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Vesper: James Bond Made It Famous, David Wondrich Made it Drinkable

Vesper

James Bond is a (fictional) man of many talents. I would say that along with “international man of intrigue– and lady killer” we should also consider his talents as a mixologist and poet. Because in the 1953 Ian Flemming novel Casino Royale, Mr. Bond combines both skills to memorable effect.

“A dry martini,” [Bond] said. “One. In a deep champagne goblet.”

“Oui, monsieur.”

“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 Leiter.

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 can think of a good name.”

Booth's gin adWell James Bond may have never gotten around to that patent but the world embraced his liqurious libation and it has become known as The Vesper Martini.

Seemingly named after the lovely but doomed lover to James Bond. Double agent Vesper Lynd.

Vesper

A drink with this sort of provenance cannot simply be “sloshed together”. Every choice is important; each ingredient must be well planned. We must execute this cocktail in as wily and sophisticated a manner as possible.

As Mr. Bond was an elite member of her Majesty’s Secret Service, I think it only proper we choose an English gin in the modern London dry style.

Many of the great brands that defined this new style of gin have gone on to become global products on a huge scale. Brands like Gordon’s, Beefeater, Gilbey’s and Tanqueray all would be great choices and appropriate to our man Bond.

But the success of these brands has caused many of the other traditional English gins to fall out of fashion. Fortunately some of these brands are making a comeback. Companies like Greenhall’s are still making excellent small production gin using a family recipe from 1761.

And then there is Booth’s. In the 19th century it was the largest distilling company in Great Britain. Its popularity lasted well into the 1930s. The company still produces a very dry, very crisp, spicy gin that ends with a bit of sweetness. This also is said to be the Queen of England’s gin of choice. James Bond took orders from no man, but I know he felt a certain allegiance to the Queen.

So Booth’s is my gin choice in this cocktail it has a history and pedigree that makes it feel just right.

Another prime ingredient in this drink is vodka. It MUST, simply must be Russian vodka. After all this cocktail is named after a Russian spy. Any other vodka would simply not recognize the humor that Ian Flemming brought to the pages of this book when he had Bond invent this concoction seemingly at a moments notice. Making you wonder what (or rather who) was on his mind.

I used 100-proof Stolichnaya Vodka. It is harder to find but it brings the alcohol content of the vodka back to the 1953 levels James Bond was used to quaffing.

The final ingredient in the James Bond version of this cocktail is Kina Lillet, which is no longer available. The typical replacement these days is Lillet Blanc with a dash or two of Angostura bitters. Having never tasted Kina Lillet I cannot say how close the approximation comes, but I can say I like the effort put forth in trying to re-create the intention of the original.

James Bond would order his “shaken not stirred”– which is another Ian Flemming joke. It’s a way of showing the less than couth, dark under belly of his super agent super hero.

You may or may not shake at your own discretion, but I think David Wondrich said it best when he said:

And that shaking business? All things being equal, a stirred martini will be colder and silkier. Just so you know.

I am also presenting his Vesper recipe (he prefers Tanquerey gin) for this cocktail, which appeared in a very humorous 2006 article in Esquire magazine. Much of my research, as well as the movie dialogue, comes from this article. But the inspiration lies with Sarah at SJ Gourmet, whose gorgeous take on this martini made me want (no, need) to bring it right over to SippitySup.

Vesper Martini serves 1

  • 3 oz Tanqueray gin
  • 1 oz 100-proof Stolichnaya vodka
  • 1/2 oz Lillet Blanc
  • 1/8 teaspoon (or less) quinine powder or, in desperation, 2 dashes of bitters

Shake these ingredients (if you must) with plenty of cracked ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and twist a large swatch of thin-cut lemon peel over the top. Shoot somebody evil.

SERIOUS FUN FOOD

Greg Henry

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