O. Henry Mace

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Vesper

The James Bond Martini

Conceived by Ian Fleming in 1952

“I can’t drink the health of your new frock without knowing your Christian name.”

“Vesper,” she said. Vesper Lynd....”

“I think it’s a fine name,” said Bond. An idea struck him. “Can I borrow it?” He explained about the special drink he had invented and his search for a name for it."The Vesper,” he said. “It sounds perfect and it’s very appropriate to the violet hour when my cocktail will now be drunk all over the world. Can I have it?”

“So long as I can try one first,” she promised. “It sounds a drink to be proud of.”

 

Excerpted from Casino Royale by Ian Fleming, ©1953.

In 1952, British writer and former spy, Ian Fleming, penned what would become the first in a series of novels featuring a British secret agent named James Bond. In Casino Royale, published in 1953, Bond meets his American counterpart Felix Leiter for drinks and orders a very unusual martini. Bond’s instructions to the waiter are detailed and specific. Thus, the drink can essentially be reproduced today exactly as author Ian Fleming envisioned it at the time. Bond initially tells Leiter the martini has no name, but later in the book Bond invites a beautiful Russian double-agent named Vesper Lynd to dinner and again orders his favorite cocktail. Increasingly smitten with the Russian beauty, Bond decides to name his unique martini after her.

 

As specified by Bond on the pages of Casino Royale, Ian Fleming's Vesper included three measures of Gordon’s Gin; 1 measure Vodka; and 1/2 measure Kina Lillet; shaken until frosty, served in a deep champagne glass, and garnished with a large thin slice of lemon peel. Kina Lillet, a sweet French aperitif wine with a bitter quinine edge, was reformulated for modern tastes (sans quinine) in the 1950s and again 1986 as Lillet Blanc. In the 2006  movie version of Casino Royale (which, like most bond films, does not closely follow the book plot) Bond orders this concoction in a casino while sitting at a poker table, and it becomes clear as the movie progresses that he just made it up "off the cuff." He initially takes only one sip, declaring "That's not half bad." Although the drink is never called a Vesper in the movie, the follow-up film, Quantum of Solace, shows Bond mourning the death of Vesper Lynd as he sips a lightly golden martini. A bottle of Lillet Blanc is clearly visible on a distant bar shelf.

 

The Vesper has been my martini of choice for more than a decade. Finding a bar that had Lillet Blanc used to be a problem, but more and more bars started stocking it after the release of the 2006 Casino Royale movie. In recent years, an Italian aperitif wine called Cocchi Americano has been touted by some bartenders as the prefect substitute for the original "bitterish" Kina Lillet. Since I've never talked to anyone who tasted Kina Lillet, and I doubt any modern bartender has either, it's only a guess that Cocchi is significantly similar.

 

I have tried all the popular formulations of the Vesper, and I find the original recipe to be a little too heavy on the gin and a bit too light on the Lillet. Since Lillet is the one unique ingredient in the drink, I feel it's important that you be able to taste it.  My salute to the Vesper, adjusted for 21st century tastes, has 1 part Blue Sapphire Gin; 1 part Ketel One Vodka; 1 part Lillet Blanc, (or half Lillet and half Cocchi Americano when available) shaken until frosty (very important) and served in a classic martini glass with a lemon twist that has been rubbed around the edge of the glass. I follow Bond's creed as stated in the Casino Royale book: "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." And what better choice than an iconic martini that shares my birth year?

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