s nothing too disturbing about the “dirty” part, for those who like drinking olive brine and saying the word “dirty” to bartenders with a glint in their eye. I’m more concerned with 007’s choice of Belvedere vodka over good English gin. Vodka may be the world’s bestselling spirit by some distance, but it’s hopelessly passé in martini terms, more the order of someone who wishes he were James Bond, as opposed to someone who actually is James Bond.
Vodka, according to the American licensing authorities, is: “Neutral spirit, so distilled . . . as to be without distinctive character, taste or color [sic].” Belvedere is made from Polish rye, but the rigours of the rectification process used to make modern vodka (which was invented only in the late 19th century, by the way) means you can make vodka from pretty much anything organic: potatoes, wheat, barley, milk, beetroot, grape pips, international supervillains.
As with bottled water, there are differences between the brands, but they’re more to do with purity than taste. Belvedere, which reportedly signed a multimillion-pound deal to appear in Spectre, is perfectly decent — but by the time you’ve mixed in the vermouth and muddled up those Sicilian olives (Bond’s preference), you’d be hard pushed to distinguish it from any other.
The rest is advertising. In The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks (1948), David Embury described vodka’s ascent as: “The most impressive marketing campaign the US has ever seen.” At the time, vodka was being advertised as a purer and more modern alternative to gin, with a blank-slate quality that made it perfect for mixing with sodas and fruit juice. It was supposedly undetectable on the breath too — handy if you were drinking on the job — while its Russian associations gave it a certain Cold War intrigue.
When Ian Fleming came to write Casino Royale in 1954, all this made vodka an aspirational choice for his moody spy. Fleming took his martinis the traditional way — with good English gin and a decent amount of French vermouth, properly stirred — but by giving Bond a shaken vodka martini, he was signalling that he was modern, brutish and exacting, while providing a little postwar escapism for his readers.
These days, the positions of gin and vodka are more or less reversed. Vodka is more commonly associated with hen parties, City boys and fruity abominations such as the porn star martini, which isn’t really a martini at all. Gin, which suffered under vodka for decades, has undergone a phoenix-like resurgence, with a new wave of craft distilleries such as Sipsmith, Sacred and Chase restoring England’s national spirit to its former glory.
Since these are mostly independent concerns, the likelihood of them muscling in on the Bond franchise seems slim, but I fancy an off-duty Bond would go for something such as Navy-strength Plymouth gin, with a five-to-one ratio of gin to vermouth and a lemon twist. Clean. Patriotic. Deadly accurate. And he’d bloody well stir it too.
The Bond martini guide
The “shaken not stirred” martini from Casino Royale (1953). The original version calls for the defunct ingredient Kina Lillet; substitute Lillet Blanc, Cocchi Americano or a sweet white vermouth such as Martini Bianco. Warning: it’s not tremendously good.
45ml gin (Gordon’s)
15ml vodka (Smirnoff)
7.5ml Lillet Blanc or equivalent
Method: As per Bond: “Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel.” Serve in a “deep champagne goblet”.
Best with: Casino Royale
Not technically a martini — 007 wouldn’t be seen dead ordering one — but as far as the non-Martini martinis of the 1990s go, it’s a winner. The original was designed by the bartender Dick Bradsell when a supermodel walked into the Soho Brasserie and asked for something to “wake me up and f*** me up”.
25ml fresh espresso
10ml brown sugar syrup (sugar, water ratio 2:1)
Method: Shake over plenty of ice and fine-strain into an ice-cold cocktail glass. Garnish with a coffee bean.
Best with: Die Another Day (to stay awake)
Duke’s Hotel in St James’s is where Ian Fleming liked to drink. These days, the house martini is so potent, each drinker is limited to two. The strength is mainly because Alessandro Palazzi, the head bartender, stores his spirits in the freezer, resulting in an ice-cold martini with none of the dilution that usually comes from stirring with ice.
60ml gin (Sacred)
5ml dry vermouth (Sacred)
Method: Freeze the gin. Rinse the inside of a martini glass with the vermouth and discard the excess. Pour in the ice-cold gin straight from the freezer. Take a length of lemon zest and twist over the glass to release a fine spray of oil, then drop it in.
Best with: For Your Eyes Only
A simplified version of an autumnal martini variation served by Tony Conigliaro at his bar 69 Colebrooke Row — this one uses Amontillado sherry in place of the vermouth for a nutty taste. If you happen to have any alpine-style pine liqueur, or even the dreaded Jägermeister, a tiny dash will work wonders here.
25ml Amontillado sherry
Dash Angostura bitters
Method: Stir all the ingredients with plenty of ice and strain into a cold martini glass. Garnish with a half a pickled walnut.
Best with: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
A truly avant-garde martini, invented by the US bartender and co-author of Beta Cocktails, Maksym Pazuniak. The cleverness lies in using salt to take the edge off the sweet-bitter Campari, leaving you with something strange and passionate. A femme fatale of a drink.
Decent pinch of salt
Method: Stir the salt into the Campari until it is dissolved. Add a great deal of ice and stir until the cocktail is the temperature of the North Pole. Strain and garnish with an orange zest twist.
Best with: The Spy Who Loved Me
A tropical martini, apparently served at the Luau in Beverly Hills in the 1950s as a rum version. I would like to think Bond switched to this when he was serving in the Caribbean.
50ml light rum
10ml kummel (caraway liqueur)
Method: Stir all the ingredients with plenty of ice and strain into a cold martini glass. Garnish with a piece of fresh coconut.
Best with: Dr. No
The ancestor of the martini is made with Italian-style sweet vermouth as opposed to the dry stuff and sweetened with a dash of maraschino liqueur. It comes out halfway between a martini and a Manhattan.
25ml sweet Italian vermouth
Dash Angostura bitters
Method: Stir all the ingredients with plenty of ice and strain into a cold martini glass. Garnish with a cocktail cherry.
Best with Goldfinger
60ml vodka (Belvedere)
10ml dry vermouth
5ml Sicilian green olive brine
Method: Muddle a couple of olives in the base of the shaker. Add the vodka, vermouth and brine, and shake hard with plenty of ice. Double-strain into a cold martini glass and garnish with a further olive.
Best with Spectre
Richard Godwin is the author of The Spirits: A Guide to Modern Cocktailing (£16.99, Square Peg)