Unveiling the Vesper Gin Martini:
The Surprising First Gin Cocktail Ordered By James Bond
The first cocktail ever ordered by James Bond might surprise you. It’s not a martini.
When it comes to society’s take on beverage culture, there is often more to be lamented than celebrated. Much of what we hold dear has been miscommunicated or lost in translation. Sometimes, icons become so big that we excuse the original mistake to celebrate the legacy. So, it is with the world’s most famous action hero, 007. His order of a cocktail “shaken and not stirred” is usually ascribed to the dry martini (see The Perfect Martini post). Still, its origin is tied to a curiously delicious and dignified tipple known as the Vesper.
Introducing the Vesper Gin Martini: Bond’s Unconventional Choice
Vesper? Bond rides Italian Scooters Now? No, that’s Vespa; Vesper (Latin for the evening). This drink was initially ordered as “three measures Highclere Castle Gin*, one of vodka, half of Kina Lillet, shaken until ice cold, with a thin piece of lemon in the bottom of the glass” (the brand of gin has been altered for your enjoyment, grab yourself a bottle!). Vesper Lynd was the first Bond Lady and a confounding mix of partner, lover, and enemy double agent. Ian Fleming weaved the drink and the character around each other throughout various novels. The recipe was said on screen for the first time in Casino Royale (2006)
The Intriguing Blend of Gin and Vodka
This strange mix is quite au courant in the cocktail renaissance and is known formally as a “split base.” The ingredient with the most significant measure in the cocktail is known as its base, which traditionally is one main spirit or another. The “split base” is a technique used in the most inspired and technically sound bars to create a one-of-a-kind canvas on which to layer flavors. Vodka, while legally defined as “odorless, colorless and flavorless,” adds a lot of room for the gin to show its full range of aromatics and secondary flavor notes. It acts as salt would in a dish and amplifies the flavor of the gin and Lillet. In this case, it also gives a rich, round mouthfeel to the cocktail that’s an enjoyable rarity.
Discovering Kina Lillet: A French Aperitif
This French Aperitif is a fortified “quinquina” wine, so named due to its primary additive of quinine from cinchona bark. (The queen’s favorite, Dubonnet, is another example of a quinquina). Falling into a similar category as dry vermouth but with a much different flavor profile. Initially taken medicinally, this interesting aperitif blends Bordeaux wine with citrus liqueurs. The taste is, in a word, good. Slightly bitter, sweet enough, and curiously herbaceous, it especially rewards mixing with gin.
The Shake vs. Stir Dilemma
This is an eternal crisis of confidence for any drink mixer, and it’s also a problem that I keep bringing up and saddling our dear readers’ minds. Let’s unpack this.
The most vital part of any cocktail is not the spirits but the water from dilution and the temperature from chilling. Water takes a drink from a collection of ingredients and transports it to the land of a whole that’s more than the sum of its parts. Water equals cohesion. Temperature equals tactile sensation.
This dilution is achieved through two distinct techniques: stirring or shaking.
Shaking is the most common drink-making technique and is what comes to mind when we picture a bartender practicing their craft and is the proper way to chill and dilute drinks that contain juice. The juice is almost always thicker and denser than the spirits. Shaking wills these different liquids into uniformity.
Stirring is employed when a cocktail is made up of spirits only and contains no juice. The idea is to lower the temperature without “bruising” the delicate spirits by shaking. Shaking would add ice shards that, over time, lead to a cocktail far too diluted and under-flavored. Mr. Bond’s desire to have his martini shaken is a personal picadillo, no harm done. However, the Vesper Gin Martini is a creation of Bond and is ordered shaken as well. Thereby, the cocktail was created incorrectly. How, though, can the creator of something be incorrect in their creation? Far too much of my time has been spent contemplating this, so I suggest we make the drink in a few variations and choose our favorite.
- 1.5 oz. Highclere Castle Gin
- .5 oz. Straight Vodka (I used Hartford Flavor Co’s Vodka, one of the cleanest vodkas I have ever tried)
- .25 oz. Lillet Aperitif Wine
In a Boston shaker, shake vigorously and strain into a coupe. Garnish with a thin wheel of lemon.
- Same measurements as above
In a mixing glass, stir for 20+ seconds and strain into a coupe. Garnish with a swath of lemon peel.
- 1.5 oz Highclere Castle Gin
- .5 oz. Cocchi Americano (another quinquina with a bit more bite than Lillet)
- .25 oz. Italicus (a fantastic Italian liqueur of bergamot and other botanicals)
- 2 oz. fresh lemonade
Add all ingredients to a Boston shaker—strain into a stemless wine glass. Garnish with seasonal herbs. (Mint in warm weather, rosemary in cold)