Allison Aubrey and Joe Palca
In the movie Goldfinger, a minion of bad guy Auric Goldfinger asks 007: "Can I do something for you, Mr. Bond?"
"Just a drink," Sean Connery's Bond replies, deadpan. "A martini. Shaken, not stirred," he intones.
From Connery to Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig, this preference is repeated again and again in 007 flicks. (Check out this video montage for the full Bond effect.)
So, its being the 50th anniversary of the first Bond movie and all, we wondered: Is there any scientific reason to prefer a martini that's mixed by shaking compared with one that's stirred? And, can you really taste the difference?
To answer these questions, we headed to Bar Dupont in Washington, D.C. — a kinda swanky joint where locals hang out.
We both came with theories (not our own theories, mind you, but rather ones we got from scientists — a little pre-research, you might say).
One idea is that perhaps Bond series author Ian Fleming had a strategic reason for shaking up his hero's drinks.
Our source, John Hayes of Penn State, says that since shaking a martini has a diluting effect on the drink, perhaps this was Fleming's way of keeping Bond's head in the game, even as he sipped a famously stiff cocktail.
The science behind this theory: When the martini is shaken, tiny bits of ice flake into the drink, and as they melt, the drink is diluted. (Also, bartenders usually slough off what's left in the stainless steel shaker, so maybe Bond was drinking less alcohol than we thought.) And, shaking tends to make the drink colder.
Or perhaps Fleming was in the know on the chemistry of shaken vs. stirred martinis.
"Shaking will better remove very volatile organic compounds from the liquid [alcohol]," explains George Christou of the University of Florida, "and air oxidizes some of the other organic compounds present, affecting its taste." This is akin to letting red wine breathe before you serve it, he says.
Christou also says some cheaper vodkas made from potatoes have some oil in them, and shaking will make an emulsion that will hide the oily taste — although it's hard to imagine Bond drinking cheap vodka.
So did we discern any difference?
After blinding ourselves with cloth napkins, we sipped on a couple of vodka martinis — one shaken and one stirred — that bartender Brian Collins mixed for us.
We were both able to tell right away which one was shaken. It was colder - not much colder - but just enough to notice.
But if we'd been asked to judge on the basis of taste alone? It would have been much harder. Honestly, picking up on the subtle taste influences of residual organics might require a supertaster.
Or someone who can reliably make a lucky guess.