The Vodka Martini

The Cocktails of James Bond: The Vodka Martini

I can recall being mesmerized when I was younger by the sight of more sophisticated bar patrons ordering a martini. There was just something about the simple yet elegant look of the clear liquid swirling around in the classic stemmed glass, and about hearing people ask for their beloved cocktail in such detail. While most bar clientele needed only to specify bottle or draft, the martini drinker would request “a medium-dry Boodles martini, straight up, and a little dirty.”

What is a martini?

James Bond orders a vodka martini and so do many others these days, but the traditional drink is made from gin, with dry vermouth added as a flavoring. Vermouth is a perfect complement to the herbal qualities of gin.  As Bond’s iconic phrase–“shaken, not stirred”–implies, the traditional martini was stirred. Think back to those classic black-and-white films where impeccably dressed characters would announce that they were going to “mix a batch” of martinis. The shaken vs. stirred debate still rages today.

Preparing a martini

What started as a simple drink has evolved over time. Every martini enthusiast will ask for his cocktail to be made to certain specifications. A seasoned martini drinker might boldly order, “A medium-dry Bombay Sapphire martini, straight up, with olives.”

Here are the questions you need to address when preparing a martini:

Gin or vodka? These days, a bartender can no longer assume that a request for a martini implies gin.

Which brand? While it’s wise to always use quality liquor, there are some simple cocktails where the bartender can get away with grabbing whichever no-name booze resides in the speed-rack; the martini is not one of them. Any time you are preparing a cocktail where the spirit is the primary ingredient (and I can think of no better example than the martini), you need to stick with quality liquors, and your martini drinker will likely have a preferred brand.

How dry? The “dryness” of a martini refers to how much dry vermouth goes into it. The more “dry” the martini is to be, the less vermouth you need. For a medium-dry vodka martini, I use a dash of vermouth, while “dry” may mean one or two drops. If guests request ”extra-dry” or even ”extremely dry,” I take this as an indication that they really want no vermouth at all, especially for a vodka martini. If they prefer ice-cold vodka in a chilled glass, that’s fine by me.

Shaken or stirred? Whether shaking a martini will actually “bruise” the gin is an argument for another day. In any case, leave it to James Bond to change the landscape of cocktails forever. Because of the phenomenon caused by his “shaken, not stirred” requests, most bartenders today will shake a martini instead of stirring. Which method is better? It depends on the spirit; I stir gin martinis and shake vodka martinis.

Which garnish? While modern martini culture may be embracing many new and exciting garnishes, I always remind my young bartending students to simply recall the book, Oliver Twist. To a traditional gin martini, add a few olives; to a vodka martini, add a slice of lemon peel. I think you’ll find these to be the perfect complements.


1. Fill a cocktail glass with ice. Set it aside.  

2. Fill your cocktail shaker (or a pint glass) about ¾ with ice.

3. Add three ounces of vodka or simply add vodka to the top of the ice. (Bartenders’ trick: fill the glass with water, then pour the water into your ice-filled shaker. This will determine your ”fill line.”)

4. Add vermouth. A quarter-ounce splash should give you a medium-dry martini.

5. Place the top onto your shaker (or your Boston-style shaker over your pint glass) and shake vigorously until frost forms on the shaker.

6. Empty the ice from the glass and strain the martini into it.

7. Garnish with a lemon twist and enjoy.