James Bond and the Vesper

The original James Bond, Sean Connery, lights a cigarette.

You know, it’s a funny thing. I’m a huge James Bond fan, but I’ve never been big on either reading the books or watching the movies. Huh? I know, makes no sense whatsoever. But Bond is the coolest of the cool. (Sean Connery is still the Number One Bond, but I have to say, Daniel Craig surely has that whole dangerous bad-boy thing going on. Connery has some serious competition.)

And there is nothing cooler than what, to me, is the ultimate James Bond martini. Yes, the Vesper, immortalized in Casino Royale. (As a bit of trivia, as far as I know, that is the only time that specific cocktail ever makes an appearance.)

So, how does James Bond make his perfect cocktail? Well, it’s a pretty simple recipe. Let’s take a trip back in time… The year is 1954. Swanson introduced the TV dinner. Marilyn Monroe married Joe DiMaggio. And Ian Fleming introduced us to James Bond.

With the publication of Casino Royale, Ian Fleming presented Commander James Bond of the Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6. Since then, James Bond has become an icon. He’s the coolest of the cool, famous for his exotic gadgets, incredible cars, and sexy women.

And his martini. Shaken, not stirred.

Bond gives this detailed drink order during a meeting with CIA contact Felix Leitner. He eventually dubs the drink the Vesper after his love interest, Vesper Lynd. Unfortunately for their romance, Vesper is also a double agent, but that’s for another story. A bit of Bond trivia: Lynd is the only woman Bond ever proposed to, other than his wife, Tracy.

The Martini as Ordered by James Bond

“A dry martini,” he 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.”

Making the Vesper Martini Today

Because of product changes over the years, making the Vesper is now a bit of challenge. For instance, Kina Lillet is no longer available. Lillet Blanc or a dry vermouth can be substituted, but they lack Kina Lillet’s distinctive bitterness. Adding a dash or two of Angostura bitters will help re-create the proper flavor. Better yet, if it’s available, add a dash of quinine powder. (For the record, the bitters will be much easier to find.)

Back in 1954 when Bond was ordering his first Vesper, Gordon’s Gin was 94 proof. Since then, Gordon’s has been reformulated to less than 80 proof. Try substituting Tanqueray Gin to keep the traditional flavor of the higher proof gin.

While Bond was choosy about his gin, in the books he never specified a particular brand of vodka. He did make one suggestion on the topic, though, mentioning to the waiter that the martini would be better made with vodka made with grain instead of potatoes, if a grain vodka was available. Bond might be disappointed with today’s Lillet or Gordon’s, but he’d probably be very happy with the variety of vodkas available to this generation’s martini fans.

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