The Myth of James Bond’s Martini
Rather than 007’s famous Vodka Martini—shaken, not stirred—special guests at his creator Ian Fleming’s house were served a flaming rum punch.
There are few drink orders in history as famous as “Martini, shaken, not stirred.”
The cocktail is so essential to his character that no matter which actor is playing him—Sean Connery, Roger Moore, or Pierce Brosnan—we know it’s 007 by his signature tipple.
No matter the odds or the situation, the audience expects that the suave super spy is ultimately going to save the world, get the girl and, of course, enjoy a well-deserved icy cold Martini.
The only thing is that Bond in the original books and, certainly, his creator Ian Fleming (who would have turned 108 next Saturday) weren’t that dogmatic about drinking Martinis.
“Film characters need catchphrases, “says Matthew Parker, author of Goldeneye: Where Bond Was Born. “The attachment of Bond to the Vodka Martini you don’t really get from the books.”
In fact, Bond orders a Vesper in Casino Royale, the first book in the series and is quite specific about what he wants: “Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel.”
While the preparation of the drink is certainly familiar to Bond fans around the world, the idea of combining gin and vodka is still quite novel and very different than what’s in the standard Dry Martini. (The Kina Lillet, which is no longer produced, would have been popular in Jamaica at the time, since it contained malaria-fighting quinine.)
“The bar staff are honored to follow these expert instructions; then Bond helpfully advises that grain-based rather than potato-based vodka would make the recipe better,” writes Parker. “For 1953’s rationed and skinflint Austerity Britain, this was pure delicious escapism, just as Fleming’s sojourns in Jamaica were for him.”
The importance of Fleming’s time in the tropical country can’t be underestimated. From 1946 to 1964, he spent a couple months a year at Goldeneye, his estate on the island’s north shore and wrote all of the James Bond stories there. (His house and property have since been turned into a hotel by local and music mogul Chris Blackwell.)
What did Fleming serve his friends that came to visit him? For the jet set celebrities and socialites that he hung out with in Jamaica, according to Parker, “cocktails were their drink of choice.” Generally, that included, of course, Vodka Martinis as well as Brandy and Ginger Ale.
He wasn’t a fan of beer and wine wasn’t much of an option at the time with the island’s hot and humid climate. Whiskey was another drink that visitors reported being offered. “I think [Fleming] would drink anything he could get his hands on,” admits Parker. “In those circles you had a fully stocked bar at all times.”
For special occasions, Fleming would also mix up a special signature concoction. While no one could blame you for expecting it to be a Vodka Martini, shaken, not stirred, in actuality it couldn’t be more different: a flaming rum punch.
The evening after his wedding to Ann Charteris he even enjoyed the drink. (To be fair, between the ceremony and the celebration, according to Parker, “strong Martinis” were also drunk.)
Fleming’s long-serving cook and housekeeper, Violet, according to Parker, called the punch the “Poor Man’s Thing.” The recipe for it sounds like something you’d find at a Trader Vic’s outpost. “You have skin of orange, skin of lemon. Pour rum on top. Put sugar in dish. Put on oven, keeping stirring. Set light when coming to the boil. Put lid on the dish, then turn out all the light in the house when carry it in to the guests.”
In order to set it on fire, no doubt, the punch was made with a very high-proof rum. You’d need, of course, a Bond-like tolerance to enjoy more than a couple of glasses. A mission, perhaps, best left to 007.