Friday drinks: Vesper martini AKA Bond’s martini

Happy Friday! Here in the US the 23rd installment of James Bond films, “Skyfall,” opens this weekend. What cocktail could be more appropriate for Friday drinks than Bond’s own concocted martini, the Vesper? We’re giving it a slight twist. But don’t worry, it’s still double-oh strong.

In Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel, “Casino Royale,” Bond orders a very specific martini:

“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?”

Yeah, we got it, right down to the large thin slice of lemon peel. Bond eventually dubs the drink the Vesper after the novel’s lead female character, the original Bond girl, Vesper Lynd. Bond also requests the drink in a Champagne goblet but here’s the first deviation we’re taking. I just prefer my martinis in martini glasses.

James Bond’s Vesper martini mixed by director Jeff Stewart. Photo by Jeff Stewart.

Martini lovers will note the Vesper employs two heavy-hitters: gin AND vodka. For martini newcomers, the various martini styles usually call for one or the other but not both spirits in one drink. Bond also calls for a half measure of the aperitif wine, Kina Lillet.

Our resident mixologist, music video and commercial director Jeff Stewart, was kind enough to accept my request for the Vesper. However, Jeff noted that the original Kina Lillet is long out of production. Kina Lillet had a healthy dose quinine in it, which gave it a harsher bite. Lillet decided to change its formula in the 1980s to keep up with changing tastes.

Jeff says Lillet Blanc is the closest approximation to the Kina Lillet. The blanc is a bit sweeter than the Kina. Jeff offered to add a quinine tincture to the Vesper, but I opted for an unleaded Vesper. It did make me wonder if Kina Lillet was popular in the Caribbean where Mr. Fleming wrote the majority of the Bond novels. Quinine is an anti-malarial drug, after all. The mosquito-borne disease had been a massive problem for the region due to European and African colonization. The Vesper may have been a more palatable way to take your medicine in Mr. Fleming’s time.

Daniel Craig

Daniel Craig as James Bond. Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Entertainment, and Eon Productions.

Jeff tweaked the Vesper recipe a bit more by using Hendricks gin rather than Gordon’s gin. Hendricks has a rose flavor. I particularly noticed the rose in the Vesper; it stayed with me for quite some time, pleasantly so. Jeff’s Vesper was nicely balanced with the rose of Hendricks and the lemon peel.

However, it wouldn’t be a Bond Vesper without a bite. You have some bite with the gin, but Jeff still had the vodka in his arsenal. He chose Death’s Door vodka, which is a particularly dry vodka and gives a nice nod to the dry vermouth often used in martinis. Also, Jeff says it’s made from wheat, which Bond prefers.

Wanna try Jeff’s recipe? Here it is.

1.5 oz gin
0.5 oz vodka
0.25 oz Lillet Blanc

Shake in an iced cocktail shaker vigorously for 25-30 seconds and serve in a cocktail glass with a lemon twist.

If you’re interested in mixing a Vesper that is a bit truer to Ian Fleming’s original taste, Jeff suggests substituting Tempus Fugit‘s Kina L’avion d’Or aperitif wine for the Lillet Blanc. You’ll get the harsh quinine taste Flemming’s Bond desired.

Keep your glass half-full. Drink responsibly.

A bottle of Kina L’Avion d’Or. Photo by Jeff Stewart.