Fans can’t handle their hero drinking a shitty drink, so they invent wild theories to explain his weaksauce cocktail
H.L. Mencken is said to have called the martini “the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet,” so it only makes sense that, of all people, it’s James Bond who keeps fucking it up.
Bond’s signature drink order—“shaken, not stirred”—has, in traditional guy culture, come to represent a man of culture, a man comfortable among the finer things, a man who knows what he wants and asks for it assertively. Every new Bond film featuring the drink (i.e., almost all of them) reinforces the idea that shaken, not stirred, is the drink preference of a clearly defined paragon of masculinity.
Frustratingly for ardent Bond fans, the truth is more complicated. Any bartender will tell you that shaking a martini cracks the ice, muddling and diluting the drink, effectively ruining it. A martini is a simple concoction—gin, vermouth, ice, bitters if you wish, an olive or a lemon peel—but the key to serving one correctly is stirring. This maintains its clear consistency and prevents it from being watered down.
So since 1962’s Dr. No, when Bond receives a “mixed … but not stirred” vodka martini, he’s basically been drinking a watery version of the real thing. (Only in 1967’s You Only Live Twice does he get it right—stirred, not shaken.)
Intriguingly, in Bond films, this martini is almost always depicted as clear as the most crystalline Alpine spring water: something that could only happen if Sean Connery and his successors were holding stirred martinis. In real life, if you shake a martini, you’ll end up with a cloudy drink that looks not unlike a glass of old bathwater. Get it? It’s all a Hollywood lie.
There are lots of theories about why Bond orders the “wrong” drink. Most recently, in a Reddit thread asking bartenders what drink orders they judge us for, one user complained about wannabe Bonds ordering drinks “shaken, not stirred”:
Martini “shaken, not stirred” = idiot who knows nothing about booze and definitely has no idea what they’re ordering, and will most likely not like it. … I should clarify, it’s the specific way of ordering it to sound like James Bond that I find douche-y and tells me the guest probably don’t know what they’re doing and won’t like the drink, not the actual drink itself.
This assertion caused some Bond fans to feel compelled to defend their fictional hero. One notes that it makes for a nice metaphor, something about Bond’s commitment to the crown despite all the killing and stuff:
I think the metaphor in the catchphrase (Bond is often “shaken” — which does, indeed, bruise him — but remains “unstirred,” primarily in his loyalty).…
But here’s my favorite hot take: Bond is a brain genius who uses his shitty drink order to play 4-D chess with potential enemies — the same way President Trump supposedly inserts typos into his deranged tweets to trick liberals into looking petty when they point it out.
I always figured it was a coded way of announcing you’re an agent to an informant. Bond and Informant are instructed to meet at Super Classy Bar where Super Classy People drink (and therefore setting a precedent that these people would “know” how to order a proper martini), so when an otherwise classy looking gentleman walks in and asks for a martini “shaken, not stirred,” the informant is tipped off that this gentleman … is not just another client in the bar.
“I’ve always taken it as a class signifier,” one user says. “It shows Bond isn’t the upper-class person he seems.” But another thinks it’s because he’s too high-class: “I took it the opposite way — he was a man who liked things done in a particular way and was comfortable asking for them as such.”
Again, who knows? The books give us other clues about Bond’s humble upbringing, but it makes no sense that he wouldn’t know how to order a martini after years among connoisseurs.
In the 1953 book Casino Royale, Bond orders a drink he invented and says to “shake it very well until it’s ice-cold.” A few Redditors liked the idea that Bond is purposefully staying sober with his mega-chilled drink, slightly more ready to kick ass when duty calls.
But the rest of the quote implies otherwise:
“When I’m … er … concentrating,” he explained, “I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold.”
How revealing is that? Book Bond orders gigantic alcohol slushees he can barely taste and convinces himself he’s not “drinking,” because he’s having only one. It’s like guzzling two 40s duct-taped to your hands, then stumbling home and telling your partner you only had a couple beers.
This single, contradictory line hints at a greater truth about Bond’s drinking: Perhaps his odd booze order shows he’s actually a sick man who doesn’t realize the extent of his alcoholism.
Some further textual research suggests I may be right. A detailed scientific analysis of Bond’s drinking habits over the entire print oeuvre — 14 books — suggests 007 is the opposite of a responsible drinker. Actually, the researchers posit, Bond is such an alcoholic, he’s ordering shaken drinks to hide the fact that he’s developed alcohol-induced tremors.
After exclusion of days when Bond was unable to drink, his weekly alcohol consumption was 92 units a week, over four times the recommended amount. His maximum daily consumption was 49.8 units. He had only 12.5 alcohol-free days out of 87.5 days on which he was able to drink. … James Bond’s level of alcohol intake puts him at high risk of multiple alcohol-related diseases and an early death. The level of functioning as displayed in the books is inconsistent with the physical, mental and indeed sexual functioning expected from someone drinking this much alcohol.
This is surely the best fan theory of all: Bond can barely function, let alone fight or fuck, and his drinking habits render him an unreliable narrator and agent. He’s so insecure and unwilling to admit to his crippling addiction he’d rather order a wussy drink than expose his disease and lose it all.
If so, Bond wouldn’t be alone in feeling that way. Fragile masculinity results in some very scary consequences: Men tend to suffer in silence rather than seek help for their issues, even when they’re literally dying. When diagnosed with cancer, men won’t even talk to their spouses—and they feel notably emasculated, according to a 2018 study. Rather than discuss their feelings, they want the world to know they can “handle it.” Just like Bond can totally handle his big-boy cocktail.
It’s sort of charming that fans continue to attribute unwarranted depth and feeling to James Bond, an antiquated, one-dimensional fictional killer with the personality of a rusty bear trap—even when they invent fictional motives to defend him from allegations that he’s ordering a slightly less manly drink than they thought.
But let’s not go overboard. We’ve had enough gloom and grit in the new Bond films. When the action scenes are actually fun, I couldn’t care less about what he’s drinking, never mind how he drinks it.