While Ian Fleming’s master spy James Bond is most famous for ordering martinis “shaken, not stirred” the Vesper cocktail is another contribution to the world of mixed drinks from him. In the 1953 novel “Casino Royale,” Bond places the following order: “A dry martini … Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s (gin), one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet, shake it until its very cold, then add a large slice of lemon peel, got it?” Bond later tells the bartender, “Excellent, but if you can get a vodka made with grain instead of potatoes, you will find it still better.” Regardless of the type of vodka or gin used, the Vesper has caught on with the general public, and now most bartenders and mixologists are expected to be able to whip up a Vesper on a moment’s notice.
Last year on a trip to London, I had the pleasure to meet one of Ian Fleming’s former bartenders. The bartender told me that there was more than meets the eye with the Vesper cocktail. The Vesper, named after the character Vesper Lynd, a double agent and love interest of Bond’s, is a combination of English gin (to represent Bond) and vodka (commonly thought to be Russian at the time to represent Vesper).
Essentially, the cocktail is two competing spirits to represent the two competing factions in the novel. Ultimately, this is just a story passed from one bartender to another; whether it is true is certainly debatable … but bars aren’t places to let the truth stand in the way of a good story.
Ultimately, the real key to the Vesper cocktail is in the ingredients.
Gordon’s gin has been lowered to 80 proof (from its original 94 proof), and while it is still acceptable, purists prefer a higher proof gin in this drink like Tanqueray or Beefeater. For the sake of accuracy, only shake this drink if you must, as simply stirring results in a cocktail with a silky texture and a more enhanced interplay of flavors.
This recipe for the Vesper will won’t turn you into a debonair British secret agent, but it may win you some new friends and impress everyone with your mixing skills.
Adapted from Ian Fleming’s “Casino Royale.”
Makes 1 cocktail
- 3 oz gin (Gordon’s is traditional, but Tanqueray or Beefeater work better due to higher proof)
- 1 oz vodka (Bond prefers grain to potato based vodkas, try Stolichnaya here)
- ½ oz Lillet Blanc
- Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker.
- Add ice.
- Shake vigorously for 30 seconds.
- Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
- Garnish with a large lemon twist.