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I do not much care for cocktails started by movies, reality shows, or Instagram influencers. Well-made drinks stand on their own two feet and need no one’s endorsement. Most variations on the martini are to be avoided: like Tik Tok, they provide the vacuous with too much room to work.
Let’s make an exception, however, for the Vesper cocktail.
As James Bond buffs will know, the Vesper was first mentioned in Ian Fleming’s novel Casino Royale (1953) and named for the double agent Vesper Lynd:
“A dry martini,” he said. “One. In a deep champagne goblet.”
“Just a moment. 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. Got it?”
“Certainly monsieur. The barman seemed pleased with the idea.
“Gosh, that’s certainly a drink, said [Felix] Leiter [Bond’s CIA friend].
Bond laughed. “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, and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink’s my own invention. I’m going to patent it when I think of a good name.”
The drink also shows up in the 2006 film version starring Daniel Craig, in a slightly different setting:
An “original” Vesper can no longer be made, alas. One of the ingredients as ordered by Bond, Kina Lillet, is no longer made. Also, gin proofs today are generally lower than they were in the 1950s. Fear not: close substitutes are available, and the Vesper is still a high-octane endeavor.
Here is the kit:
Gin – a straightforward London dry gin is best for a Vesper, a gin like Gordon’s or Beefeaters. If you can, avoid gins that are rounded and soft (like Hendrick’s) or Teutonic exotic (like Monkey 47).
Vodka – since the late 1970s, all vodkas have tasted the same to me. I use Tito’s.
Lillet or Cocchi Americano – either blanc is fine. Lillet is slightly sweeter and closer to vermouth. Cocchi Americano is somewhat more bitter. Some books and articles say that the Cocchi Americano is closer in taste to the original Kina Lillet.
A tool to make a lemon twist or peel.
Mixing glass — I mix. I do not shake.
- 3 ounces gin
- 1 ounce vodka
- 1/2 ounce Lillet blanc or Cocchi Americano blanc aperitif
- Garnish: lemon twist
- Add the gin, vodka and Lillet blanc into a mixing glass with ice and stir until well-chilled.
- Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
- Express the oils from a lemon twist over the drink, rub the twist along the rim of the glass and drop it into the cocktail.
I prefer a Nick and Nora glass to the “champagne goblet” requested by Bond.
Speaking of the Scots commander, the Bond novels of Ian Fleming are rarely read these days, but they offer an interesting sidelight both to the films made from them and to contemporary culture. In a day when even Dr. Seuss can get himself into politically incorrect trouble, some of the scenes in the Bond novels will induce a wince or two.
It is intriguing, however, that Fleming originally conceived of Bond as a bruiser and a killer, and not much else – far removed from the smooth iconic performance of Sean Connery or the 1970s hair of Roger Moore.
Finally, bear in mind that a Vesper, even without 1950s-era gin proofs, can bring it. Enjoy it responsibly, as they say. Or irresponsibly, and stay at home.