James Bond and the Super Martini--The Vesper
It's been around since 1953—as long as Bond himself. Like the original Bond—the literary Ian Fleming creation—its flavor is not easily reproduced today. The key ingredients—original Gordon’s Gin and Kina Lillet, are no longer made as they once were. But we’ll show you how to capture the essence of that first Vesper martini with items found in most well-stocked home bars.
We must return to The Canon to obtain the original recipe. Bond ordered the Vesper in the first James Bond novel, 1953’s “Casino Royale.”
"A dry martini," Bond said.
"One. In a deep champagne goblet.”
"Just a moment. Three measures of Gordons, 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.”
He does eventually think of a good name, and names it after his love interest in the book, Vesper Lynd.
One thing is sure. Good old Felix Leiter was right. This drink doesn’t play around. Don’t take it for granted—it’s strong indeed. It will kick your Thunderball, if you’re not careful. Consider yourself warned.
When Daniel Craig resurrected the franchise from years of moribund mediocrity, one of the first things he did was order the original super martini—the Vesper.
It was in the 2006 re-boot, Casino Royale, that he orders a Vesper during the tense, high-stakes poker game. Craig’s order to the bartender closely follows the original recipe from 1953:
“Three measures of Gordon's; one of vodka; half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it over ice, and add a thin slice of lemon peel.”
The barman asks him him if he prefers the drink shaken or stirred. It was the stock Bond cliche, after all.
“Do I look like I give a damn?” he replies cooly.
Actually, Bond’s longstanding preference for shaken martinis gives gourmands serious pause, as everyone knows shaking them will make the drink cloudy and dilute the alcohol. How much dilution are we talking?
Gizmodo ran a test a few years ago and found that stirring an 80-proof vodka diluted the alcohol to 60-proof; shaking reduced it all the way down to 45-proof, or 23% ABV--almost by half.
Perhaps Bond (as he said) just preferred his drinks very cold, or perhaps he was (as some say) trying to mask the flavor of cheap potato-based vodkas by shaking, or perhaps he was simply pacing himself with a diluted drink.
If you are building a Vesper these days, you have to get creative. Kina Lillet was reformulated decades ago to make it less bitter. The Lillet Blanc of today is not the same as the Kina Lillet that Bond specified in 1953.
You can try to capture the original flavor by adding some quinine powder (about a teaspoon or less, if you can find it) or two dashes of bitters to the modern Lillet Blanc. Some prefer to substitute Cocchi Americano, an Italian aperitif said to taste more like the original Kina Lillet.
Gordon’s gin has been reduced to 37.5% ABV for the domestic UK market and 40% ABV in America, though a 94.6-proof export version is still made and available outside the UK and North America.
We have found that a very passable Vesper can be made quite easily with ingredients readily obtained in the US—and likely already in your pantry or bar. You want a high alcohol content gin like Tanqueray to get close to the original recipe described by Bond in 1953. Shaking—and diluting—this beast would be our preference, no matter what the snooty mixologists say.
Try this the next time you'd rather be more shaken than stirred:
Modified Modern Vesper Martini
3 measures of Tanqueray gin
1 measure of Grey Goose vodka
1/2 measure a good dry vermouth
Two dashes of bitters
Shake in cocktail mixer with cracked ice until ice-cold
Strain into cocktail glass (or champagne goblet, if available)
Garnish with a thin slice of lemon peel