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The glamour drinks

Making cocktails is an art, and there’s a story behind each one

The epitome of cool sophistication and self assurance is forever linked, for me, with the image and voice of Sean Connery ordering a martini, shaken, not stirred, as James Bond, 007. As a kid growing up I loved the spy movies and seeing Bond reach for his precisely ordered cocktail always made my mouth water – I felt that I could almost taste liquid elegance.

That is, until my dad gleefully "shook" one up for me when I was a teenager. Cold medicinal fire in the throat does not equal liquid elegance. My dad, thinking he had staved off a teenager’s curiosity for alcohol, raised the cocktail glass as if in salute and enjoyably drank it down.

As a teenager I wasn’t that easily put off – I tried peach schnapps and orange juice, which became a passable alternative for a few years. Thankfully, after reaching proper drinking age and a little more liquor savvy, I tried my second martini and it has remained my favourite cocktail ever since.

In softly lit, black and white films, Hollywood helped to make the cocktail the embodiment of class and romance during the 1930s. These were the years immediately following the repeal of Prohibition. Stars were seen sashaying across dance floors, drinks in hand, discoursing beneath dangling crystal chandeliers in beautiful ball rooms between sips from cocktail glasses.

Ironically, it was Prohibition (put into effect Jan. 16, 1920) that forced the birth of many classic cocktails. Bootlegged liquor and bathtub gin illicitly available through the 14 years of Prohibition was pretty tough to drink straight – it lacked any flavour nuances so mixes of alcohol and the addition of fruit juices became necessary if people were going to enjoy their drinks.

During the ’20s, when the martini was in its heyday, only the best-dressed couples were admitted into the best speakeasies. Class and cocktails became linked and Hollywood helped the rise in popularity of the cocktail by adding romance and adventure.

In The Thin Man , a 1934 film about a retired detective who loves to party, Nick. Charles (William Powell) explains the nuances of mixing a drink in a cocktail shaker: "The important thing is the rhythm, always have rhythm in your shaking. Now, a Manhattan you shake to a fox-trot time, a Bronx to two-step time, and a dry martini you always make to waltz time."

He takes a moment to drink the martini and a long pause to savour its taste.

Too bad not many of us know how to fox trot these days, but the art of mixing a drink in a shaker is just that, an art. Shaken too quickly the ice cubes get crushed into smaller bits which melt more quickly into water which dilutes the drink – purists don’t dilute.

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