With the death last week of Sir Roger Moore, who famously portrayed James Bond, my thoughts have turned to the martini, that classic, cooling and altogether quintessential cocktail.
In Moore’s seven Bond films, he never said the evocative if over-familiar phrase “Shaken, not stirred.”
His memoirs — he published three enjoyable efforts over the years — make clear that this was a conscious effort to stave off some of the inevitable comparisons to Sean Connery, his predecessor as 007, and who also starred in seven Bond films.
The relative merits of this Bond over that Bond notwithstanding, Moore was an actor who took honest measure of his abilities. Consider, for example, this entirely typical snippet from one of his memoirs:
About fight sequence with a python in 1979’s “Moonraker,” Moore writes, “I think when you have to act alongside a twelve-foot-long rubber snake — and try to appear more animated than it — you know you’ve cracked this acting lark.” No doubt.
While Moore’s Bond was never filmed ordering a martini, he certainly enjoyed a great many of them on screen — and off. The martini substantially predates James Bond, but surely owes its general popularity more to the films than to whoever invented it.
To famed journalist and infamous boozer H.L. Mencken, the martini was “the only American invention as perfect as a sonnet,” while to the novelist and historian Bernard DeVoto, the martini was “the supreme American gift to world culture.” Perhaps Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev got nearer the mark when he referred to the martini as “the U.S.A.’s most lethal weapon.” This, at least, is closer to the Cold War era in which James Bond originated.
Like so many of the best classic cocktails, the exact origins of the martini are obscure and hotly debated among those who enjoy debating such things. What continues to sustain interest in the martini is the drink itself. While Bond ushered in the era of vodka martinis, cocktail traditionalists — myself included — consider the original gin version far superior.
As in most things, connoisseurs have definite ideas about every aspect of their martinis — like whether it should be shaken or stirred, served with bitters or without, garnished with a twist of lemon, a couple of olives or nothing at all, not to mention what ratio the gin or vodka should be mixed with vermouth.
“I myself prefer a gin Martini,” Moore noted, though he had to give them up entirely a few years before his death when he learned that he was diabetic. “In all my years of travelling,” he wrote, “[I] believe the best is served in the bar of Maison Pic, in Valence, France. How do they prepare it?”
For Moore, the gin was Tanqueray and the vermouth Noilly Prat.
To make what he called “two sensible-sized martinis” he advised his reader to fill ¼ of each glass with Noilly Prat. “Swill it around and then discard it,” he wrote.
The next step was to fill the glasses with gin, add a zest of lemon and then put the martinis in the freezer “until you are — or should I say she is — ready.” L’chaim!