Everyone knows that James Bond’s drink of choice is a “Vodka Martini, shaken not stirred“.  This iconic line has been repeated across the decades by every new actor to play the British secret agent.  But fewer people know that this was not his original drink of choice, but instead the one he ultimately settled on.  His original choice was the Vesper Martini.

The Vesper Martini was created either by (or more likely for) Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond novels, in Dukes Hotel, London.  Probably sometime around the early 1950’s to coincide with his initial work on creating and writing the character of James Bond.  It did enjoy a certain amount of success following its (and Bond’s) introduction to the world in the novel Casino Royale (1953).  But this interest slowly dwindled over time.  It was only with the soft reboot of the Bond franchise with the 2006 film Casino Royale that it came to the public’s attention once again.

Vesper Martini Flavour Map

Vesper Martini Taste Profile

As befits a Bond drink, it is a true Alcoholic Powerhouse, and an excellent Martini Variant of a slightly golden colour.  However, despite a clearly published and oft repeated recipe, actually making an authentic one is a lot harder than you might think.

Bond’s Martinis

James Bond is of course most famous for his “Vodka Martini, shaken not stirred“.  However, this oft repeated quote only showcases film Bond’s choices.  And even they have changed over time.  In the novels, James Bond is about as monogamous with his alcohol as he is with his women.  Enjoying Champagne, Scotch, Bourbon, beer, rum, wine and even an Americano.  As well as countless Bond girls.

Nevertheless, Fleming’s decision to make this Bond’s Martini of choice was a highly calculated one.  The fact that it was a Martini marked him out as being a new man, more transatlantic in nature.  As opposed to his older boss M who would drink Cognac in his London gentleman’s club, Blades.  And vodka was both the “new” spirit in the West at the time (1950’s), and topically very poignant.  A man such as Bond who mixed spy business with pleasure during the Cold War with the Soviet Union would encounter a lot of vodka.

And as for shaking it…well for the longest time I thought this just marked him out as being dumb, since there is no good reason to shake a Martini.  And several bad ones.  But over time I have come to realize that Fleming instead included this detail as a link to Bond’s formative years.  To the Vesper Martini.  That this is Bond reminding himself who he is and how he became the man we know.  It is a part of his character.

The Evolution of Bond

Throughout most of his film history, this explanation wouldn’t have made sense to fans of the Bond films.  And for good reason.  Bond of the Ian Fleming novels starts young and comparatively unproven and displays significant character evolution over time.  Bond of the films does not.  This is partly because especially later films were only loosely based on the books.  And partly because Bond’s film debut comes in 1962 with the adaptation of Dr. No.  As this was the 6th Bond novel, his character was by this time fully formed, and is portrayed as such by the legendary Sean Connery.

Vintage Bond

It was only with the 2006 cinematic portrayal of the very first Bond novel Casino Royale that this changes.  In this soft reboot we see a comparatively young Bond newly promoted to 00 status.  We see him fall in love with the original Bond girl Vesper Lynd, played by Eva Green.  He creates the iconic Vesper Martini in her honour.  Then in both book and film, Vesper turns out to be a double agent, breaks Bond’s heart and ends up dead.

Vesper Lynd

Vesper Lynd

This has a profound impact on the character of James Bond, and in part turned him into the James Bond the world met in Dr. No and beyond.  Still a hard drinker and a womanizer, to be sure.  But now hard hearted too.  Seemingly no longer capable of actually falling in love.  Though fully capable of causing women to fall for him and perfectly content to take advantage of them.

By making his signature Martini retain the shaken component of the Vesper Martini, Bond is constantly reminding himself of the potential consequences of falling in love.  How it can be used as a weapon against him.  And so he recalls his epic line at the end of Casino Royale, both book and film:

Job’s done.  And the bitch is dead.”  – James Bond, Casino Royale.

Ingredients

Three measures of Gordon’s, one of Vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet.  Shake it over ice then add a thin slice of lemon peel” – James Bond, Casino Royale.

Modern Bond

That’s a pretty explicit recipe taken straight from the pages of the novel and repeated verbatim in the film.  With that information any decent bartender should be able to make this drink with ease.  Case closed, right?

Actually, no…

You see the problem is that while the recipe itself hasn’t changed, the products it refers to have.  In fact they have changed so much that this original Vesper Martini can’t be made anymore.

