On May 8, 1962 Sean Connery Appeared in American Theaters as James Bond …

…and gin said “uh oh.”

“I admire your luck, Mr. …?”

“Bond,” says the sexiest man of the (last) century (he has a plaque from People Magazine). He lights a cigarette, snaps the lighter closed to show certainty and confidence. Cue the Bond theme in background. 2.29 seconds later, he adds: “James Bond.” It’s later in the movie (Dr. No) that Bond gets what would become the classic Bond martini. A medium dry vodka martini, shaken not stirred. Though the moment doesn’t ring with any significance, womankind said: “Whoa,” mankind said: “I want to be like that guy,” and gin said: “uh oh.”    

James Bond is the ideal of calm under pressure, worldliness, and British sophistication. He wears the best suits and drives the best cars. He handles the world’s most specific gadgets. That Sean Connery played this character is something of a jab at that ideal when bearing in mind that he is the posterchild for the working-class Scotsman. He had a growly brogue and a tattoo that read Scotland Forever (and another one for Mum and Dad). This all flies in the face of Britishness, as do the facts that he hates tea and, perhaps more disconcerting, that he damaged gin’s standing.  

Bond is a drinker. He downs 45 different drinks throughout his adventures. Gin, cocktails, vodka (with black pepper because it evidently makes the impurities sink), scotch, claret, and champagne. He then engages in post-drinking activities like driving, fighting, flying helicopters, having sex, gambling, fighting crocodiles, parachuting off cliffs, and scuba diving. He only has four beers throughout the series, which makes sense because beer makes one sluggish, and fighting crocodiles and shooting someone while skiing takes a clear head that only several shots of hard alcohol can provide.

Of all the cocktails he tipples, the shaken not stirred vodka martini is synonymous with James Bond. It has become a catchphrase, it has its own Wikipedia page. Until Bond ordered it, gin had been riding. First of all, it was king of the martini. When someone in the 1950s asked for “a martini” they got cold gin in a glass with a varying degree of vermouth and the garnish of their choice. Brits had also been using gin to choke down their limes and ward off scurvy for centuries. Bond’s chief M probably best summed up Britain’s feelings towards vodka when referring to it as “communist swill.” When Bond ordered a vodka martini, it was a slap in the face to the British buzz.  

A few thousand miles east of Britain, vodka had long been used as mouthwash by every man, woman, and child in Russia and Poland. It was popular for a while in the 40s and 50s in America but that ended with the Cold War. Smirnoff, the biggest vodka producer in the U.S. at the time, was quick to point out that its Russian ties were imperial and not red, but anti-communist propaganda and plenty of available brown liquor damaged vodka’s chances. When Bond ordered his martini in 1962, vodka was a particularly hard sell in America. It was a year after the Bay of Pigs and a few months before the Cuban Missile Crisis. Kids were subjected to nuclear bomb drills under their wooden desks, built to provide absolute safety from a thermonuclear warhead with a 3.8 megaton yield (as advertised). Vodka, people believed, would turn you into a commie. That is, until the coolest man on Earth made it his booze of choice.  

On the surface it doesn’t seem like a big leap. Gin and vodka are identical twins, after all, they look alike and often dress alike – in a martini glass, in a rocks glass, with tonic, soda, and behatted with a lime or lemon. But like all identical twins the differences between them are in their personalities. Gin has a strong juniper flavor which gives it its distinct taste. Vodka is extensively filtrated and filtered through charcoal, which leaves it more neutral than Switzerland. It’s this characteristic that became vodka’s selling point. In the late 1960s the West starting shrugging off Madison Avenue cocktails and started embracing the quiet, scent-free malleability of vodka. It can be in savory and sweet cocktails, mixing well with tomato juice, orange juice, 7-UP, and grapefruit juice. Its lack of smell was a boasting point in the eerie “Smirnoff leaves you breathless” advertising campaign that ran from the 50s through the 70s.

“Smirnoff leaves you breathless.” Subtext: drink this booze because nobody will be able to smell it so you can drink it before work or playing tennis. Weird? Yes. Creepy? Yes. Effective? Yes. As a result, vodka rode a booze cruise of popularity throughout the 70s fueled by juice compatibility, the day drinking it encouraged, and the euphemistic terms (e.g. eye opener, hair of the dog) that rationalized it. We don’t know if Bond drank vodka because he didn’t want the thugs and henchmen he was battling to know he’d had a few, but he definitely helped make vodka martinis popular. The minute the smooth, handsome, impossibly suave Sean Connery made Bond famous, men wanted to act like him. He’s an international man of mystery who can ski and shoot people at the same time. He’s the only man on earth who looks cool dressed up as a crocodile. He can bed any woman on Earth or not on Earth (Moonraker). This is all despite the disturbing number of scientific studies on Bond’s drinking that suggest that were Bond real he’d be an impotent, liver-spotted, braindead alcoholic with alcohol-induced tremors whose kidney lived in a jar.   

In the novels, Bond’s favorite drink is a vesper – a concoction of three parts gin to one part vodka and Lillet Blanc. But Ian Fleming, the man who created both Bond and the vesper, didn’t even like his own creation (aka pulling a Frankenstein). So, after debate, we here at Hammered History (me, Doc Power, and the cat) opt for celebrating the Connery arrival of Bond with the Bond classic. A medium dry vodka martini shaken, not stirred.  

The Bond Martini

–          1 2/3 oz Russian Vodka (Smirnoff, but Stolichnaya will get you there, too)

–          1/3 oz Dry Vermouth

–          1 lemon peel

–          Ice (if you don’t want to dilute with real ice, use metal or plastic ice cubes)

–          A bowl of ice water

–          A beautiful woman nearby with a name that has a double entendre (Wilma Bush, Harriet Cooter, Ivana Bang or something like that. Extra points if they are foreign. Double extra points if they try to kill you.)

Clean out a martini glass and sink it in a bowl of ice water. Pour vodka, vermouth, and ice into a shaker. Cover. Shake lightly (this ain’t no game of Boggle). Strain into the chilled glass and add a lemon peel. You can also leave the vermouth out of the mix and just swill it around the glass and then dump out the excess. For a stiffer version, you can show the glass to the vermouth bottle and then put the bottle back in the drawer. Drink the Bond martini while dressed to the nines and gambling with your neighbors, one of which should have a facial scar or be stroking a cat. Drink them until you are the sexiest person of this century. Your plaque will come in the mail.

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