Take the gin, for example.  Gordon’s gin still exists, and remains popular worldwide.  But in the 1950’s, Gordon’s was 47% abv, and of somewhat dubious quality.  It was chosen by Bond specifically for its extra alcoholic kick.  But in the intervening years, Gordon’s gin has had a makeover, and is now a 40% abv product of a more standardized nature.

The 50% abv vodka Bond liked to use has been similarly neutered, and Kina Lillet no longer even exists.  So to make a Vesper Martini, we’re going to have to make some changes.

Making Changes

Starting with the gin, since we’re making a Martini I would normally suggest using the best premium gin you have available.  However, since you’re then going to shake it a lot of this quality would be lost.  Shaking aerates a drink more than stirring.  In the case of gin this means that the various organic chemicals dissolved in the liquid which together provide its flavour (usually referred to as botanicals) would be more readily oxidized.  This neutralizes their flavour.  Meaning that shaking a gin based Martini is a dumb idea.  Though shaking a Vodka Martini is less so.

Kina Lillet

Kina Lillet

Plus, using a premium gin doesn’t really fit in with the harshness of the drink’s ethos.  So I’d go for an upper intermediate standard London Dry Gin like Tanqueray, for example.  Please note that the current version of Gordon’s gin is nowhere near this standard.  I’d class it as lower intermediate quality at best.

Second, any good quality vodka should do.  Given the novel Casino Royale’s story there is a good connection to both Russian and Polish vodkas.  And in other novels Bond gives these two styles (only) his seal of approval.  I have to say I generally agree with Bond/Fleming on this subject.  And I especially disdain newer “vodkas” made way outside of the Vodka Belt using non-traditional ingredients.  However, for the harshness implied by the Vesper, I’d say Russian vodka is probably a better fit.

Kina Lillet

Lastly, the Kina Lillet poses a problem.  Bond specifically chose this particular brand of vermouth for its slight bitterness.  This is implied in this quotation from the film:

You know, I think I’ll call that a Vesper.” – James Bond, Casino Royale.

Because of the bitter aftertaste?” – Vesper Lynd, Casino Royale.

Lillet Blanc

Lillet Blanc

The problem is that Kina Lillet no longer exists.  It was a brand of vermouth produced by Lillet which was somewhere between a bitter liqueur and a dry vermouth.  But around 1986 production was ended and it was instead replaced by the modern Lillet Blanc.  As I understand it, the reason given was that the American market didn’t like its bitterness.  Now don’t get me wrong, Lillet Blanc is a great product.  But it is lacking that one key aspect for which Bond included Kina Lillet in the Vesper Martini – the bitterness.

Cocchi Americano

Cocchi Americano

What can be done about this?  The simple answer is to just use Lillet Blanc instead.  This produces a very good Martini Variant which arguably has greater mass appeal than the original.

But can we make one closer to the authentic recipe?  One which lovers of cocktails like the Negroni and Americano would appreciate?

We can try.  Unfortunately, simply adding a dash of Angostura Bitters doesn’t work in this case.  Which is a shame as its so easily available.  Instead, if you can find it you could try replacing the Lillet Blanc with an Italian vermouth called Cocchi Americano.  This is reputed to be the still existing vermouth which tastes most like the discontinued Kina Lillet.

Happy experimenting!

Vesper Martini
Vesper Martini

Vesper Martini

So, when we get down to it, the Vesper Martini is really quite easy to make:

Three measures of Gordon’s, one of Vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet.  Shake it over ice then add a thin slice of lemon peel” – James Bond, Casino Royale.

I’d use a better gin than Gordon’s.  Probably something more like a Tanqueray, but any upper intermediate standard London Dry Gin should be fine.  I’d also go for a Russian vodka as explained.  Then either Lillet Blanc (standard) or Cocchi Americano (more authentic version).

Also, I wonder if the low quantity of Kina Lillet was due to its bitter nature.  That more than a dash could easily overwhelm a drink, resulting in a fully bitter drink rather than merely a bitter aftertaste.  So if you choose to use Lillet Blanc instead, this is not an issue and you can increase its quantity if desired.

So I’d say: ~35ml gin; ~15ml vodka; ~10ml Lillet Blanc.  Shake them together, then double strain into a martini glass (or equivalent) and garnish with a twist of lemon zest.  Nice and easy.